While I was reporting out my New Yorker piece, I spoke with Akhil Reid Amar, a leading constitutional law scholar at Yale, who thinks that a 5-4 party-line vote against the mandate would be shattering to the court’s reputation for being above politics. “I’ve only mispredicted one big Supreme Court case in the last 20 years,” he told me. “That was Bush v. Gore. And I was able to internalize that by saying they only had a few minutes to think about it and they leapt to the wrong conclusion. If they decide this by 5-4, then yes, it’s disheartening to me, because my life was a fraud. Here I was, in my silly little office, thinking law mattered, and it really didn’t. What mattered was politics, money, party, and party loyalty.”
Sad, for Amar, but so honest of him to admit it. I’m genuinely sympathetic, because that is hard, devoting your working life to an idea and then having to grapple with the truth of the thing. I’m to the point on the health care law and the Supreme Court where I’m just enormously, ridiculously grateful to read something sincere.
I no longer care about the court’s “reputation”, which is probably why Amar is a constitutional scholar and I’m not. I respect constitutional scholars and I think their work is valuable. This isn’t a Tea Party screed or a diatribe against book learning or academics or people who actually know a lot about a specific subject. I respect that. The hard fact for me is, reputation is earned. I keep coming back to that. It isn’t a given and people and institutions don’t get to keep a good reputation when their actions aren’t reputable. I don’t know when we started speaking of “reputation” and “credibility” as abstract qualities that are completely divorced from the behavior of individuals within organizations or institutions, but that construct never made sense to me.
The reaction from conservatives is, of course, carefully planned, completely politically motivated, and made up entirely of meaningless marketing-speak:
“If the Court strikes down all or part of the president’s health care law, there will be no spiking of the ball,” Boehner wrote in a memo today to House Republicans.
Boehner said the GOP’s focus should remain on the overall economy, and “we will not celebrate at a time when millions of our fellow Americans remain out of work, the national debt has exceeded the size of our nation’s economy, health costs continue to rise, and small businesses are struggling to hire.”
That is, of course, if the law is struck down. I have no earthly idea what the Court will do.
Boehner released the memo to media to insulate Republicans against the charge that they were celebrating denying 30 million people access to health care, and that defensive move certainly worked as planned. The memo was reprinted entire all over the place. Boehner is (understandably) frightened that conservatives will be dancing in the aisles at having once again thwarted any effort to make health care accessible to the tens of millions of people who don’t get any. Boehner is worried that this will look bad. In other words, the Affordable Care Act is about John Boehner and the Republican Party. I don’t think this carefully planned media campaign will work.
I actually fully expect hooting and hollering by conservatives and the various media personalities and paid PR hacks that helped them achieve this historic victory over universal access, if the law is taken down. Remember the spontaneous outbreak of joy on the Right when a certain US city wasn’t chosen to host the Olympics? None of them give a rat’s ass about the Olympics or Chicago, but Chicago failing to get the Olympics was a HUGE win for conservatism.