Obamacare and a Political Lesson

by Michael Green

As you check out the main stories in this issue about Obamacare and whether it lives or dies, there’s always a political angle to consider. Here, let’s consider an interesting little story to which Nevada had a connection.

Each year, UNLV’s Barrick Lecture Series welcomes a variety of speakers. It’s thanks to Marjorie Barrick, the widow of an old-time gambling operator who put her family’s money to use for great causes. And in 2012, the speakers were doing a road show across the country. If you remember the old 60 Minutes “Point-Counterpoint” with a liberal and a conservative, or similar talk shows, that’s what this pair was doing: Jeb Bush and James Carville.

They did their shtick, including a lot of references to Cajun cooking (from Carville, don’t you know), and then took questions. Carville had spoken at UNLV in January 2000 with his wife Mary Matalin, and during the Q&A, someone asked who would win that year’s presidential election, and given a great answer: that despite what his wife thought, he wasn’t dumb enough to make a prediction, but he would give us what we needed to know to make a prediction. It was this: that except for Richard Nixon, who was the exception for various good reasons, every presidential winner since 1952–the television age–had been the candidate who projected more optimism. If you think about 2000, that proved true. Anyway, all of that is to say that Carville is a shrewd operator, as if you didn’t know, so if he had something to say, it was worth pondering.

That night with Bush, an audience member asked what the U.S. Supreme Court would do about Obamacare, which was then up before the nine folks in robes. Carville said no one could know what was happening in the court, but he said this: “There isn’t a Democratic political consultant alive who doesn’t hope the Supreme Court throw it out by a 5-4 vote.”

Carville’s reasoning, in terms of what he stated and what could be surmised, was that it would give Barack Obama, running for reelection, a great issue: the court split on political, partisan lines, and the court’s composition mattered and was affected by who was elected president. Not to mention tying his opponent–not yet known but, of course, Mitt Romney–to the idea that Republicans didn’t care about people’s health, etc., etc.

Of course, Chief Justice John Roberts confounded the experts and members of his own party by voting to uphold the Affordable Care Act. Democrats didn’t get their issue and won anyway, with Obama easily carrying Nevada. Seven years later, Obamacare’s provisions are much more popular than they were at that time. So, it seems, are Democrats in Nevada’s case. It will be interesting to see what kind of political hay is made.