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So much for experts

Jun 29, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

Thursday proved that predicting what the Supreme Court will do is a game for suckers

Immediately upon hearing the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Thursday upholding the comprehensive health-care reform legislation, officially known as the Affordable Care Act but commonly referred to as "Obamacare," supposed experts in certain political and media spheres were referring to the decision as "unexpected," "stunning" and "incomprehensible," depending on the media source or political party spokesman.

There may be several morals to the story, chief among them that rhetorical hype and election-year chest-puffing aren't synonymous with Supreme Court deliberations.

So certain were some analysts that the law would be overturned by the court, at least in part, that two of the biggest cable channels, conservative Fox News and middle-of-the-road CNN, both reported the outcome incorrectly at first. It seemed as if they didn't have any material prepared for the possibility that the plan would be upheld.

As much as anything, this demonstrated that the opponents of Obamacare (even the president has started calling it that) won the public-relations battle over the past year, browbeating the law relentlessly. Public opinion polling showed that a majority of Americans favored the repeal of the law -- but also showed that most Americans knew almost nothing about what the law actually contained.

Aside from the "individual mandate," which requires almost everyone either to get health insurance or pay a higher income tax to help cover the cost of the uninsured, ignorance of the law was widespread among American citizens. When specifics of the plan were explained individually, virtually all of them found approval among those surveyed.

Perhaps that simply demonstrates that Obamacare is too complicated for the typical American to digest. In that case, there was no shortage of people to do our digesting for us.

The vote was close, 5-4, just as most big votes in the Supreme Court are these days. The difference this time was that the swing vote turned out not to be Anthony Kennedy, to whom the same experts had all but granted permission to decide the case by himself, so sure were they that the rest of the court would divide along familiar lines, but Chief Justice John Roberts. Extraordinarily, Roberts sided with the more liberal wing of the court, not so much because he agrees with Sonia Sotomayor or Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the principles of the bill, but because he couldn't find reason to disallow the individual mandate.

In what will be described as a victory for President Obama, Roberts actually handed the opponents of Obamacare some ammunition amid their disappointment by declaring that the individual mandate amounted not to a business transaction but, rather, a tax. Now, at least, Mitt Romney and other Republicans out to defeat the president, regain full control of Congress, and repeal Obamacare have something to hang their hats on: no new taxes.

On top of all the turmoil tied to the Supreme Court decision is this fact of life about the Affordable Care Act: It really isn't all that radical. Private insurance companies will remain the carriers of most people, and because they now will have to cover everybody, they won't feel much inclination to keep costs down for those who can afford to pay. That's one reason you didn't hear many of the big health insurers joining the anti-Obamacare parade. They stand to make out just fine with this.

Finally, the nation was reminded Thursday that the Supreme Court of the United States remains an independent entity -- not just from the pressures of Congress and the President, but from those of the Gallup Poll, New York Times editorials or the innumerable websites, Facebookers, e-mailers or tweeters that turned the public debate into a national demonstration of amateur hour.

The nine people actually charged with making the decision did what the Constitution of the United States requires of them -- bloggers be damned.

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