Funny thing about leverage; it’s only good if you use it. Looking back at Thursday’s Supreme Court healthcare victory and Mitt Romney’s awkward, almost sheepish, response afterwards, what struck me was this. Far more crucial than any tangible benefit this political win means for the President, is the predicament it puts the former governor of Massachusetts in.
You see, when Chief Justice John Roberts called the mandate penalty a tax, thus allowing it to be upheld, he may have given the GOP some badly needed ammunition to call Obama and Democrats tax and spend libs – like they really needed a court for that – but he also took the wind out of the sails of Mr. Mittens, who now has to talk about repealing a law which is identical to his and which the highest court in the land just pronounced as basically a tax on the uninsured.
But, Peter, you don’t understand, that’s a state law and we all know that states are the laboratories for the country. The federal government? Well that’s another story altogether. Right, when the state taxes you for not complying with a law, it’s called liberty (or states’ rights if you’re from the Paul family); when the feds do it, it’s called tyranny. That’s what happens when you spend too much time listening to Mark Levin; you end up sounding like him.
Except I’m not at all sure that most voters – especially independent voters – are going to care much about the distinction. A tax is a tax is a tax, right? And that’s where Democrats can start having some fun for a change. It seems the used-car salesman from hell stepped in it big time back in ’09 during an interview with CNN, in which he discussed the merits of adopting his Massachusetts-style healthcare plan as a “model” for the country, including, unfortunately, the penalty, err, tax, I mean.
There are a number of ways to encourage people to get insurance and what we did, we said 'you're going to lose a tax exemption if you don't have insurance.' ...You gotta have health insurance because we want everybody in the system. No more free riders.
Oops! I’d say that was a mouthful, wouldn’t you? I mean, no more free riders, personal responsibility, you play you pay. Seems like a fairly cogent conservative principle if ever I heard one. I can’t imagine what a commie subversive like Obama would want with such a radical concept as personal responsibility.
And yet that’s pretty much what the President did. When the public option was going up in flames, Obama shifted gears and looked at the only working example out there. He figured Republicans would be relieved that he would propose a healthcare plan which had already been adopted by a Republican governor and had been endorsed by such “distinguished” groups as the Heritage Foundation. What could go wrong?
Well everything. I won’t rehash all the ugly details, but, suffice to say, the GOP went from loving the mandate to hating it quicker than you can say “You lie.” Regardless of the backlash he took, both from the Right and the Left, Obama persevered and managed to get the Affordable Care Act passed.
And now, as the hordes of critics prepare to take him apart over John Roberts’ pronouncement, one critic is walking on egg shells. You see, Romney has to be very careful how he chooses his words. He can’t talk about the mandate, because every time he does, he’ll come face to face with the staggering reality that his own healthcare plan is virtually identical to the one he wants to repeal, and it’s a tax to boot. Uttering the word tax around Republicans is akin to placing a crucifix on a vampire.
So, here’s what I propose the Democrats do every chance they get: Talk about the mandate; talk about it often. Talk about things like personal responsibility and no more free lunches; things that conservatives used to talk about all the time before they got bought and sold by the Koch brothers and Grover Norquist.
Have some fun at Republicans expense for a change. Then, when they insist on repealing “Obamacare” talk about all the things it brings to the table: No more pre-existing conditions as a bar to medical treatment, keeping your kid on your healthcare plan till he or she turns 26, not having your policy canceled just because you had the nerve to get sick, affordable coverage for people who can’t afford insurance, and so on.
Republicans have made a career out of using short catch phrases that resonate with voters; it’s time Democrats stole a page or two out of that rule book and stuffed it down their throats. To quote one of my favorite coaches of all time, Vince Lombardi, “The best defense is a good offense.” It’s about time the Dems started offending.
The Supreme Court victory may have given Republicans some ammunition, but it also gave Democrats a chance to redefine a narrative that they badly mishandled the first time around. Now is the time for redemption. The country desperately needs to know the truth about this law and it is essential that the Democrats be the ones to explain it to them. If they play their hand right, they can take this all the way to November 6th.