Conservative Republicans must privately be rejoicing that the U.S. Supreme Court 1) affirmed the right of same-sex couples to marry and 2) declared it constitutional for the federal government to subsidize poor individuals and families who buy health insurance on the federal exchange because the state in which they live doesn’t have an exchange.
Let’s take these decisions one at a time:
By upholding the centerpiece of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Supremes, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, have given the conservatives a punching bag for several elections to come. They can continue to tell lies about it and to demonize it. They can hit the Democrats over the head with false assertions that it costs too much, takes away freedom, leads to death panels and is rife with inefficiencies. These lies began almost immediately, as every one of the Republican candidates for president tweeted his objection to the Supreme Court decision within hours of the announcement, many calling for repeal of the law and the development of a better alternative. Of course, the Republicans have no alternative, save some pious homilies about letting the free market work and giving consumers more choice, which ends up meaning very little in the realm of health care.
The Republicans understand that they can keep the issue alive through lies and invectives, and thereby keep their Tea Party base engaged and writing checks.
But if the Supreme Court had invalidated the ACA, it would have presented Republicans with major problems. For one thing, it would have thrown tens of millions of Americans off the health insurance rolls, because they wouldn’t be able to get government subsidies. These people would no longer have any protection against high medical costs.
Those who could keep their coverage would have also gotten screwed if the Supremes had voted thumbs down on Obamacare, because the health insurance system would have suffered the loss of enormous sums of money when those who lost coverage left the system. Insurance companies would have had to raise rates precipitously to pay for the medical expenses of those remaining in the system.
The Republicans would have suffered the wrath of the American people if the Supreme Court had ruled against the ACA. They would have been blamed when millions lost their health insurance and everyone else saw their costs zoom. In truth, Obamacare has been a success. Many more people are covered than before and healthcare inflation has moderated. People may say they don’t like the ACA, but they seem to like how it helps them. And they sure wouldn’t like it if they lost all the benefits that the ACA gave them.
The set-up is now perfect for the Republicans. They continue to hammer at Obamacare with no fear that anything will come of it. Kind of like the old Abbot & Costello bit in which Abbot is about to get into a fist fight and he shouts, “Hold me back, hold me back.” When Costello doesn’t make a move, Abbot pleads, “Please hold me back, you don’t want this guy to hit me, do you,” or some similar chicken-hawk statement.
Gay marriage is the same song, verse two. Besides ending discrimination against a large number of Americans, it’s a great victory for personal freedom in the United States, plus an affirmation that we live in a secular, not a Christian society.
A majority of Americans now support gay marriage and each new poll shows those numbers growing larger all the time. The Supreme Court is neither pulling nor pushing society, but reacting to it.
For years, Republicans have used social issues such as gay marriage and abortion to entice the religious right to vote for them. For decades, the Republicans have asked these “values” voters to vote against their own economic best interest to make certain that their religious views prevailed. But if gay marriage had remained a state-by-state issue, the GOP would have been playing a losing hand, as more and more people became offended by anti-gay rights rhetoric.
Just like after the Obamacare decision, the Republican candidates for president are lining up against the gay marriage decision in statements and tweets. They will continue to bemoan the decision well into the future, but there’s one thing they won’t have to do—support or oppose legislation, court decisions and ballot initiatives related to gay marriage. Supporting laws that attempt to protect the right of businesses to decline to provide goods and services for gay weddings is a much more comfortable position for Republicans who don’t want to alienate the mainstream of American voters, who now favor gay marriage. Instead of opposing gay marriage, Republicans can now support religious rights, something in which every American believes, even if we define it in a variety of ways. Jeb Bush and Lindsay Graham have already made deft pivots to supporting religious rights in their comments about the 5-4 Supreme Court decision.
In short, these two Supreme Court decisions, both so important for the well-being of the United States, also take Republicans off the hook as far as real action is concerned. Instead, they can wallow in their imaginary world of rhetoric, mixing lies with glorious statements about freedom, tradition and free markets.