Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Left's New Crush: John Roberts is No Hero

Is Chief Justice John Roberts the Left’s new hero? Many have embraced him as such in the wake of last week’s Supreme Court ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act.

First, however, let’s look at the law itself.

Back in March I expressed mixed feelings toward the fate of “Obamacare,” and my sentiments remain largely unchanged. The law is little more than a massive giveaway to the health insurance industry—another fine example of the corporate welfare I wrote about last week, in fact. Citizens will now be required to purchase private coverage from a for-profit corporation. And given that the ACA does little to control costs or manage care, Americans are essentially being forced to buy a largely defective product.

The law does nothing to alter the fundamental structure of the for-profit health care industry, which is at the heart of our dysfunctional system. True reform would be adopting a single-payer or Medicare for all health care system, like nearly every other industrialized nation in the world. Even Iraq, under the U.S.-installed Maliki government, has established universal health care for all in its Constitution. In other words, single-payer is good enough for the countries we illegally invade under false pretenses, but not for our own “democracy.”

Still, the new law does contain some positive provisions like allowing young people to remain on their parents’ insurance until they are 26-years-old, and prohibiting insurance companies from denying care based on a patient having a “pre-existing condition.” How carefully these provisions will be enforced, however, remains to be seen.

Overall, Thursday’s decision was a sort-of win for citizens and a major win for Corporate America. I’d give it two out of four stars, Ebert.

With that in mind, this ruling was delivered by the most radically conservative Supreme Court in decades and Roberts’ “betrayal” of the Right does nothing to change that. That is because, despite what the talking heads on TV say, the Chief Justice’s ruling upholding the ACA was not a betrayal at all. In fact, Roberts’ argument was well within his recent ideologically-driven opinions granting increased rights and powers to corporations.

This is a Supreme Court it is worth remembering, which equates the spending of vast sums of money with “free speech.” Indeed, this thinking was at the crux of the Court’s now infamous Citizens United v. FEC decision in 2010. As a direct result, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have both raised over $330 million to date for their respective campaigns, according to financial reports.

But try explaining that to liberals. Many are now praising Roberts as having saved health care reform, by “throwing out partisanship,” and in the words of New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, “taking one for the country.” In his latest Op-Ed (7/01/2012), Friedman applauds the Chief Justice’s “virtue of audacity,” and “inspired…simple noble leadership.”

“…I found myself applauding for Chief Justice Roberts,” he writes, “the same way I did for Al Gore when he gracefully bowed to the will of the Supreme Court in the 2000 election and the same way I do for those wounded [U.S.] soldiers.”

As usual, Friedman’s choice of words here is instructive: Gore “bowed to the will of the Supreme Court,” rather than the will of the voters who elected him president in that much-maligned election. (As for Friedman’s applauding the wounded troops, he damn well better. His militant, uncritical reporting was largely responsible for sending them to Iraq in the first place.)

Other commentators have suggested Roberts—who made his personal opposition to the Affordable Care Act evidently clear in his written argument—was spurred to support the law by a recent Pew Research Poll that found overall trust in the Supreme Court’s supposed legal objectivity at an all-time low. As The Nation’s David Cole writes of the ruling (6/28/2012):

…I cannot but think that at the back of Roberts’s mind was the Court’s institutional standing. Had the law been struck down on “party-lines,” the Court’s reputation would be seriously undermined… Sharply divided partisan opinions like Bush v. Gore and Citizens United appear to have done damage to the Court’s legitimacy—and ultimately, its legitimacy is the source of the Court’s power.


But John Roberts’ concern for his own historic legacy on the Court does not make him any sort of a progressive champion—or, for that matter, make the health care law any better. If anything, Cole’s reasoning only confirms what many like me have long suspected: Members of the Supreme Court are just as self-serving, calculating and opportunistic as members of Congress. It means the Chief Justice did not vote to uphold “Obamacare” out of any great concern for Americans’ access to health care and well-being. He did it to secure his own place in the history books.

Roberts is no hero, and progressives who now seem eager to adopt him as such are, as usual, missing the broader picture. We still need to fight for real health care reform in this country. The ACA is a pyrrhic victory at best, and a minor step toward universal health care for all.

You will excuse me if I find little worth applauding here.

One of several Internet "memes" to emerge in celebration of Roberts' vote.


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