As Politico notes this morning, many of the groups that led the fight against ObamaCare are preparing to party next week. Though all say they understand there is no way of knowing what the Supreme Court will do when it finally issues its ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, most of the foes of President Obama’s signature legislation are fairly bursting with optimism about the decision. Their glee at the impending demise of a deeply unpopular bill is matched by the gloom of the president’s supporters, who are already plotting their revenge on conservatives by preparing to spend the next four months complaining about the way the Court will have thwarted the will of the legislature.
In this respect, the left has an advantage, because while they have no more idea of what the Court will do than the right, they do seem to have a plan. That’s why conservatives should not be spending the last days before the Court’s announcement getting ready to party. If the Court overturns ObamaCare, its opponents must be prepared for a political battle that will be just as important as the one they have already fought and perhaps won. The wind can change pretty quickly in politics, and if ObamaCare’s detractors allow liberals to seize the initiative in the next few days, they may spend the next few years regretting the way Democrats got control of the health care narrative. If the president and his backers are able to change the conversation from one about constitutional usurpation and big government control of health care back to their favorite themes of the plight of the uninsured, rapacious insurance companies, it could not only affect the outcome of the presidential election but also set the stage for future debates on the issue that may not go as well for the right.
It should be acknowledged that if the Court does strike down ObamaCare as a whole or even just the individual mandate that is at its core, it would be a signal victory for conservatives. Such a decision could mark a turning point in legal history, as for the first time in a century the expansion of government power via amorphous interpretations of the Commerce Clause would be halted. That will be an outcome worth celebrating for those who rightly fear the gradual erosion of individual liberty will accelerate as the government gives itself greater power over our lives.
But even a definitive ruling against the bill by the Court won’t end the political struggle about the ideas that led to this showdown. Conservatives have rightly touted the fact that a majority of the public has been against ObamaCare since before the then Democrat-controlled Congress passed it in 2010. But once the Court rules it dead, if indeed that is what will happen, then the existing game will be over and a new one will begin.
That will mean the president and the rest of the Democrats will immediately launch a campaign that will not only lambast the Court’s conservative majority for enabling evil insurance companies to go on harming people but also resurrect their previous rhetoric about the unhappy fate of the uninsured. While these ideas were overshadowed by the prospect of a national health care bureaucracy that most Americans rightly feared, once ObamaCare is history, the discussion will no longer be about government death panels. Instead, the national conversation could easily be turned back to the left’s evergreen Robin Hood guerrilla warfare on the health insurance industry.
That means that instead of whooping it up next week, conservatives need to come up with sensible free market solutions to health care that will eschew government mandates. This presents a particular challenge to Mitt Romney, who has his own health care mandate baggage and who may be required to present an alternative to what the president tried and failed to accomplish. Washington Times columnist Dr. Milton Wolf provides a good starting point for that debate with a piece explaining why car insurance works so much better than that for health care. But no matter what the details, the priority now for the right must be to forget the party hats and be prepared to hit back hard against the president next week. If they are too preoccupied with patting themselves on the back, they could lose control of the narrative on the issue and never get it back.