Which he was. In the weeks leading up to the decision, the tribal drums beat relentlessly. The Court, liberal commentators maintained, was in danger of being tarnished by a partisan decision. Liberal editorialists — is there any other kind? — reminded their readers — but, really, they had only one reader in mind, ADM-style — that the legitimacy of the Court itself was what the Obamacare decision was really about. The past six months of point-counterpoint was merely kabuki theater aimed at terrifying one man.
“When they come, they come at what you love,” says a wise Michael Corleone in the worst of the Godfather films, The Godfather Part III. But a piece of terrible dialogue in a terrible movie is a fitting way to illustrate what happened to Chief Justice John Roberts, who heard the code words beneath all of that target marketing — we’ll go after the Court itself; you’ll be the chief justice of a hobbled and disrespected institution. And if there’s one thing an unelected official wearing a black negligee for a living cannot abide, it’s being made to appear irrelevant.
The opening salvo, you’ll recall, came during Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech, when he called out the justices — most of whom were sitting in the front row — like hapless henchmen to a psychotic Bond villain. He let them know, and more important he let his supporters know, that the Court needed to be taken down a peg. That the traditional respect accorded these powerful folk was about to be pricked.
And in a way — and I know it’s a stretch — Obama did us all a favor, especially us conservatives. For too long we’ve struggled with the idea of fashioning a rock-solid conservative Court. For too long we’ve been disappointed when this or that “conservative” judge drifts leftward — “evolves,” to use the liberal reporter’s favorite term. Conservative judges “evolve” to the left; they “mature” to a liberal interpretation of government’s role; they “deepen their understanding” of the foggy possibilities etched into the Constitution.
We don’t have a phrase to describe a liberal judge who moves to the right, because that’s never happened.
So, lesson learned. If we want to reestablish a stricter reading of the Constitution, or shift the country permanently to the right, we’re not going to find allies on the bench unless we do some more effective media buying. We’re going to have to learn to target our marketing a little more ruthlessly. The Supreme Court, like congressional pork barrelers and Hollywood journalists, can be pushed and bullied and cajoled. Good to know.