With the Supreme Court holding up nearly every provision of Obama’s sweeping healthcare reforms, one would think that this would be a sweeping victory for the president. In many ways that is true. Although Obama was opposed to any individual mandate during the 2008 election (making that provision one of the largest differences between himself and former rival Hillary Clinton), the proposal quickly became Obama’s signature piece of legislation.
For this reason, I have to name President Obama as the biggest winner of the week in the political arena. After the long battle thorough Congress in 2010, having the Supreme Court validate his plan was a huge win for the president.
However, this may be a Pyrrhic victory. For although many of the president’s supporters support Obamacare, including the individual mandate, most polls have found that a slim majority of Americans favor repeal of the law, with the provision to buy insurance being the least popular aspect. This is an election year, and the electorate is highly divided on this issue. The margin of victory may be razor thin for whomever eventually wins the presidency. As has been the case for the last several presidential elections, the key to victory will likely be capturing the independents across the nation, especially in swing states.
For Obama to pull off victories in the states needed to win the electoral college, he may have to go on a massive publicity tour supporting his healthcare law, even now. Likewise, Mitt Romney is also going to have to try to use the issue to further raise disapproval of the same law among the same group of independents. Both of them, however, are going to face questions regarding their change of heart around this issue. Mitt Romney signed an individual mandate into law in Massachusetts while he was Governor there, and videos are already making the rounds on social networking circles of then-Senator Obama speaking out against such a plan in 2008. If they are both equally persuasive (or not persuasive), and the numbers remain what they are today, or even go slightly in Romney’s favor, then the president could lose a few percentage points in some states, throwing the election to Romney. Emotions run so high on this issue, that it is unlikely many people are going to change their minds on this new law, whose individual mandate goes into effect in 2014.
For that reason, although Obama is my choice for this week’s winner in the political arena, I am also choosing him for loser of the week. Despite his victory, in order not to lose independents to Romney (or Gary Johnson), he is going to have to spend a great deal of time over the next four months explaining why people should support his hallmark legislation. That is going to leave precious little time to get anything else done, and may be his undoing in swing states this Fall.
(White House photo)