Health care ruling is mandate to rejoice

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I began becoming cautiously optimistic about America again the night the Heat beat the Thunder in game 5 of the NBA Finals. My optimism soared to new heights this week when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Arizona's immigration law encroached upon federal authority in matters of border security.

That nuanced ruling, combined with the high court's decision to throw out automatic sentences of life in prison for minors convicted of heinous crimes, was way too much enlightenment from this bunch.

Frankly, such sudden bouts of reasonableness felt like a setup for the one-two smackdown of the individual insurance mandate most pundits and pols expected from the Supreme Court on Thursday.

There were other signs that I was maybe being too Pollyannish.

U.S. Rep. Mark Critz of Johnstown and other weather vane Democrats began making excuses about why they wouldn't be attending their own party's nominating convention this summer.

Reports that the National Rifle Association was also pressuring weak-kneed Democrats into voting for the contempt citation against Attorney General Eric Holder this week underscores the vacillating nature of our minor party functionaries.

Still, I refused to let their cowardice and opportunism weigh me down. There are times when every American is obliged to be as fiercely competitive as LeBron James, especially during excruciatingly close games.

Maintaining the stubborn hope that something will break the Democrats' way despite their unrivaled talent for imploding at inopportune times isn't easy.

Meanwhile, almost no one predicted that the Affordable Care Act would survive, given the ferocious grilling that U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli suffered when he defended it before the high court in March.

Conventional wisdom insisted that the political capital President Barack Obama expended during his first two years trying to get health care reform passed was a colossal failure. If the high-fives that were surely flying at the Obama White House on Thursday were a sign of "failure," then you can't blame the administration for wanting more of it as the November election looms.

After the Supreme Court's decision was correctly announced -- no thanks to CNN or Fox News -- reactions from local politicians poured in, but no one could exceed the unintentional hilarity and hypocrisy of local Congressman Jason Altmire:

"I agree with today's ruling," the McCandless Democrat said in a statement minutes after the ruling. "Although I voted against the 2010 health care reform bill, I never believed, nor did I ever argue, that it would be found unconstitutional. I voted against the bill because my constituents were overwhelmingly against it, and because I believed that the bill was flawed policy.

"Two years later, I still believe that the law does not adequately strike the balance between expanding coverage, improving quality, and lowering costs. Now that the court has ruled, it is my hope that we can once and for all put the acrimonious political debate behind us and do what we should have been doing all along -- working together in a bipartisan fashion to improve upon the law and bring down health care cost for American families, businesses and the government."

Left unsaid was how Mr. Altmire, who lost a primary bid to the aforementioned Mr. Critz, plans to do that. Presumably, the constituents of his district are just as misinformed today about health care reform as they were when they pressured him to vote against it. Mr. Critz is no more capable of going against the wishes of those constituents than Mr. Altmire was.

Without a doubt, Mr. Obama won big Thursday, but it will be a pyrrhic victory if he doesn't do what he failed to do when his party got the legislation passed: sell it to the American people.

The president has been given a second chance to make a full-throated case for health care reform now that he doesn't have to worry about whether it will be thrown out as unconstitutional. If he argues its merits as effectively as he's capable of doing, it will add to his margin of victory in November.

Meanwhile, politics goes on. The GOP obfuscates. Mr. Holder was held in contempt of Congress. But there's good reason to be optimistic about America again.

tonynorman

Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com; 412-263-1631; www.twitter.com/TonyNormanPG. First Published June 29, 2012 12:00 AM


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