It is difficult to overstate the importance of President Obama’s victory handed to him by the US Supreme Court on Thursday.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA for short and known as ObamaCare to detractors), is Obama’s signature legislation and the thing which has most enflamed Republicans since day one, even if many of them supported bits of it. In the case of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, he even enacted an inspiration to the law while he was governor of Massachusetts.
Why does the fate of ObamaCare matter? It certainly doesn’t affect the rest of the world, though other countries with “socialised” medicine systems, such as the UK, must look on with amusement at attempts to create something similar in the US.
Whether we like it or not, global policy is still shaped by the US. Yet for all the fans Obama might still have around the globe, none of that will matter in the November election. This is very much a domestic fight this year, hinging on the economy and the anger from Republicans, particularly at ObamaCare.
How seriously do they take it? Just look at how they reacted when the Supreme Court ruling came down.
Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor and “mamma grizzly”, tweeted: “Obama lied to the American people. Again. He said it wasn’t a tax. Obama lies; freedom dies.”
Governor Bobby Jindal from Louisiana, a potential VP candidate for Romney, vented: “Today’s decision is a blow to our freedoms.”
A blogger from the right-wing Breitbart.com declared: “This is the greatest destruction of individual liberty since Dred Scott. This is the end of America as we know it. No exaggeration.” Dred Scott was the 1857 case where people of African descent held as slaves or their descendants were not US citizens or protected by the US constitution. No exaggeration eh?
The main part of the ACA in dispute was what’s called the “individual mandate” that basically requires every American to get health insurance.
In March, the Obama administration argued in front of the court that there were three possible justifications for this requirement. The court chose the third – that in fact, it’s just a tax.
This is the short summary, because the actual decision on the 1200-page legislation was 187 pages long, available here.
Like any court decision, it hinged on technicalities of the constitution, its amendments and what politicians had in mind when they created something new. And weirdly, the right-wing Chief Justice Roberts voted for this with the four other liberal judges, saving the ACA – the legalities were just so fine.
Both Democrats and Republicans will insist they are the winners.
Had the court struck down the ACA, it could have emboldened Democrats to turn out en mass in November to ensure Obama was returned to office.
Instead, this will definitely embolden Republicans to fight even harder to defeat Obama at the polls. Republican politicians have vowed since day one that they will repeal the health care law, and will be even more determined to do so now. However, they’ll be overturning something that has effectively passed the legal tests that they insisted couldn’t happen.
The “dissenting” opinions were will delight Republicans and prove their point.
Justice Anthony Kennedy started with: “In our view, the entire Act before us is invalid in its entirety.”
But that side lost the argument. The entire act survives, all 1200 bonkers pages of it. The ACA is huge, tried to cater to too many special interest groups, and is wildly complicated.
And because Democrats never explained the Act particularly well, and Republicans dumped more money against it, ObamaCare remains unpopular.
Obama himself insisted it was not a tax, and the court just ruled that it was. Republicans see that as proof of the enemy within or the end of freedom or America.
The US election hinges on money, undecided voters and the turnout of the “base” supporters. The court victory for Obama has secured Republicans the maximum possible support from the base.
But that base will be voting against a president that has effectively won the argument for one of the biggest, society-changing legislative achievements in decades. Obama is in a stronger position than he has been for a while.
Whether that holds until November and how the next four years of presidential politics affect the rest of us, is still up in the air.