"My friend works for the national health, Doctor Robert" -The Beatles
Throughout the media, pundits had to abandon script and toss the "What do you make of this?" ball to the next talking head. Soon enough, the new(s(ish)) scripts arrived, mostly revolving around the suddenly noticeable John Roberts stealing the spotlight from Fulcrum Kennedy. There was much speculation as to why he would have sided with Obamacare. "Concern for his legacy," said the sage, not wanting his court to go down in history as an organ of a political party. "He was sick of Kennedy stealing the spotlight," said others. Both theories reflect the American media's preference for drama clad in mild cynicism (driven by the need to fill airtime and cyberspace with endless "perspective" about a story in which nothing happened except status quo).
But this is the cynicism of the sleepy, a skin-deep skepticism, lazy. Even the accusation that the Chief Justice would alter his feelings about the Constitution out of concern for his image, that he would buck expectations and alter history just so he would not go down in it as a zealot, even that falls short of what the true cynic can come up with.
First of all, this idea that Judge Roberts can escape a legacy of favoritism to the political right with a single big decision is nonsense. The guy has consistently voted with the Court's Right wing, expanding abortion restrictions, limiting 4th Amendment freedoms (though I will acknowledge that only the SCOTUS has stood between us an Cheney's vision of an utterly powerful Executive Branch, leaving us with one that is merely frighteningly powerful), and so on down the line. And of course, Citizens United, a small case he let grow into the license for corporations to buy elections.
In fact, the Citizens United case is what makes upholding Obamacare moot. Now that wealthy corporations can control the messages, and thus the elections (look no further than Romney's primaries for evidence), legislative reversals of the Patient Protection and Affordable health Care Act should not be a problem (Roberts' decision in no way forestalls that), and even if they are, the GOP will regain the presidency after the Obama interlude (even if it stretches another term) and be able to dismantle the public benefits.
And think about this (as I did, driving through the pundit-free static zone): by upholding Obamacare on the basis that the mandate is a TAX, Roberts gave the Right, from the Libertarians and Tea Partiers on up to the corporate boardrooms, plenty to get worked up about. He provided a get-out-the-base message and unlimited funds to present it with during a presidential election. We can count on the blowhard idiots of the right-wing media to rage and sputter about Roberts' treason, but the smart money is quietly smiling, appreciative of these gifts from the justice they paid for. Who better than rich white men to recognize that the longer-lasting precedent will probably stem from the refusal to uphold the Administration's argument that it can regulate commerce (aka rich white men)?
Roberts won't get the usual recompense, since unlike an elected official he is unlikely to leave office for a plum private sector job anytime soon, but he does get some benefits (and I would surmise that his kids' prospects look pretty good). One has already been noted by the talking heads: that Roberts' dramatic siding with the Liberals will innoculate him from charges of Right-wing activism for a while, that it may free the High Court as a whole from accusations that it is biased and un-yieldingly ideological. This interpretation is bullshit, but will get repeated enough that most of our nation's flock of voters will believe it. Next time he hands corporations a gift or restricts our rights, this decision will be trotted out so that the injustice may be blotted out.
He also gets his court back. An incredible amount of breath has been wasted this week talking about The Roberts Court. Specifically, how Kennedy's position as the Swing Vote (does that title fit for a guy who spends almost all his time at the Right?) had eclipsed the Chief Justice's presence. Punditry repeats the script, marvels at the Roberts swing (schwing! look at that big decision) and intones that the Roberts Court will go down in history for this (as a villain to the half-bright Right, to be sure, but at least not as the Kennedy Court).
I could, as the pundits say, "drill down" further, but it would get boring or bitter, and I think you get the point.
The point of the title, as it happens, had nothing to do with this post at first. Last year, at the Ides of October, I'd decided that the Mojourner Truth was getting too un-focused, and that I would spin off certain topics to other blogs. Politics went to Mo Comment, in a branding attempt that failed almost completely. I only posted 14 times, and nobody was interested. With the Supreme Court news this week, I got about 4 hits, presumably misses on the part of the searchers, led astray by the "SCOTUS" word in my last post. So, political posting is coming back home to roost, re-fusing after the fission.