By now there are many on the right of the aisle who are likely frustrated or angry at the United States Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act – the healthcare mandate. Similarly, just about everyone on the left is elated at the decision today. The President declared a huge victory today, and said it in his remarks, and those remarks will be repeated on his road show now throughout the campaign until November. He did indeed win a PR victory for now and the immediate future, yet there is a possible long term detrimental effect on the so called victory.
President Obama did as expected and touted the decision as a boon for him and the country, and avoided the tax issue completely. He ignored it, clearly sensing that the news of the law being upheld trumps the nasty matter of the imposition of a new tax on poorer Americans. The highest court in the land said it was indeed a tax increase, and that will resonate soon with the public.
The President also said it was not a time for politics, and that this decision was about doing what’s right. Yet, the President’s man at the Democratic National Committee, Patrick Gaspard, was quick to tweet “It’s Constitutional Bitches”; hardly the cry of a serious policy wonk, but the unbridled exuberance of a huge political smack-down to those who opposed it. That excitement was quickly reined in when he apologized and returned with one of those mea culpas that reeked of a half dozen frantic calls back and forth advising him to maintain the appearance of statesmanship, hence he later tweeted, “In all seriousness, this is an important moment in improving the lives of all Americans,” .
Realistically, had the court ruled differently, this would have become an exchange on the political actions of the Supreme Court. Given the way this decision was divided, Chief Justice John Roberts’ vote with the dissenters would have mired the country in a fury over the judiciary and the “activism” of the court. Rather, Roberts comes off looking professional, thoughtful and non-partisan, while delivering the real crux of the healthcare mandate – a new tax.
Who is affected by this? The wealthy who most likely have healthcare or who can easily pay the tax/fine for not carrying health insurance? The middle class who usually have some sort of healthcare from work? No, the unemployed, the working poor and those who struggle day to day, will now have to either pay for healthcare they cannot afford or get taxed with an additional bill they cannot afford. Healthcare is a mess in this country, and a lack of coverage can frighten people, but the mandate and tax will not fix the problem.
In Robert’s consent, he turned President Obama’s previous comments rejecting the notion that his mandate was a tax, into what will now become known as a big lie tantamount to the first George Bush’s “Read My Lips” fiasco. “No new taxes….” Roberts and his majority today said, yes, this is a new tax. And it is a big one.
The landmark decision today will be both beaten and promoted for a while to come. Each candidate will take the standard positions, but neither will rise above the politics as President Obama suggested, unless they really address the court’s actual ruling. The President sees no reason to do so, as all the average American needs to know is that his career milestone effort was upheld and he is “right”, and fighting for the health and wellbeing of the people. He is right in a sense to avoid the tax issue because once you explain it, the tax looks ominous and sneaky.
Mitt Romney will also use this argument and disagree with the Court, and he has already called for repeal. That is just being a sore loser. What Republicans should do, rather than calling for repeal and appearing to want what they want regardless of the finality of the Court’s decisions, is work harder to make a better law that fills the holes of this one, and eliminates the tax burden that will now be imposed.
That is obviously harder to do, but whining about a decision they had banked on will just give the President the upper hand. What Romney needs to do now is fight Obama’s depiction of statesmanship with solid brinksmanship by educating Americans on the tax burden, exposing the big lie of the President, and coming up with a plan that will trump this one without crying foul. Healthcare needs fixing and there is a real opportunity now to find serious solutions that cut to the heart of the systemic flaws in the entire system.
Had the Supreme Court overturned the, the Republicans would have praised the thoughtfulness of that court. Romney should promote that same message now and praise the thoughtfulness of the Court. Roberts could have made it easy, but it would have given the President the bully pulpit as a martyr and victim. The Chief Justice threw a bone to Romney and he must take stock in that decision and take full advantage of if he wants to ultimately turn this decision into a Republican victory.
Juda Engelmayer is a senior vice president of the New York public relations agency, 5WPR