After the Ruling
posted at 2:51 pm on March 29, 2012 by Libby Sternberg
Now that the Supreme Court hearings on the health care law are over, conservatives are starting to feel a bit optimistic about the law’s repeal, or at least the repeal of its most onerous provision, the “individual mandate,” which requires all Americans to buy health insurance…or else.
Republicans have ample time to fashion a reaction to the release of the ruling in the coming months. Let’s hope, if the law is overturned, it’s something more than just, “Whew! Dodged that one.”
You can be sure that the White House is already crafting its response, and as Democratic operatives such as James Carville have noted, the president and the Democrats would be in a great position regardless of the outcome. In fact, no matter which way the court rules, it’s a win-win for them. A policy win if they prevail in court, of course. And a political win if they lose.
This could be the reason no one in the White House is ranting and raving about the conservative justices’ questioning during the hearing. There’s been no sense of the White House “pulling the wagons in a circle” to fight back an attack. They must realize that they themselves are in a terrific position to be the attackers, should the law or mandate be repealed.
And here’s what their attack will be:
Republicans said no again!
A president who shamelessly scolded Supreme Court Justices at a State of the Union address will have no reservations about politicizing a court ruling on his signature policy achievement. He and/or his operatives will surely paint those justices who vote for repeal as members of the “Republican court.” (I suspect they’d have no problem doing so even in the unlikely event it’s a unanimous ruling–they could still deride it as coming from a “Republican dominated court.”)
And then, the starting pistol will sound, and the Republicans will be painted, once again, as the obstacles to reform, giving the thumbs down to everything good and holy. Democrats will be aided in this campaign by sympathetic (or just lazy) journalists, as well as by all the activists who make up the on-air staff at MSNBC, of course.
Conservatives shouldn’t bank on Americans’ general disapproval of the health care law (as evidenced in numerous polls), should Democrats use this line of attack. First of all, opinions change, especially in the face of relentless arguments. And secondly, while Americans might not have liked ObamaCare, they probably have little or no memory of a Republican alternative proposal (maybe because there really wasn’t one) that they liked more. Their ire at ObamaCare’s overreach won’t necessarily translate into a sympathy for Republicans, in other words, if GOPers aren’t offering a reasonable replacement.
What to do? Well, the first and most obvious task is to get Republicans to rally around a health care reform proposal of their own, complete with messaging. My caution here is one I’ve already articulated: don’t overpromise as the Democrats did.
None of the Republican reforms proposed in the past (from preventive care to tort reform to health savings accounts) is likely to lower health care costs significantly enough for Americans to feel they’ve gotten precisely what they wanted. It’s time to “Christie up” on the issue, speaking with the boldness and frankness of the New Jersey governor. Yes, reform can lower health care costs, but, no, costs will not disappear entirely if we are to maintain cutting-edge treatments. Expensive high-tech care is…expensive.
As for the likely Obama campaign mantra—that Republicans are Abominable No-Men, blocking his efforts to change our country for the better—this actually presents an opportunity for the Republican presidential nominee. Instead of playing defense on the intransigency of Republicans, the nominee can use the issue to turn the tables on the president, revealing his ideas and proposals as so far out of the mainstream, that not even members of his own party always support them. Here’s my crude attempt at how a campaign ad with that message would look:
In other words, instead of running away from Republican opposition to Obama in an attempt to look “centrist,” the Republican nominee should say, “Darn straight” to the criticism that Republicans block the president’s agenda. That’s not a bad thing when the agenda is so unreasonable.
Whatever Republicans decide to do or say once the ruling is revealed, now’s the time to start thinking about it.