Fiscal cliff . . . blah, blah, blah . . . dysfunctional government . . . blah, blah, blah.
I know it’s important.
But I just can’t bring myself to talk about it, other than to say that the posturing is idiotic and that it is more obvious than ever that everyone who is “serious” about solving [INSERT PET CRISIS HERE] is apparently only serious about doing it on their own terms, which is an approach that always works well.
Blah, blah, blah . . .
Oops, even I slipped into it there for a second — sorry! You don’t really want to here any more about that, right?
OK . . . how about I talk about Chief Justice John Roberts instead?
I am, after all, a lawyer. Sigh . . . .
I saw the following headline this morning that got me thinking: John Roberts is the Person of the Year.
If the approaching new year has you looking about for “most influential” types, then look no further than the Chief Justice, a lawyer’s lawyer, who, intentionally or unintentionally, almost certainly had more influence on Election 2012 then all the millions of dollars in hounds-of-hell SuperPACs he unleashed on the unwitting public via Citizens United (which, interestingly, I haven’t heard a peep about since early November . . .).
While people were awaiting the Court’s decision on Obamacare, both sides were a bit ambivalent on the political consequences. After all, if conservatives lost at the Supreme Court, they could run against both an unpopular law and activist judges. As for President Obama, if he lost he could run against both the wealthy and an antiquated, out-of-touch, white male judiciary (+ Clarence Thomas).
In fact, the best political outcome for both sides was probably a loss, right? Right??!! Just look at the expanded list of villains!!
All that ambivalence was just a bunch of posturing.
The reality was that both sides really wanted an Obamacare win. And President Obama really needed an Obamacare win.
If you can remember all the way back to late June this year, you’ll remember that it wasn’t a great time for the President. The economy wasn’t doing well . . . for the fourth summer in a row . . . and there were few signs of improvement. There was the debt ceiling debacle. His image as a pragmatic compromiser was being, well, compromised. His list of accomplishments — despressingly short already given (probably unfair, but largely self-inflicted) expectations — was posed to grow even shorter. Although liberals were still sanguine about the election, Republicans were licking their chops, sure that the President’s signature domestic policy accomplishment was about to be dismantled by the Supreme Court. ”Just what has he done the last four years?,” they would say. ”Passed an ineffective stimulus bill and an unconstitutional healthcare law?” ”Saved Solyndra and wasted all his time trying — unsuccessfully, thanks to us — to subvert the Constitution by undermining the quality of your healthcare?”
And what would President Obama’s response have been? ”Well, when it comes to jobs, we’re *almost* back to where we started?” ”Blame it all on the Wall Street, Congressional Republicans, and the Supreme Court?” Ouch. Though we might all have been saved some of the rhetoric about birth control . . . or not.
Would the election have turned out differently? I don’t pretend to know. But even if the result was the same, the election surely would have been different. And I think there is a decent chance that things would have turned out differently.
Maybe that’s all wishful thinking.
But I struggle to think of anyone else as politically influential in 2012 than our Chief Justice.
In his own version of the Switch in Time that Saved Nine, John Roberts fundamentally changed the anticipated direction of the electoral conversation and, I think, had more influence on Election 2012 than anyone else.
I don’t think John Roberts is an activist judge (if that phrase has any meaning at all). I don’t think he aspires to be a political power player. I think he’s pretty much the ultimate lawyer’s lawyer.
In fact, I’ve been pretty open about the fact that I think our Chief Justice’s Obamacare decision was motivated primarily by a desire to keep the Supreme Court out of politics rather than to inject it into the middle of another Presidential election — whether you think that’s a legitimate judicial consideration or not.
But that’s the long-game, and sometimes you have to take some short term hits to get where you ultimately want to be.
So, whether he wanted it or not, John Roberts has my vote for most politically influential of 2012.
Now that he’s no longer kept in suspense, he can get back to scheming over how to incense half the country over affirmative action.
And with that, I return you to the fiscal cliff . . . .