Following the contentious arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court over Obamacare, liberals across the country have become very nervous. As well they should be. The hostile line of questioning endured by President Barack Obama’s Solicitor General Donald Verrilli resulted in near unanimity with political pundits of every persuasion across the country: Obamacare is in deep, deep trouble.
CNN’s legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, just days prior to opening arguments, stated that it was a real possibility the court would uphold Obamacare 8 to 1. After hearing Monday’s opening arguments, he declared the case “a train wreck for the Obama administration. This law looks like it’s going to be struck down. I’m telling you, all of the predictions, including mine, that the justices would not have a problem with this law, were wrong.”
On Wednesday, at the end of the near unprecedented three days of oral arguments before the highest court in the land, most pundits still saw Obamacare as doomed. This also seemed to be the case with officials within the Obama administration, who, after hearing the powerful objections raised by many of the justices, then began referring to Obamacare’s most controversial and constitutionally weak concept, the “individual mandate,” as the “personal responsibility clause.”
Thus, in a strained attempt to save face, many liberals then began pontificating that the court striking down Obamacare might actually provide Obama and his party with a political advantage. James Carville said such a ruling “would be the best thing that has ever happened to the Democratic Party.”
The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes rightly declared such nonsense “pure political hooey.” He concluded, “If Obamacare falls, it will be a devastating rebuke to the president. The crown jewel of his presidency will have been repudiated as unconstitutional. His pretensions of uniquely knowing how to get things done in Washington will be shattered. Obama will be a diminished political figure. He will become a lesser president, far from the top ranks where he has envisioned himself.”
Barnes also adds that, “The opposite is true if the court upholds Obama-care. Obama will be able to crow that he has succeeded where presidents over the past century failed. He has brought about universal health care coverage. He has counseled hope and brought about change. Republicans will be demoralized.”
Though I agree with Barnes on the former, I think he is wrong to conclude that a Supreme Court victory (especially a 5-to-4 decision) is demoralizing for Republicans. In fact, I think the Republicans are in a no-lose situation here. Whatever the Supreme Court has decided on Obamacare, President Obama and the Democrats will be the losers.
Not only would Obama be “diminished” if the court strikes down his “crown jewel,” he would be a “diminished political figure” in ways that few politicians ever have been or ever will be. He will also be justifiably labeled as having been the architect of one of the greatest (if not the greatest) assaults on individual liberty in U.S. history, and his critics will have the U.S. Supreme Court decision to back that argument. The GOP nominee can then ask the American electorate if they would like to endure continued assaults on liberty that an Obama second term would almost certainly bring.
On the other hand, if Obamacare is upheld, conservatives will then turn to the electorate and say, “Again, the courts let us down!” From the decision day to Election Day the GOP will run ads declaring that the only way then to reverse the wildly unpopular bill will be to elect Republicans.
From its birth (pardon the pun), the unpopularity of Obamacare has proven politically poisonous for the Democrats. After the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, who made universal healthcare a major goal of his political career, Scott Brown ran for and won Kennedy’s very liberal seat largely by touting himself as the 41st (filibuster-proof) vote against Obamacare.
On March 19, exactly one week before the Supreme Court began hearing arguments on Obamacare, a Rasmussen poll showed that 56 percent of likely U.S. voters favored repealing the law. The number of voters who “strongly favor” repeal was at an eight-month high.
The Rasmussen poll immediately prior to the 2010 midterms showed that 58 percent of likely U.S. voters favored repealing Obamacare. Furthermore, exit polls for the 2010 midterms revealed that 59 percent of those who voted favored repeal. (This includes a plurality or an outright majority in every battleground state.) Among other things, the GOP’s landslide in 2010 was a result of the public’s disdain for Obamacare. There is little reason to think things would be any different come this November if Obamacare is still on the books.
In other words, a victory at the Supreme Court should yield political results that are no different than the results the democrats got after the slick manner (remember the “Cornhusker Kickback,” the Stupak Executive Order, reconciliation, and so on), in which the bill was passed.
The bottom line: on this matter the Democrats cannot win.
Trevor Thomas is a Gainesville resident and frequent columnist.