As the nation awaited the Supreme Court's judgment on Obama's health care plan, speculation naturally arose on what it will mean for this fall's presidential race. Conservatives salivated and speculated that a rejection might be seen as a repudiation of the president and thus hasten his demise.
Now hold on. In June 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt saw his National Recovery Act rejected by the court, and yet afterward, he thrived politically. The National Recovery Act, like Obama's health plan, was a hybrid. It was market oriented seeking to manage competition, helping potentially thriving businesses while condemning weaker firms to oblivion. Small businesses challenged this approach and won.
However, because the ruling was comprehensive, two very important and popular parts of the act were scrapped. One was paragraph 7(a) that allowed for unions and the other one dealt with minimum wage. It was a turn away from the conservative first New Deal and launched a more ambitious second.
For Obama, a loss might have freed him from his insurance driven bill pushing back to single payer. Moreover, it would have allowed him to emphasize two popular provisions, one that discriminates against pre-existing conditions and the other which allows keeping children on their parents' insurance.
Certainly FDR was liberated from his mistaken notions that a moderate approach would work. In 1935, the president faced implacable opposition from the Grover Norquists of his day, the dispeptic Liberty League with the pathetic Al Smith and the Duponts. Huey Long countered with Share our Wealth, and Father Charles Coughin pitched pie in the sky. By 1936, Roosevelt was in a commanding position and for a brief moment the "horse and buggy" Supreme Court was on the run.
Obama could get a similar windfall and be handed a sword. Certainly, Henry Clay and the friends of the bank in 1832 miscalculated and allowed Andrew Jackson to issue a veto which helped him immensely. Already the John Roberts' court seems to be the most reactionary since Roger B. Taney's in the 1850s. Perhaps a blatantly partisan decision will convince the voters that they were out to get Obama all along. Add to this Darrell Issa's suspeona party and Obama gets an issue of fairness versus implacable partisanship. Like Jackson, Roosevelt and Truman, Obama emerges as a fighter.
When presidents become the besieged, the public has a tendency to rally behind them. The anti-war movement was perceived to have pushed Richard Nixon too far. Iran-Contra back-fired on Congress and the farcical impeachment of Bill Clinton made him popular beyond belief. With enemies like these, Obama needs no further friends.
For some months, conservatives have been thumping their chests confident that a no decision would vindicate their position. But another 5-4 job that created just another messy result could seem almost conspiratorial in nature. Like the Dred Scott decision or Citizens United, it would galvanize opinion that something was truly amiss in the system.
Obama potentially could make it a springboard for not just re-election, but a vibrant second term. When Roosevelt stated that he "welcomed the hatred" of his foes, he knew the value of an enemy. For overeager Republicans, they should be careful for what they wish. First Mondays can produce blue Novembers.