Last week, Jeffrey Toobin pushed back against the idea that if the Supreme Court find for the plaintiffs in King v Burwell, it is a problem for the Republicans, Obama’s Game of Chicken With the Supreme Court. In fact, he used Colin Powell’s old Pottery Barn rule to make the case. According to him, if Obamacare is broken, it will be the president’s problem because it is the president’s law. Toobin is a smart guy, but I don’t think he has a clue about political science.
Think about government shutdowns: why is it that the people always side with the president? Well, part of it is because the president is always a Democrat. Dig down a little deeper and you will see that the public’s reaction is almost axiomatic. Democrats are seen as being in favor of the government. Republicans are seen as hating the government. (I don’t think either of those perceptions are right, but they are what people think.) So when the government is shut down, it must be because the Republicans wanted it. If the proximate cause is the Democrats, it must be because the Republicans forced them into it.
The case here is even more on the Democrats’ side. The whole point of the Pottery Barn analogy was that if Bush went into Iraq and broke it, he bought it. In this case, it isn’t Obama who’s screwed things up. You’d have to use some pretty twisted logic to get there: people are getting subsidies because of Obamacare, and now they aren’t because of the continued Republican War on Obamacare, and so it is Obama’s fault for people not getting something that Obama gave them to start with. No. This is much simpler: Republicans hate Obamacare and this is their fault. This one isn’t hard. This is how it will play. Whether the Republicans will care or not is another matter.
Another aspect of this is how media shape perceptions. Clearly, the media cannot push a narrative that is totally at odds with what people are inclined to believe. But the media can certainly push a narrative that goes slightly against what the public is inclined to believe. And there isn’t even a question in this case. The media will push the narrative that the public already accepts. The only thing that will push against this is Fox News and hate radio. And the people who tune into those “news” sources will already believe the narrative that they are hearing. In terms of overall perception, we are talking about the people who listen to NBC Nightly News.
Clearly, everyone should hope that King v Burwell goes down in flames — with none of the justices siding with the plaintiffs. If that happened, maybe we could put an end to these frivolous anti-Obamacare lawsuits. If we get another 5-4 decision, I fear they will continue on. It’s like playing craps: the conservatives just keep rolling the dice hoping to get lucky. Regardless, this will be a problem for the Republicans and they will be forced to deal with it — even if they do it in a piecemeal way just until the next president’s term.