America died last week, just shy of her 236th birthday. At least according to some people. Conservative columnist Ben Shapiro tweeted that the Supreme Court decision on health care was "the greatest destruction of individual liberty since Dred Scott" and "the end of America as we know it. No exaggeration." Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli said it was "a dark day for American liberty." Sarah Palin said it wasn't just America that died, but freedom itself; America was just a casualty, a bystander in the cold, senseless drive-by shooting that claimed freedom's life.
As is customary with angry Republicans, the rhetoric got violent real quick. Self-described patriots on Twitter said that this was cause for a second American Revolution, and conservative blogger Michael Connelly published his declaration of war. "Perhaps it would be wise for those who are celebrating the death of America today," he said, "to remember that as long as there is one American left that is willing to defend the Constitution and the Republic, there will always be a spark of life that has not been extinguished. I intend to be one of those sparks."
What's so offensive, again? Do these self-described sparks of liberty believe that the Constitution requires 50 million Americans—more than seven million of them children—to be uninsured? Well, yes, they probably do. Many opponents of Obamacare believe that your health should be intrinsically tied to your income, and that the wealthy few have more of a right to a long, healthy life than all other Americans. Remember the September Republican debate when the audience cheered the death of a hypothetical uninsured man?
Obamacare mandates health insurance for every American starting in January of 2014. Among other protections, it also prevents patients from being denied coverage for preexisting conditions and prevents insurance companies from pursuing reckless profits at the expense of the people they ostensibly serve. And because the law caps health-insurance profits at 15–20 percent, 13 million Americans will receive refund checks this August.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion that the individual mandate "may reasonably be characterized as a tax," and the Constitution permits taxes, and it's not the court's role to interfere with laws that are constitutional. The next day, Queen Republican Bitch Rush Limbaugh went predictably apoplectic, saying Republicans were "taunted, frauded, defrauded, mocked, laughed at... What [Roberts] did, he stretched the limits to avoid being accused of activism. In the process, he became more activist than any justice in recent memory."
There has been rampant speculation as to why Roberts, appointed to his seat by George W. Bush, would side with the liberals. Some say he allowed Obamacare to pass as a smoke screen for a minor statement it allowed him to make on the Commerce Clause, which could open up a larger legal assault on federal powers. Others claim Roberts was worried about the legacy of his court, which is perceived as highly partisan. Others think he's a traitor or a secret Democrat. Still others think he was just doing what he believed to be the right thing. Whatever the case, Roberts may not be able to show his face at a conservative gathering for a good long while.
The thing that makes the ruling great political news for Democrats is the way it reignited the dormant Tea Party. Those teabaggers donated more than a million dollars to Mitt Romney's campaign within hours of the announcement—some 30,000 small donations to a campaign that has made an overwhelming share of its money from the wealthiest 1 percent. Raising ridiculous amounts of money has always been a distressing Romney strength, but the fact that teabaggers are getting back into the fight, louder and angrier than ever, is a blessing.
After all, Romney has proved that he can't stand up to his party's extremists—and not just by his failure to stand up to the crowds hooting in joy at the hypothetical deaths of the uninsured. He's also failed in smaller, more personal ways, like failing to defend a perfectly qualified gay staffer from evangelical Christian bigots. Any hypothetical Romney electoral win this fall is going to be very close, and he needs every single nutjob vote if he's going to seize the White House.
The thing is, teabaggers scare away independents. Normal Americans hear Republicans saying America is dead, but then they look around and notice that America isn't dead, that freedom is not strung up from a tree on their front lawn. When House Republicans vote to repeal Obamacare in a symbolic vote to the rabid applause of teabaggers, the general public will see another day gone by without any effort from Republicans to create jobs. Over time, reasonable Americans tune out the crazies who keep making nonsense statements about the end times.
On the day of the verdict, Romney made a brief, stilted statement to the press with tautological non-zingers like "Obamacare was bad policy yesterday, and it's bad policy today. Obamacare was bad law yesterday, and it's bad law today." He also said Obamacare "adds trillions to our deficits," which Politifact almost immediately debunked. Romney admitted that health insurance costs are too high, but declined to offer any solutions other than repealing Obamacare on his first day in office. Then, in keeping with his strategy of avoiding the press, Romney tucked his head down and walked away, ignoring the media's pleas for elaboration.
At some point, elaboration on a Romney health care plan is going to have to come. The problem is, he already devised an elegant solution to the problem: the Massachusetts health care law Governor Romney signed into law in 2006, which requires... an individual mandate! At the time, mandates were the preferred solution for conservatives, and Romney thought Romneycare would be the legislation at the centerpiece of his presidential run. But then came the teabaggers, and President Obama's adoption of the mandate, and Romney was forced to disown his pride and joy. Now he claims that Romneycare was the right solution for Massachusetts, but health care should be a states' rights issue (because cancer behaves differently in Massachusetts than it does in, say, Mississippi, obviously).
Romney's plan right now is to evade questions. But what, exactly, is his solution on this issue? Sooner or later, someone will ask him that, and Romney is going to have to look downward for just a second—past his starched, rolled-up sleeves and his awkward blue jeans and brown loafers (which probably cost more than a reporter makes in a month)—and then look back up into the eyes of the person across from him. And then he's going to have to open his mouth, and something is going to have to come out.