Thursday, June 28, 2012

Miniature American Flags For Others

Is this becoming a political blog?  I really don't mean for it to.  My purpose has always been self expression rather than straight-up advocacy.  I don't make any effort to hide my political opinions, of course.  I'm a liberal, and I am so because I believe that the economy and the government and all of our various societal constructs exist for the benefit of the people at large, rather than the minority with the most money.  So I favor strong, viable institutions, available for use by the entire public and supported by the entire public.  Public schools, public transportation, and yes, public healthcare.

So obviously, I'm pretty pleased with today's decision from the Supreme Court that preserves the Affordable Care Act in almost exactly the form it was passed.  There's a lot that is wrong with that law, but "overreach" is certainly not the issue.  Our current health care crisis was created by the private insurance market, and the ACA functions primarily by trying to enroll more people in that market.  Having coverage with a company that makes money by taking as much and paying as little as possible is better than no coverage at all, it still represents a situation that no fair-minded person should regard as ideal.  And yet I am pleased nonetheless.

The ACA provides us, the American people, with many tangible benefits that we would be worse off without.  The Republicans have proposed no comprehensive alternative, so their demands for "repeal and replace" are really just demands for repeal, and then allowing insurance companies to operate however they please.  I prefer some rules to no rules, especially when the rules prohibit discrimination against women, the elderly, and the sick.

Pleased as I am, though, I find the Supreme Court's decision to be fascinating in a lot of ways.  Liberals will note that Anthony Kennedy showed his true colors by writing in his dissent that he and the other three justices in the minority regarded the entirety of the law (not just the controversial "individual mandate") as "invalid."  Anthony Kennedy may agree with the liberals on some points, but he is not a liberal.  He is not a moderate, either.  He is merely an idiosyncratic conservative.  Better than a dogmatist like Scalia or Thomas, but far too easily led by them.

Chief Justice John Roberts, on the other hand, is a tougher one to analyze in this case.  He had, before this vote, a more conservative reputation than Kennedy.  He probably still deserves it.  But his vote gave the liberal justices their majority and allowed this law, which conservatives despise, to survive.  As a result, Americans will keep what benefits the law gives them, even as they await the real long term solution that will help lift us out of our real crisis.  Because conservative media and politicians will publicly flay him for this, he should be commended for a courageous vote.

On the other hand, the decision he wrote seems calculated to preserve the law while simultaneously undermining the power of Congress to pass progressive laws.  It feels odd to be so thankful to John Roberts when he seems determined to put social security, medicare, and countless other programs on increasingly thin ice.  In the best case scenario, the language of Roberts' decision is a face-saving measure for the conservative crowd, while allowing him to vote his conscience.  In the worst case, he's up to something sinister, and this is merely laying the groundwork for the annihilation of every progressive law since the New Deal.  It may be something in between these extremes, but Roberts' real motivation is certainly something more than he's let on.

Regardless, it should be clear to all liberals that the Supreme Court, while occasionally capable of doing the right thing, cannot be counted on to back the interests of the public above all else.  At least five of the Justices are prone to the influences of reductionist ideology, and will side with injustice if it suits their "originalist" fantasies.  Nominating Justices to the Supreme Court is an extremely important power, and ought to be a major factor in our consideration of who to support for the Presidency.  The Court is powerful, and it should be powerful, but our only means of influencing that power directly is through the President.  With the oldest members of the Court currently in the conservative faction, we have an opportunity to buy ourselves some measure of judicial security; provided the President in office is inclined to appoint liberals, or at the very least true moderates.

All of this may sound cynical and nakedly political.  If you are a conservative, it will sound horrifying.  But we're stuck playing this game now, and I'd like to see the side that favors justice and equality playing it well.

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