Obamacare Won’t Pass Because of Stupid Liberals

Nancy Pelosi scoffed when a reporter asked her to cite the Constitution. Now the cause of progressive reform will be set back a generation.

When the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare sometime later this year, it will almost certainly be because Nancy Pelosi—poor, dumb Nancy Pelosi—couldn’t offer a serious answer to a serious question.

The question, back in the fieriest days of the health reform debate, was this: What in the Constitution gives Congress the authority to order every American to buy health insurance?

Pelosi’s response: “Are you serious? Are you serious?”

Well, yes, as it turns out: The question was quite serious. That much should be apparent after a disastrous three days of argument which left the Supreme Court seemingly poised to strike down the mandate that is the heart of the Affordable Care Act. And more than anything, the whole argument seems to prove an awful, awful point:

Liberals can be really stupid sometimes. Let us count the ways.

Liberals were stupid on the law: Hey, the Constitution is the law of the land. Congress is sworn to uphold it. Congress wouldn’t exist without it. So if the person running Congress can’t give a straight answer to the Constitutional authority for passing a certain law, maybe there’s reason to feel cautious.

Liberals were stupid on the politics: Remember, at the time of the health care debate, the Tea Partiers were marching everywhere they could. It was easy and understandable to chalk a lot of the protests up to simple racism—but if the protesters had a coherent point, it was that they understood the Constitution limited the reach of the government. (It’s a point they managed not to make often or loudly during the Bush Administration, but still.) If Pelosi had managed a coherent answer to the question, the political opposition would’ve found it harder to find traction. Instead, she made their point for them.

Liberals were stupid on the tactics: The Supreme Court shifted solidly to the right during the Bush Administration. The branch of government that settles Constitutional disputes now has a majority of members inclined toward a conservative Republican view of things. Democrats weren’t prepared for the reality of that. You can’t eye-roll your way through questioning from the justices; you have to be able to answer the question. And in the Supreme Court, the question is always going to be, “What’s your Constitutional authority for this?” Even after two years of preparation, the Obama Administration’s lawyer wasn’t prepared to answer the question.

Maybe it’s not a question of stupidity, though. Maybe it’s just hubris. Liberals didn’t just fail to take Constitutional arguments against Obamacare seriously—they failed to take seriously the idea that the court would take it seriously. And so got caught with their pants down. But you know what? Hubris is stupid, too.

Liberals and conservatives are different in lots of ways. A big important difference these days is that conservatives have a theory: That the Founders wanted government to be limited, and that limited government is the best way to preserve freedom. Now, if it’s a theory that sometimes stands in the way of solving certain problems—like addressing racism or poverty, for example—that’s not always a coincidence. But it’s a theory, and folks from the top of the conservative movement all the way to the bottom embrace it, and even study it. Some Tea Partiers toted copies of The Federalist Papers along to protests. They want to know the Constitution.

I’m not sure that liberals have as cohesive a vision. Oh sure, we have lots of smart folks, but there are probably as many versions of liberalism as there are liberals. We want to solve problems. And we want to do it the most pragmatic, expedient way possible. It’s a see-the-hill take-the-hill kind of approach, and if it’s laudable in its intents—let’s feed the hungry! let’s save the poor!—it can sometimes make us less-than-mindful of potential obstacles. Like conservatives and their view of the Constitution.

Truth is, you don’t have to read that far into The Federalist Papers to realize the Founders didn’t always have an originalist, limited view of things. You don’t have to buy the conservative vision of the Constitution to take that vision seriously. If you’re a politician trying to bring about massive change, it should be a requirement that you take it seriously. Maybe a few more liberals should be toting The Federalists to rallies.

Instead, Nancy Pelosi scoffed. In so doing, she may have helped the cause of progressive reform for another generation. And that’s just dumb.