All or Nothing

Obstinate Congressional GOP and Supreme Court Conservatives Reject Compromise

Conservative Supreme Court justices and congressional Republicans alike reject compromise and oppose everything—which gets them nothing, says Michael Tomasky.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo

You have surely by now read or at least read of the report by Jan Crawford of CBS in which Supreme Court sources tell her that John Roberts switched his views on the health-care bill about a month ago.

It’s an astonishing report for a number of reasons, and we’ll catalog them all. But the most astonishing thing, and the point I haven’t seen made, is that it highlights once again that this bullheaded conservatism obstinacy and totalism, this all-or-nothing posture that the wingnut base so adores and demands, has actually cost conservatism victories. And, I report with pleasure, it will do so again, likely starting this November.

It’s an amazing document, Crawford’s article. John Roberts initially supported striking down the law, but about a month ago, he changed his mind. The conservative four—led, interestingly, by a “relentless” Anthony Kennedy—kept haranguing him to switch back. They then told him, in essence, “You’re on your own.” Crawford writes: “The conservatives refused to join any aspect of his opinion, including sections with which they agreed ... Instead, the four joined forces and crafted a highly unusual, unsigned joint dissent. They deliberately ignored Roberts's decision, the sources said, as if they were no longer even willing to engage with him in debate.”

Think that over. These are deliberations of the Supreme Court we’re talking about, not Dancing With the Stars judges. The pettiness is amazing. And then consider that it seems plainly obvious that Crawford’s sources were clerks of the court’s conservative (how I still smile when typing this word!) minority. So they behaved like this, and they wanted it known! To embarrass Roberts; to stoke the sale of those anti-Roberts T-shirts; to make him pay a price with the base; to let the base know that this wasn’t their fault.

But all that’s revealed here is what children they are. I wrote last week that I suspected Roberts would have gone along with striking down the mandate, but the other four insisted that no, we must obliterate the entire thing, like Moses’s name from Pharaoh’s obelisks. Sure enough, Crawford’s report supports my guess entirely. It suggests that Roberts would’ve gone with striking down the mandate on Commerce Clause grounds if the other conservatives would have upheld some aspects of the law. No, nyet, nein. Not with us, pal. All or nothing.

Sound familiar? Ought to. Congressional GOP: No, no tax increases. No revenue at all. No compromise. No, we don’t want to negotiate your health bill. Chuck Grassley said in April 2009 that there was bipartisan consensus on the individual mandate? The hell with that. We’ll have him tweeting about killing Grandma in a few weeks’ time. Exxon Mobil supports a carbon tax? We don’t care. They’re a bunch of squishes. No. No. No no no no no no no.

Not much surprises me these days, but I was a bit surprised to read that members of the Supreme Court were as immature as members of Congress. Not because they’re better people. They’re arguably worse. But I’d at least expect them to know that politics by tantrum doesn’t work.

What did the four accomplish in the past month? Only ensuring that Roberts would go with the majority. Only giving both Barack Obama and big government their biggest victories (respectively) of his presidency and in the last 50 years. If they’d been willing to negotiate, there’s every reason to believe that they’d have walked away with a 5–4 decision that struck down the mandate on Commerce Clause grounds, without even getting into the “is it a tax?” question, and left the other elements intact.

It’s just like the Republicans in Congress. They’ve opposed everything Obama’s wanted. They look fearsome on the surface, and, yes, I and others of my stripe complain about the Democrats a lot. But hasn’t Obama accomplished kind of a lot? Hasn’t he passed the most significant social-welfare legislation since LBJ? He has. Republican totalism hasn’t gotten them much of anything at all. Least of all on health care itself. After all, how did the Democrats pass health care? With 60 votes in the Senate, the bare minimum.

One of those votes was Arlen Specter, for years Republican of Pennsylvania but pushed by GOP totalism after his stimulus vote into the Democratic category, from which perch he was obviously going to back Obama on health care, knowing that doing so was his only chance of surviving a Democratic primary. Thank you, GOP!

And now, they’re demanding that Mitt Romney not back Obama’s recent immigration proposal, though he’s getting killed among Latinos; and that he get out there and pimp for full repeal of Obamacare, even though that runs the very high (in my view) risk of turning the health debate from one about the unpopular mandate into one about the very popular guarantee of coverage, which will alienate independents, which in turn may well cost Romney the election.

From the base to Congress to the members of the Supreme Court, it’s the same mentality. Everything or nothing. Well folks, on health care, and on the stimulus, and on financial regulatory reform, and a handful of other things, you got nothing. When might you bother to stop and think about whether this strategy is paying off? You won’t, because it’s not a strategy. It’s a primal instinct, driven by rage. And in addition to being bullheaded, it qualifies for another adjective that applies so readily to today’s GOP: stupid. Keep at it, folks.