On March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the most sweeping piece of domestic legislation since the passage of Medicare under the auspices of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” in 1964.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare,” has at its very heart the dream American liberals have dreamt since Harry Truman’s presidency, a future where all Americans are guaranteed the civil right of universal health care.
On Monday, March 26, 2012, two years after its passage, the Affordable Care Act stood fiery trial within the marble chambers of the Supreme Court. Though the litany of objections opponents have against it are legion, at the core of their disagreement with the law is the alleged unconstitutionality of its individual mandate.
The nine justices of the Supreme Court have already been subjected to hours of argumentation with prominent legal scholars and academics from across the country providing testimony on the viability of the law and its mandate. The high court’s decision will be delivered in June as the debate over the role of government heats up during the summer presidential campaign.
Regardless of what the Supreme Court ultimately does decide, the passage and fate of the Affordable Care Act will likely determine the legacy of Obama’s first term as our nation’s 44th president.
Prior to Obama’s inauguration, health care remained the defining issue liberals concerned themselves with after their political predecessors fought and won yesterday’s battles over old age insurance, labor organizing and civil rights. On the eve of the 2008 presidential election, with the financial crisis reaching a crescendo as the global economy sputtered, Barack Obama’s triumph at the national polls seemed to suggest the realigning of America’s political stars.
The rise of the right and the triumph of the Tea Party during the 2010 congressional elections shattered that illusion. Newly empowered, conservatives have vowed to dismantle the president’s signature achievement should Republicans win the White House in 2012.
All the while, the president’s capitulations over the Bush tax cuts, the debt ceiling and the cap and trade bill have resulted in liberal disillusionment at a point in time when their support by the administration is needed now more than ever to push back against the conservative onslaught.
Before liberals smirk and chafe about the unremitted pathology of the Obama administration’s incessant need to be bipartisan, they should not forget that progress has not come to America by leaps and bounds, but rather in steps and crawls.
Franklin Roosevelt’s own signature piece of legislation, the 1935 Social Security Act, was passed by Congress only after senior-ranking conservative Democrats received promises to exclude agricultural and domestic workers from its rolls, a disproportionate number of them being African American.
Harry Truman’s decision to defer to conservative pressure in the 1940s on race in the face of the looming Cold War caused him to establish a civil rights commission and desegregate the military but push no further.
Chief Justice Earl Warren’s decision during the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education (1954) only became unanimous after relenting to conservative pressure from the bench to demand that desegregation occur with “all deliberate speed,” a phrase southern lawmakers interpreted at the time to mean no hurry at all.
Should the Supreme Court defer to Congress its appropriate role of legislating, as conservative strict constructionists themselves would argue for in normal times, and Obama get reelected in 2012, the Affordable Care Act will forever be ingrained within the web of American law.
As Martin Luther King Jr. predicted, “the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.”