Weekly Standard: A Lose-Lose Case

Apr 2, 2012
Originally published on April 2, 2012 6:38 am

Fred Barnes is the executive editor of The Weekly Standard.

In his autobiography, Ronald Reagan recalled when Pat Brown, his opponent for California governor in 1966, put together a TV commercial in which he tells a group of small children, "I'm running against an actor, and you know who killed Abraham Lincoln, don't you?" At that moment, Reagan wrote, "I knew he knew he was in trouble."

Likewise last week when the White House abruptly began referring to the "individual mandate" in Obamacare as the "personal responsibility clause." At that moment, we knew President Obama knew his health care law was in trouble.

Yet Democratic strategist James Carville insists a Supreme Court decision striking down the mandate for everyone to buy health insurance, and perhaps the rest of the 2,700-page law, would work to Obama's political advantage. Some Republicans fear Carville is right.

If ever a fear has been unfounded, it's that one. The idea is that an albatross would be lifted from Obama and he would be freed in his bid for reelection from attachment to the most unpopular program enacted during his presidency. Republicans, in turn, would be denied their biggest and best anti-Obama talking point.

This is pure political hooey. 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.

The opposite is true if the Court upholds Obamacare. 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.

Assuming Obamacare is voided, Republicans will still have plenty to say about health care. They can remind voters of the promises Obama made about his plan that were false. Everyone could keep his current health insurance and doctor. Premiums would drop. Obamacare would save money and reduce the deficit. Anything underwriting abortions would not be funded. All untrue.

Nor will bureaucrats in Washington have a strangle-hold on the health care system if the Obama plan is struck down. We've already seen bureaucrats in action with Obamacare only minimally implemented. The Department of Health and Human Services mandated that insurance policies provide contraceptives and the morning-after pill for free, no co-pay required — a political move given that pregnancy isn't a disease and similar favoritism hasn't been shown to illness-curing medicine.

And with Obamacare gone, a threat to individual liberty will have been turned away. Never in more than two centuries of democratic government in America had individuals been told they must buy something or else. Without Obamacare, the vast majority of Americans will still buy health insurance or get it through their employers, Medicare, or Medicaid. But they won't be forced to.

The easiest thing for Republicans to turn aside will be enraged Democrats and their allies in the media. The mere possibility the Supreme Court's conservative wing plus Justice Anthony Kennedy would rule against Obamacare, 5-4, has thrown liberals and the left into a tizzy. Should that occur, "conventional wisdom most likely will crystallize around a new narrative: The Supreme Court is all about politics," Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University, wrote in Politico.

Rosen is half right. Left-of-center opinion-mongers are likely to adopt that narrative and condemn the Court majority as motivated solely by political concerns. E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post is already flinging around phrases like "judicial dictatorship" and accusing conservative justices of acting like "an alternative legislature." What about the four liberal justices, who appeared locked into upholding Obamacare from the start of oral arguments before the Court last week and showed little interest in whether it might be unconstitutional? Not a problem. They'd never "deliver ideology" the way Dionne says conservatives do.

We've seen this breathtaking double standard before. When conservatives join a liberal ruling, they're applauded for rising above their political leanings. When they form a majority in a conservative decision, they've stooped to political hackery.

If Obamacare is invalidated, we'll hear far worse. Chief Justice John Roberts will be blamed for letting politics reign on the Court. But hypocrisy this thick will crumble under its own weight. And if the Court does the right thing, America will be fully justified in rejoicing.

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