Advancing a Free Society

Now, if he can get the Supreme Court to fix the economy

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Finally, Barack Obama catches a break.

Or so it seems.

Whoever said that April is the cruelest month (actually, it was T.S. Eliot) never set foot in this White House. In the past 30 days, the Obama Administration has been hit with a gawdawful May jobs report, Big Labor’s failure to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Attorney General Eric Holder fast and furiously becoming a political liability/lightning rod.

Once a candidate of enthusiastic hope, the Obama of the summer of 2012 is a downer of an incumbent – capable even of riling Red Sox fans in Democratic Beantown.

And then the Supreme Court verdict upheld his landmark healthcare reform law. So much for Bad Luck Barack (for June, at least).

Moreover, it gets at something that’s been nagging the President’s liberal base for three years running. In their eyes, Obama hasn’t been the real-life embodiment of the fictional President Bartlet or Shepard – do-gooding chief executives willing to buck the political system and stand up to icky conservatives.

Obama still may not to live up to the stuff of Aaron Sorkin’s fantasies, but he can still talk up an idea that’s a long-held Democratic ideal – mandated healthcare being both a liberal dream and a conservative nightmare.

Some thoughts about said ruling:

1)  Be Thankful for What You Wish for. The ruling’s a win for Obama, for all the reasons listed above. It re-energizes the base and it’s grist for his fundraising mill (just as Republicans already have done and will continue to do). Conveniently, the ruling occurred right as the Obama money machine needed a boost. And it reinforces the presidential stump message about the people (the uninsured) versus the powerful (insurers). Absent that ruling, Obama would have been reduced to something along the lines of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s missive: “everyone is against me except the voter” (Roosevelt, like Obama, seeking re-election in 1936 amidst a terrible economy, Republicans nipping at his heels, and the Supreme Court chipping away at his New Deal agenda). The great political Walter Lippmann once said of FDR: “He is a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be president.”  Sound familiar?

2)  Beware of What You Wish for. It didn’t take long for conservatives to voice their displeasure with the ruling. For a Republican nominee who’s relationship with the right is a little complicated, it means Mitt Romney will get louder applause when he vows to repeal Obamacare. And maybe more votes come November, if conservative grassroots organizations link the ruling both to taxation and another lesser-discussed aspect of this election: the likelihood of the winner transforming the Supreme Court by choosing one or more new justices. If a single issue can draw and first-time and otherwise tepid voters to the polls on Romney’s behalf, the consequences can be enormous. Just ask Ohioans who voted on same-sex marriage in the 2004 presidential election.

3)  Beware of Republicans Misplaying Their Hand. “Repeal” is now the GOP’s favorite six-letter word, what with that other six-letter word – Romney – pledging to undo the now-upheld law on day one in the Oval Office and Speaker Boehner promising a repeal vote the week of July 9. That may seem like a winning hand, what with a majority of Americans long opposed to Obamacare. But it comes with the risk of Republicans falling into a trap. The President, on the campaign trail, deliberately cherry-picks the more popular aspects of his law – allowing existing pre-conditions, folding coverage for twenty-something children into their parents’ policies. Here’s what he gets: Obamacare is toxic brand (according to at least one poll, more Americans wanted the law rejected than upheld), but Americans are open to the health reform in other guises – creating insurance pools, subsidizing the less fortunate, and so forth. Since no one asked, might I suggest that Republicans modify their message to something more positive: “repeal . . . and replace” with an alternative GOP vision that shows it’s more than a “a party of no”.

4)  It’s (Still) the Economy, Stupid. On the same morning that the Supreme Court delivered its ruling, the Commerce Department reported America’s economy expanding at a 1.9% annual rate in the first three months of the year – too weak to lower the jobless rate. Meanwhile, the Dow was down triple digits, Fed officials said get used to the present economic rut, Germany was talking slowdown, Syria’s a multidimensional mess, and Greece . . . well, it’s become a nation of grape expectations. This is the big picture in the 2012 election: bad economy, troubled world stage – and lots of talk ahead about GDP, quantitative easing and the chronically unemployed. To the extent that Obama or Romney prevails this November, it’s because one of the two did a better job of easing the electorate’s concerns over those mega-trends. And at this moment, the electorate is shopping for that assurance.

This much we do know: this coming Monday marks the 14-month anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of Navy commandos. The bounce the President received from that accomplishment – the one that supposedly locked up his re-election? It lasted all of a month. Then it was back to politics as usual.

The guess here: Obama – and his law – will get a similar month’s bounce. Voters like winners, and this Supreme Court ruling is the strongest affirmation of Obamacare since Nancy Pelosi declared: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it . . . away from the fog of controversy.”

And after that? Back to the economy and a malady Obamacare won’t cure: this chronic recession.