“Give me a one-handed economist,” President Harry Truman famously wished. “All my economists say, on the one hand, but on the other…”
In the days since the Supreme Court's 5-to-4 decision allowing implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to proceed, many candidates for office probably wish the same of their campaign advisors.
There are both opportunities and challenges that emerge from the court's stunning decision. The candidates and the campaigns must make choices about what to say and where to say it. Today, we look at the decisions facing President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress.
Clearly, the court's decision was better than the Obama campaign could have hoped. Had the court struck down part or all of the ACA, Obama would certainly have been weakened. Not only did they get the win, but the victory was delivered by the previously unsympathetic Chief Justice John Roberts. It was a clear victory for Obama.
So it would seem, then, that it would be in Democrats' interest to speak frequently about healthcare reform, to feature the Affordable Care Act in speeches and ads between now and Election Day. Obama will want to highlight the “signature achievement” of his first term, now newly endorsed by the Supreme Court of the United States. Democrats will point to the fact that the ACA passed without the support of a single Republican office holder and now, it has been endorsed by the “highest court in the land” and its conservative chief justice.
But, hold on a minute.
So far, Obama and his fellow Democrats have seemed reluctant to feature healthcare reform as they make their case for their reelection. Perhaps that is because surveys have shown – and continue to show – that a majority of Americans are either opposed to or ambivalent about the ACA. Perhaps it's because Democrats and the White House have consistently allowed the law's opponents to frame the debate and define “Obamacare.” And it is not clear that the court's decision will make “health insurance exchanges,” the “Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute,” or the “individual mandate” any more popular or exciting than they are today.
So what should a Democratic campaign advisor be telling his candidate to do? Is it too late for Democrats to reset public opinion on the ACA and make passage of healthcare reform a true political asset for the president and the Democratic Party?
Maybe. Obama and Democrats in Congress have been far too shy to defend the ACA, and too quick to apologize for its flaws without explaining the significant benefits that will accrue from getting almost everyone covered. As a result, opinions on the ACA have hardened and it is not likely Roberts' opinion will change many minds. But if it were me - and, thankfully, it isn't - I'd much prefer talking about something I did (pass the most significant healthcare reform since 1965) than something I haven't been able to do very well (fix the economy), at least, not yet.
Al Jackson is head of Chandler Chicco Companies in Washington DC.