Health insurance law ruling will refocus fall campaign–away from the most important issues!

Let the predictable caterwauling begin: today the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, with Chief Justice John Roberts leading the majority on the 5-4 decision.

The heart of the disagreement over the law is its requirement that each of us Americans purchase health insurance, and the court has now ruled that the requirement does not violate the Constitution.

During oral arguments in March, conservative justices indicated they were skeptical about the individual mandate, the provision in the 2,700-page health-care law that requires nearly all Americans to obtain health insurance by 2014 or pay a financial penalty.

Arguing the case for the Obama administration, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. defended the law as a constitutional exercise of congressional power under the charter’s commerce clause to regulate interstate commerce. He said lawmakers were regulating health insurance to deal with the problem of millions of people who lack coverage and therefore shift costs to the insured when they cannot pay for their medical care.

Paul D. Clement, representing Florida and 25 other states objecting to the health-care law, argued that Congress exceeded its power in passing the law, which he said compels people to buy a product.

The court rejected Obama administration’s commerce-clause argument, but ruled 5-4 that Congress nevertheless “has the power to impose” the individual mandate under its taxing authority. The provision “need not be read to do more than impose a tax,” the opinion said. “This is sufficient to sustain it.”

Neither the plaintiffs in the case nor the Obama administration had argued before the court that the individual mandate was a tax.

(In fact, that is the point made—the only point made—in the story I saw when I clicked on the lead headline on FoxNews.comthis afternoon.)

The decision means that implementation of the new law should proceed, with the aim to get health insurance coverage for tens of millions of currently uninsured Americans; these are the people who currently access the most expensive health care around through emergency rooms and charity care, medical care that those of us who pay taxes are already footing the bill for anyway.

So, that’s settled.  Or not.  Arguably, the real heart of the disagreement is that this is Obama’s plan, and people who had supported similar health care insurance law revisions in the past (like the conservative Heritage Foundation and many Republicans; like the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, W. Mitt Romney, Gov.) opposed this one because it was Obama’s plan.  People like Mitch McConnell, and others who have proudly and publicly asserted that they will do whatever is required to make Barack Obama a one-term president (for whatever reason).

The dissent in the case will only fuel their fire: it argues that the Obamacare mandate that individuals purchase a product—health insurance—and its threatened denial of some Medicaid funding to states for non-compliance both unconstitutionally exceed government authority, and that since those provisions are crucial to making the system work, the entire statute should be tossed out…hmm, not much room for compromise here, I guess.

It’s unfortunate that the divide on the court was (except for Roberts) by perceived political ideology—for many people that’s going to reinforce the idea that the justices make their decisions based on politics rather than the law, and that will reinforce the left/right division in politics.  But it could have been worse: as David Franklin from DePaul University’s College of Law argues in Slate, Roberts found a way to uphold ACA in order to save the integrity of the Supreme Court.

A 5-4 decision to strike down Obamacare along party lines, whatever its reasoning, would have been received by the general public as yet more proof that the court is merely an extension of the nation’s polarized politics. Add the fact that the legal challenges to the individual mandate were at best novel and at worst frivolous, and suddenly a one-vote takedown of the ACA looks like it might undermine the court’s very legitimacy.

And, of course, health care is now likely to become the distraction center for a presidential campaign that I’d hoped would hold its focus on employment and the federal budget.

(We don’t need to spend time discussing how, in their rush to be first with the news, CNN and Fox both got the story completely wrong, do we?  Fish in a barrel…)

Here’s a smattering of the early reports on the court ruling, for your edification and delight:

The ultimate local news promo

Are you like me: do you hate the local television news? The newscast that addresses you like you’re a four-year-old (“Take your umbrella to work…”) and aims at your emotions rather than your intellect (“Parents terrified by an outbreak of scuffed knees among kindergarteners…”), that buries the lead story (“Allen Stanford sentenced to 110 years for $7 billion Ponzi scheme…”) whenever there’s heartwarming fluff to be dished out (“Woman saved from burning car by stranger weeks ago thinks he’s a good guy…”), the one that ignores the news of the world (“Euro zone economic crisis awaits Greek vote results…”) to spend precious minutes on pointless poofery (“We asked for your opinions on bunnies, and you Tweeted up a storm…”).

And have you always suspected that, deep inside, that those well-scrubbed, bubble-headed bleach blonde boys and girls are actually in on the shameful scam, that they know damn good and well what they and their cross-town colleagues are doing? Then you want to watch this: from the fine folks at WGN-TV in Chicago, the honest local news promo you’ve always wanted to see.

“The relevant life”

It was Friday afternoon when I saw the headline and giggled a little to myself (no need to let everyone else in on what I was doing).  It struck me as funny that a commencement speaker told a group of graduating high school seniors that they weren’t special, that someone had gifted the graduates with a surprise package of honesty such as they likely don’t receive at home.

Today, I looked at the video of that speech and was surprised—pleasantly—when I found that the people who wrote headlines about the “buzzkill” commencement speaker had missed the whole point.

This is not some blowhard scrounged up to give a graduation day speech: he is Wellesley High School’s own veteran English teacher David McCullough, Jr., son of the historian, apparently a well-respected member of this upper class community in Wellesley, MA.  (He’s given the faculty message at graduation before, said some of the same things six years ago!)  If you watch the people in the background and listen to the other sounds, you see and hear a lot of laughter and head-nodding agreement with where he’s going in this speech—telling the students that “if everyone is special, then no one is” to shake them out of their certificate of participation-filled, everybody-gets-a-trophy world.

…we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We have come to see them as the point—and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece…


No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it; now it’s “So what does this get me?”

McCullough’s lively and humorous talk isn’t mean-spirited at all.  He is serious in telling his students that they’ve been coddled by their parents (and the school and American society, to an extent) but those days are over, but his message comes out of love for the kids, and what I think is the right-headed realization that we’ve got to wake them up and stop spoiling them if we wish them to be successful and contributing members of society.

I also hope you’ve learned enough to recognize know how little you little you know now, at the moment, for today is just the beginning.  It’s where you go from here that matters.


The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer.

And without preaching, he spreads the word: do great things but don’t do them for yourself—do them for their own sake, or for the sake of others.

And then, you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself; the sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special, because everyone is.