In my previous essay, I delved into my fascination with Roman history to draw a parallel with what I see as part of Obama's strategy. The way that the ACA case has played out confirms what I see as his strategy.
If you remember, Republicans were braying that the President was going to run a "billion dollar campaign" for re-election that would destroy democracy in the US forever. As usual, the Right was projecting its own sins onto its opponents. The fact is that the Obama campaign was never going to get near $1 billion in funding. Democrats, were aghast at the Citizens United ruling, and major donors like Warren Buffet will not donate to Democratic Super PACs as a matter of principle. We can argue the merits of such positions—I think as long as Citizens United is the law of the land it's more than short-sighted to unilaterally hamstring ourselves—but the fact remains that with that decision the floodgates opened for GOP donors. Those who donate to the GOP Super PACs see themselves as the most harmed by Democratic policies, and giving a small percentage of their wealth to defeat the socialist interloper in the White House and his compatriots all across the country is seen as a small but wise investment. The Republican campaign was always going to have more money than the Democrats once finance laws were struck down. Darkly warning that the Democrats were going to have hundreds of millions of dollars to impose their will upon an unwilling populace was the usual Republican strategy of deflecting their own intentions onto their enemies.
Pres. Obama knew he was going to face opponents who were better funded than he would be; for the first time in modern US history, the incumbent would be at a financial disadvantage in an election.
But Obama has been here before. Hilary Clinton was the presumptive nominee in 2008—before he beat her by amassing an intricate knowledge of the delegate selection rules which allowed him to amass delegates while the Clinton campaign focused on winning big states. He was supposed to lose to war hero John McCain; America wasn't ready for a black President. But then McCain chose Sarah Palin as his vice president, and Obama kept campaigning, drumming up enthusiasm, instilling in people the hope that things could change if the son of an African father and a white Kansas mother could be elected in a country with a dark racial history.
Just like Hannibal facing a larger Roman army, Obama has faced opponents with more resources, and beaten them by a combination of keen strategy and deft tactics. His opponents always expect his attacks to come from the normal direction, the way it has always been done, and he upends them by attacking out of left field. As an aikido master, he allows his opponents' own momentum to throw them, so that he can conserve his own precious resources.
However, being at a disadvantage means you have to take risks. And that's what he did with bringing ACA before the Supreme Court this year.
He could have waited until after the election. There was no legal reason to bypass lower court action and send the case directly to SCOTUS. But, the health care law was the President's greatest domestic achievement. He was always planning to run on it, despite what the Right was saying. But it would be more difficult to run on it when the law's status was still unsettled. It needed to be decided, one way or the other. And the best way to run on it was to bringing it before the Court, have it upheld, and then tout its provisions for the entire campaign. Upholding it would also fire up his supporters. Victory breeds victory, but victory only comes to the bold. It was a bold tactic to push forward the ruling on the law—a decision that many on the Left condemned after the "disastrous" oral arguments.
Although a few on the Left debunked the punditry's glee at the law's impending doom, the general consensus was that the Court would overturn ACA and deal a deathblow to Obama's re-election. Instead, his gamble paid off. It was always a gamble, but one not based on a whim. A good leader scouts out the terrain before committing to battle. Obama knew that he had four votes for upholding, and three for striking down. The two undecideds were Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy. That Justice Kennedy sided with the dissenters was disappointing; any pretense of "moderation" that he carried has just blown away in the wind like chaff. But as Chief Justice, Roberts had different considerations. He has a legacy to craft and uphold. And condemning 30 million citizens to health insecurity would be a dark stain on his record, even more so than Citizens United. There is no doubt in my mind that Obama counted on that, and with that bit of intelligence thought the gamble worth the risk. Victory only attaches to the bold; boldness won the day.
Snookering the GOP on the debt ceiling. Coming out for marriage equality after being "forced" to by Joe Biden. Directing DHS to not deport DREAM Act eligible youth. Winning the ACA debate before the Court. These are all victories scored by attacking from where your opponents were not expecting. The GOP truly believes that the President's record is weak. Their myopia blinds them. In point of fact, Obama's record is one of the most profound in modern US political history, especially in the short amount of time he's had to amass it. He was methodically lining up his pieces, making a case for his re-election by his actions. Now that the campaigning season has started—and now that the GOP has taken its brand to new depths by its callousness and incompetence—Obama has begun wheeling in and encircling the GOP, constricting them to an increasingly narrow field of action, at which point it will be a political decimation. Pres. Obama knows that none of the reforms we need as a nation can be implemented as long as this current GOP is a viable force. The battle this summer and fall is to neuter the GOP as that viable force, and give the country breathing room to implement reforms that will make the economy sustainable and the commonwealth more just.
And now the Democratic base is fired up. Independents are splitting for Obama. And the GOP faithful do not like Mitt Romney. The Right keeps making frontal attacks against Obama and the Democrats, pouring in money, and, according to recent polling, have not much to show for it. If anything, the slew of negative ads are turning voters away from the GOP. Things are getting better, and there's a disconnect between that feeling and the darkness coming out of the Right.
Now that ACA has been upheld, the GOP base will demand that its candidates campaign on repealing the law. But, now that ACA has been upheld, the Democrats will campaign on the provisions of the law, provisions that the majority of voters approve of. The GOP has nothing to replace it with. Frothing anger doesn't win over the broad middle of the electorate. If anything, the GOP base will be dispirited, seeing that all forces are aligned against them. The Koch Brothers can pour in money, but that won't motivate Republican voters to go to the polls. Once the full ramifications of the Court's decision weigh in, Democrats will increase in enthusiasm, while Republicans will feel that voting is not worth it.
It was always a trap. Fortunately the Right has blinders on, because the President is named Barack Hussein Obama.