Conservatives are engaged in an interesting intramural debate over National Federation of Independent Business, et al. v. Sebelius—the Obama-care case. But whether they think Chief Justice Roberts deserves hearty praise or contemptuous blame or any of the countless permutations in between, whether they love the Obama-care ruling or hate it, here’s the key short-term fact: Conservatives are now set up for a political triumph far sweeter than any contentious win in the courts. The path forward is clear, and conservatives can surely unite behind the indispensable next step: win this election, and repeal Obama-care through the political process.
And of course this won’t be merely a short-term victory. Not only is Obama-care the most important issue in the upcoming election, its survival or repeal is crucial to the fate of freedom and prosperity in the decades to come.
The good news is that Obama-care is the issue that most benefits Mitt Romney. Seemingly sensing his weakness on this crucial point, President Obama has tried to suggest to the American people that the matter is no longer theirs to decide. With no shortage of hubris, he declared a week after the ruling that “the law I passed”—note the first person—“is here to stay.” When asked a few days earlier by Chris Wallace whether Obama-care “must clear another hurdle in the November election” (which of course it must), the president’s chief of staff Jack Lew replied, “You know, Chris, one thing that’s great about our system is that when the Supreme Court rules, we have a final answer.”
But the Court explicitly reaffirms in its opinion that “policy judgments . . . are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them.” It also declares that, when it comes to the “wisdom” of Obama-care, “that judgment is reserved to the people.”
The people will have their chance to render that judgment on November 6, as Romney should repeatedly remind them. The evidence strongly suggests that it won’t favor Obama’s signature legislation—or Obama. In 99 consecutive polls, Rasmussen Reports has found that likely voters favor the repeal of Obama-care. In 37 consecutive polls (dating back to spring 2011), likely voters have favored repeal by double-digit margins. A CNN poll taken after the Obama-care ruling shows that voters in battleground states favor repealing Obama-care by a margin of 60 to 38 percent. The CNN poll also shows that, nationwide, independents support repeal even more than voters as a whole do—and it shows that repeal is favored in every region but the Northeast, and by a 19-point margin (59 to 40 percent) in the all-important Midwest.
But it’s not just that voters want repeal; they also regard health care as Obama’s weakest suit. A Newsweek/Daily Beast poll taken after the Court’s ruling asked likely voters how they rate Obama on five central issues. Voters gave Obama by far his worst ratings on health care. They gave him middling net approval ratings of -2 points on “the economy” (47 percent approved and 49 percent disapproved) and -6 points on “creating jobs” (46 to 52 percent). On “health care,” they gave him an abysmal net approval rating of -21 points (37 to 58 percent). (Obama’s second-worst rating was on “the federal budget deficit,” -10 points, 44 to 54 percent.)
All of this is a reminder that Republicans didn’t win 63 House seats in 2010 by running mostly on the economy. Exit polling showed that voters then blamed both Bush and Wall Street more on that point than they blamed Obama. Republicans won because they ran against Obama-care and everything it represents: big government, big deficits, lousy health care, politicized everything, and a loss of liberty.
Two years later, the politics and circumstances look remarkably similar. Polls continue to show that voters ascribe more of the blame for the economy to Bush than to Obama. The economy isn’t noticeably better, and it isn’t noticeably worse. The issue on which Obama is most vulnerable continues to be the issue that he has made the centerpiece of his presidency—but which he would now like no one, least of all his opponent, to talk about.
The American people knew what this election was about even before the Supreme Court drove the point home for them. It’s a referendum on Obama-care, and hence on two distinctly different visions for America’s future—one being a vision of liberty and prosperity, the other being a vision of coercion and decline. The more Romney emphasizes this—the more powerfully he highlights Obama-care’s staggering faults and offers up a vision of real reform—the more likely he is to reach the White House.