I’m as surprised as you: the Supreme Court has ruled to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. The individual mandate is constitutional, albeit on the grounds that it is a tax and not a mandate. But no matter—minus some sticky stuff about federal coercion of the states to expand Medicare, health care reform stands, kit if not caboodle. “It is painful to recognize that the liberties which our forefathers fought a revolution to secure have been lost,” Karen Harned of the National Federation of Independent Businesses writes, “But it is clear that our original constitutional system has been thrown out, and we are left with only the democratic process to preserve our rights.” Let the hyperbole
Combat! blog’s man in government, a shadowy operative known only as The Cure, overheard one Republican Congressman outside SCOTUS complain that “just because it’s constitutional, it doesn’t mean it’s American.” The executive director of the Democratic National Committee was less glum, tweeting “it’s constitutional, bitches!” and then apologizing seemingly minutes later. Don’t worry: the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Obamacare has not made any of our political leaders wiser or more honest. It does, however, recontextualize their lying foolery.
Consider Harned’s claim that the passage of a law by Congress, followed by its challenge from state attorneys general and its eventual review and approval by the Supreme Court, makes it “clear” that our constitutional system has been thrown out. Back when Obamacare was a law that a Democratic president pushed through a Democratic Congress, such charges of tyranny read as attacks on the ruling party. Now that Obamacare has been vetted by a right-leaning Supreme Court, the claim that it is an historic trampling of our American system seems more like sour grapes. At what point does this socialist coup against our Constitution become merely an instance of Republicans losing?
By all indications, the GOP plans to keep making Obamacare a central issue. Candidate Romney has promised to repeal the law, as Republicans in the House have tried to do several times already. Besides the usual cut-taxes incantation, opposition to the Affordable Care Act is the party’s most prominent position. Now that all three branches of government have signed off on the law, however, their opposition takes on a different tone. The Republican Party’s belief in its own majority seems unshakeable. The question is whether they are right, or if the specter of one party bucking every federal instrument you can think of to insist on its own way will simply creep voters out.
The first part—is the GOP really speaking for America in its opposition to Obamacare?—is difficult to answer. Polls suggest that support for the law has never broken 50%, but they also show that the American people’s view of the issue is muddled. For example, all the actual components of the law enjoy majority support, except for the individual mandate. That damn thing is approved at a mere 30%, but maybe that’s because Americans are whiners who can’t believe their pie has a crust on it. As of June, no decision on health care would please a majority of respondents. Approximately 50% say they would be unhappy if the court threw out the entire law, upheld the entire law, or threw out only the individual mandate. The debate over Obamacare has made everyone sad.
You would think, then, that people would like it to be over. Our public discussion of the Affordable Care Act has been characterized by lies, hysteria and dicketry. No one smiles when they talk about it. In the aftermath of this morning’s Supreme Court ruling, perhaps what Americans want most is closure. Five years from now, when it is easier to buy health insurance, the prospect of paying a $700 fine for not doing so may not strike many voters as an annihilation of their individual liberty. It is possible that our three-year argument is a lens that has blurred our vision of Obamacare, and once it is taken away we will stop running around panicked and knocking our heads together.
Maybe—and this is shocking, now—the Affordable Care Act is not a huge deal. We have made it a huge deal, but we’re not talking about a single-payer system. We are talking about making people carry health insurance the way most states make people carry car insurance; we are talking about rules re: preexisting conditions and minimum coverage. Today’s ruling was not the death knell of American liberty, just as it was not a clarion call. Maybe, if we’re lucky, it will be the end of a long and tedious argument. Maybe now our political process might do something else.