National health care reform is perhaps the single most controversial and recognizable piece of legislation shepherded into law by President Barack Obama. As the Supreme Court works to determine the legislation’s fate, common sense suggests the law’s downfall would deal a significant blow to Obama’s re-election hopes.
In actuality, the demise of health care reform could infuse the president’s campaign with a much-needed dose of energy.
When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law in March 2010, it signaled a landmark accomplishment for Obama. Many presidents had worked toward substantive reform for decades, but it was Obama who made this Democratic fantasy an American reality.
However, the victory came with a heavy price. The president expended a significant amount of political capital securing the support of enough hesitant members of Congress within his own party. Perhaps more importantly, the legislation passed with virtually no bipartisan support. In fact, almost immediately after Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives, they expressed their displeasure by passing a bill with the not-so-subtle title, “Repealing the job- killing healthcare law act.”
The repeal measure was little more than a symbolic gesture of disapproval due to the fact Democrats still controlled the Senate. Nonetheless, while Congress was busy engaging in a war of words, a battle on another front was gaining momentum.
On Nov. 14, 2011, the Supreme Court indicated it would hear arguments relative to the constitutionality of various aspects of ACA. Both Democrats and Republicans expressed confidence their sides would emerge victorious.
Over the course of three days in March 2012, the Supreme Court devoted an uncharacteristically excessive six hours of arguments on the controversial health care law. While rumors frequently appear suggesting the court’s decision is just around the corner, opinions are likely to be released at the end of the court’s term later this month.
On the surface, it would seem as if the downfall of Obama’s signature achievement would be devastating to his re-election hopes.
If ACA were to fall completely or be broken apart piece by piece, Obama’s reputation and campaign hopes could be charred by the flames of a Supreme Court rebuke.
At the same time, the downfall of health care reform could come with a silver lining shiny enough to help Obama rally his political troops and supporters.
While Obama struggled in the 2008 presidential primaries before ultimately defeating then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, D- N.Y., he cruised to victory over Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., in the general election.
For many today, selective memories of an above-the-fray candidate who transcended barriers of age, race and gender stand in contrast to daily portrayals of contemporary Obama as an incumbent immersed in the muddy waters of dirty politics often embraced by both major political parties.
Former President Bill Clinton has gone on public record (and off the campaign’s talking points) saying, “I don’t think I should have to say bad things about Gov. (Mitt) Romney personally to disagree with him politically.”
Alexander Burns and John F. Harris say that Clinton is not making statements such as this to do Romney any favors but rather out of an awareness that “swing voters in particular hate what they see as mindless combat and will reward people they believe are debating in good faith.”
Obama’s failed attempts to demonize Romney by highlighting his connections with private equity illustrate the shaky ground of a campaign built on demonization.
Additionally, Obama’s emphasis on economic recovery appears to be hurting him even more than demonizing Romney’s association with private equity. James Carville, the legendary Clinton strategist responsible for the campaign slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid,” highlights the dangers of continuing to focus on economic recovery when so many Americans are struggling economically.
Carville recently told ABC, “I’m worried that when the White House or the campaign talks about the progress that’s being made, people take that as a signal that they think that things are fine and people don’t feel they ought to believe that.”
The Obama campaign that was famous for connecting with voters in 2008 is having trouble relating to both its base and critical independent voters in 2012.
Those who favor Obama but feel disillusioned by a focus on "demonization and economic recovery" in lieu of "hope and change" may not have an incentive strong enough to flock to the polls in November. However, a potential blow to health care reform by the Supreme Court could be just the shot in the arm the Obama campaign needs to re-energize its supporters.
Although the president would likely prefer not to see his landmark health care legislation dismantled by the Supreme Court, such an outcome could serve as a catalyst to energize voters unaccustomed to the 2012 version of Obama as a candidate.
If ACA is burned to the ground by the Supreme Court, newly energized Obama supporters may rise from the ashes hoping the president who helped build health care reform once can do it again.
Kurt Manwaring is a consultant with Manwaring Consulting, LLC. He maintains a personal blog at www.kurtsperspective.blogspot.com.