Wednesday's important events
There are (at least) two newsworthy events today, one of which has received much more attention than the other.
Tonight, President Obama will address a rare joint session of Congress to lay out his vision of health care “reform". Obama will probably give a “yes, but” discussion of a “public option” along the lines of his belief that it’s an important part of real reform (since for him “reform” means maximizing government control) but that he’s willing to do other things so that at least something can “get done” and leave a public option off the table. Which is to say, he’ll get all he can now, and then get the public option later, because make no mistake, the liberals will never give up on government-run medicine.
Obama’s speech carries both risk and potential reward. It would not surprise me to see his approval ratings take a modest bounce after a steady multi-month downtrend. But once Obama makes this speech, his “ownership” of the issue increases dramatically. If he fails to pass legislation, which I most sincerely hope turns out the be the case, his political capital will be diminished even more than it would be by a failure of Congressional Democrats to pass legislation with Obama sitting coolly on the sidelines.
Obama knows this and it’s one reason he will probably try to blame Republicans for “obstruction". There are two huge problems with this accusation: First, the public knows it’s right to obstruct a bad bill. Second, the public knows that the Democrats have such large majorities in both houses of Congress that they could pass this without any Republican support if there really were widespread Democratic support. A recent Rasmussen Report shows the rapidly increasing skepticism among the public about the House bill. Fewer than 25% of voters believe the Democrats should even try to pass a bill that can’t get any Republican support. Again, that’s part of the reason Obama will try to coerce a Republican or two (particularly Maine’s Olympia Snowe, a RINO of the worst sort) to sign on to a bill and give him political cover. However, even if they get Snowe, they may not get enough Democrats to pass a bill. And even if they get Snowe, the public knows what she is (and what she is will certainly be emphasized in advertising against her and the bill almost immediately if she caves in.) In short, Obama’s blaming Republicans will show his desperation and the degree to which he’s lost control of the issue.
On Sunday, Obama’s handler David Axelrod spoke about the health care issue, using the phrase “competition and choice” over and over. Obama and his team are banking on the idea that repeating a big enough lie enough times will make the public believe it. There is no sense in which a public option is about competition or choice. It is about control.
The good news is that the public, including importantly senior citizens, seem disinclined to believe Obama. It is mostly far-left political ideologues, kool-aid drinking members of Obama’s cult of personality, and the leadership of large labor unions who believe – or more precisely claim to believe – that the public option is really an option or a “tool” for cost savings.
It’s a tool in the same way that a bayonet is a tool. Its use is likely to be fatal to the thing it’s used on.
Obama has said that his plans will reduce health care cost inflation. But history is so replete with massive underestimation of the cost of government programs, including particularly health care-related programs, that again, no honest intelligent person believes Obama’s claims.
So tonight, our President will make his pitch. Obama might aim some political capital at Democrats, urging them to do whatever it takes to get something done even if it means leaving out the public option. That’s a path that Nancy Pelosi is likely to resist. He might offer a Trojan Horse such as a “trigger” or “co-op". Or, he might try to thread the needle and say that “all options are on the table", trying to both take leadership and leave deniability at the same time. That’s the most likely scenario for a guy whose favorite vote is “present." My guess is that the speech will cause a short-term upward blip in his ratings, followed within 10 days by new lows in his poll numbers are more and more Americans see him for the slick Chicago amateur that he is.
The other important event on Wednesday will be the Supreme Court’s unusual between-term hearing of arguments in the campaign finance law case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Citizens United, a conservative group, made a film entitled “Hillary: The Movie", which they intended to run in theaters and elsewhere during the last primary election season. The Federal Elections Committee said that ads for the movie and the movie itself were both “electioneering communications” and thus illegal under the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.
You can (and should) read much more about the case HERE.
Citizens United has argued (correctly) that this is clearly a violation of First Amendment free speech protections. However, Citizens United is pressing the Supreme Court to make a much broader ruling than an exemption for movies from McCain-Feingold. They are encouraging the Court to reexamine the entire law, including the provisions that curb campaign contributions from corporations.
Based on prior public statements, this case is likely to come down to Chief Justice John Roberts’ willingness to cast aside precedent where that precedent is clearly wrong, such as in the Court’s partial upholding of McCain-Feingold in the case of McConnell v. FEC which was decided in 2003. Justices Thomas, Kennedy, Scalia, and Alito seem ready to overturn much of McCain-Feingold. Roberts has in the past been, in my view, too revential of precedent but I believe that may change in this case, particularly if he is irked by the elevation to the Court of Sonia Sotomayor who could strike him (as it does me) to have been a massive dimunition of the Court’s talent while adding a particularly polarized and polarizing political factor.
It could not help the pro-regulation, pro-muzzling of political speech side of the room when the government’s lawyer argued that the existing law could be used to block distribution of a book or distribution of a movie over the internet or on DVD.
So, the Court will hear arguments on the case today. A decision will probably not be known for several months and will likely include some trading among the Justices, particularly the more conservative 5, to try to come up with a majority opinion. My guess is that substantial parts of McCain-Feingold will be overturned on a 5-4 vote, with a decision that at least starts moving us back toward the recongition that the speech which the Founders most intended to protect with the First Amendment was political speech. It will be high time, as McCain-Feingold represents one of the blackest marks in recent American political history and, as I’ve said before, probably the blackest mark (or at least in the top 3) on the record of George W. Bush who signed the measure into law while saying he believed much of it to be unconstitutional.
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