Obamacare Decision: What Long-Run Victory?

Conservatives who are trying to salvage a little “hope and change” from Chief Justice John Roberts’s disastrous ruling in the Obamacare case yesterday argue that the limits the Court placed on the Commerce Clause and the power of the federal government vis à vis the states are victories for conservatives in the long run. But in this case, the short run is the long run: Obamacare will change our society forever--and not for the better.

Liberals are celebrating, not just because Barack Obama’s presidency is no longer just a waste of time, but also because they believe that people will never reject entitlements once they have them. Evidence from around the world proves them right. In the United Kingdom, where the bloated National Health Service is a disaster, it is unthinkable for a conservative politician to propose rolling it back a bit, much less eliminating it altogether.

Some suggest that the conservative base will be energized by the Obamacare decision, and will push Mitt Romney to victory. I certainly hope so. But it will have to be in spite of the candidate, not because of him. Romney is ill-equipped to make the case against the individual mandate, which he imposed in Massachusetts. He has to make points about policy that people are tired of hearing, or abstract, boring arguments about federalism.

The best arrow in Romney’s quiver is that President Barack Obama lied to the American people about Obamacare being a tax--the largest tax increase in human history. But the president can sidestep that. He can say that he disagrees with the Supreme Court that Obamacare is a tax, just as he disagrees with other parts of the ruling, even though he believes the Court found the right result. After all, Roberts made that part up, didn’t he?

Put differently, the problem for Romney’s prospects is that it is not (yet) clear how electing him would help anything. Conservatives feel betrayed by Republican leaders. It was George W. Bush, after all, who nominated Roberts to be Chief Justice. The left--Obama included--howled in protest, but in the end Roberts was “turned by the pressure of the media and the whims of vanity,” to quote the Wall Street Journal’s editorial today.

It’s not the only betrayal that conservatives are struggling to swallow. The supposedly reactionary Tea Party Congress struck a deal to raise the debt ceiling, ostensibly with the promise that the so-called “Supercommittee” would come up with a plan for deficit reduction. It was a bargain that suited Republican leaders but which the President and his left-wing allies had no intention of keeping. They are still determined to block a deal.

That sort of disappointment tends to be demoralizing. And it is not clear that Romney could follow through on his promise to repeal Obamacare on his first day in office, nor is it clear--especially after yesterday--that any of his Supreme Court nominees could be counted upon. If the decision in Obamacare is the problem, it is not clear that voting for Romney is the solution, even though a second Obama term would be a total disaster.

The long-run victory, if there is one, is for the kind of rock-solid, unapologetic brand of conservatism that leaders like Sarah Palin represent--and which the mainstream media has all but excluded from our political discourse. Whether that kind of politics--the kind that produced Ronald Reagan in 1980--can re-emerge before Americans succumb to the temptations of life in entitlement captivity is an open question, and not a happy one.

Can the conservative movement lift Romney to victory in November on the strength of yesterday’s terrible Obamacare decision? Yes. Will that happen? Unclear. It depends whether Romney and his unlikely new allies in the conservative base can win the kind of ideological argument from which the GOP has been hiding for many years. This is a “gut check” moment: do we believe the American people still believe in liberty, after all?

President Obama knows his answer. For him and his allies, liberty has always been a joke. “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges,” said Anatole France--a line that Obama’s professor, Laurence Tribe, likes to quote at Harvard Law, and likely quoted when Obama (and John Roberts) was in his class. If they are on the wrong side of history, it is a history conservatives must still win.


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