Speaker of the House John Boehner last week issued a memo to GOP members to "not gloat" should the Supreme Court issue its ruling striking down all or parts of President Barack Obama's signature Affordable Care Act. It was good advice, I suppose at the time, but perhaps not in the way that Speaker Boehner meant it. The GOP appears adept at only talking to its Republican base - i.e. the choir, those who get it, those who abhor Mr. Obama. When it comes to addressing middle America, there is something missing. And, clearly, the Speaker was totally unprepared for the Supreme Court decision upholding the law.
This all reveals a danger when elected officials talk to only their base. They miss what the other half of Americans are saying.
Regardless of the controversial aspects of what is being referred to as Obamacare, and despite criticism of the President for moving the legislation forward instead of dealing more directly with job loss in the recession in 2009, the simple fact is that the President had an electorate mandate to fix the health care problem. During the 2008 campaign, health care was generally cited as the second or third most important issue. And among those who listed health care as a top issue, the major concerns were cost, availability, and quality for all. We seem to forget that lack of adequate (or any coverage) and the cost of care were the single most reasons for status anxiety in the United States - bankruptcy, falling out of middle class status, neglecting to take care of chronic health issues.
So the President addressed the issue. He did so in the mode of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as he conjured up the New Deal, a patchwork of ideas that didn't find any real coherence until later on: "I am not sure what we are going to do (to meet the challenges of the Depression) but we have to try something".
I think that Mr. Obama has achieved historical (if somewhat damaged) legislation, but he has been particularly inept in selling it to the public. There are real stories out there of real people in the real middle class, or overtime-working poor, who do not have access to health insurance. And unlike the cries heard during one GOP primary debate, the real American consensus is not to "let him die". We do care about the uninsured and we do know that we are all paying for whatever care they currently receive.
The Supreme Court decision to uphold the individual mandate under Congress' authority to levy taxes now allows the President to do what he has not done before this: go out and tell real stories of Americans with chronic illnesses who could not get proper health insurance or who avoided adequate care because they could not pay. To tell the stories about twenty-somethings who are having a very difficult time starting a career but who are now provided the safety net of coverage under their parent's policies until age 26. It will also place a special burden on Governor Romney and the GOP to explain why their plan is better for the American people. After all, that is what real campaigns are all about.
The Supreme Court today upheld more than the ACA - it upheld our system of government and placed the debate where it now belongs: before the American people. In the meantime, millions of Americans will expect health coverage.