Fox News' Paul Gigot lamented "As the Justices wrap up their term on a decidedly liberal note... the claim that this is a conservative court doesn't really hold up!" and a triumphant Huffington Post proclaimed, "Liberals Just Had An Amazing Week At The Supreme Court" Everyone seems to think this is a liberal sweep, but don't be fooled: on same-sex marriage and healthcare, Republicans lost while conservativism won. The difference matters.
First, the Affordable Care Act -- Obamacare -- is the most free-market capitalist health-insurance policy strategy in the world. Nothing like it exists. Every other nation that has submitted a solution to the healthcare challenge relies on far more government intervention. Essentially four healthcare policy strategies exist worldwide: healthcare fully provided by the federal government (Britain, Italy, Spain, Hong Kong, most Scandinavian countries); government "single-payer" health insurance (Canada, Taiwan, South Korea); health insurance provided exclusively by highly regulated non-profits that function almost like utilities (Germany, Japan, France, Belgium and Switzerland); and of course, the old "Good Luck with that Lump" systems where if you don't have money, you simply are out of luck (Burkina Faso, Rural India, Cambodia).
But Obamacare didn't take any of these approaches or create any massive new bureaucracies: Obamacare's Exchanges are free markets where private companies compete for customers - the essence of market capitalism and the genesis of all innovation and cost efficiency. Quite the opposite of single-payer systems, in the insurance exchanges no services are provided by government whatsoever. Go ask a Republican what exactly they would do in place of Obamacare. Their answer is a mixture of vigorous head-nodding and a voodoo word soup - a verbal scarecrow draped in words like "choice" and "free-market" and "empower" that unravels after two follow-up questions. Here, watch Jeb Bush perform this careful verbal ballet over brain-numbing piano music, conveying the substantive equivalent of "I like puppies, grandparents and apple pie." Do you wonder why there is no substantive grit? I'll tell you.
Obamacare finds its intellectual roots not in progressive philosophy, but in in proposals by free-market conservative thinkers (See Page 6 and 7 of Assuring Affordable Health Care For All Americans by the Heritage Foundation, 1989), which specifically advocated not only for the individual mandate and the expansion of Medicaid but also the lower-income subsidies - way back when Reagan was president. Both a mandate and low income subsidies were involved in Bush #1's healthcare proposals in 1991, as well as a 20-senator Republican consortium's proposal as an alternative to "Hillarycare" in 1993 (the Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act of 1993, HEART.) A program very similar to Obamacare was pushed by Mitt Romney for Massachusetts in 2006. But mysteriously, with the passage of Obamacare, Republican talking points switch to frame this exact policy strategy as a socialist boondoggle and a fascist government take-over.
Here is another reason that Obamacare is conservative: when Americans got super sick, a lot of us went bankrupt. 60% of bankruptcies were caused by the inability to pay medical bills. Bankruptcy limits individual market participation and future access to credit, but it also inevitably increases rates to all borrowers, further limiting credit availability for starting businesses, buying homes and investing. Less bankruptcy means less defaults means less systemic risk. What would you guess has happened to the bankruptcy rate since Obamacare? Ask a partisan Republican and they will probably tell you "Bengazi", so better off, instead click here or here. If you wonder why the Republicans have no conservative alternative to Obamacare, it is because Obamacare IS the conservative healthcare strategy: they are just pissed that a black guy stole the idea. Obamacare may be a material win for people with pre-existing conditions, but philosophically, Obamacare's validation of a market-based policy strategy is a win for conservative thought.
To claim that same-sex marriage is a liberal cause is only more egregious. The Court's ruling last week simply empowers individuals across all states to set up legal marriage contracts with another person regardless of gender. If conservatives are not in favor of keeping government out of our lives, what are they about? The notion that the state should decide which legal contracts consenting adults can choose is the epitome of the big government that conservative philosophy loathes. Furthermore, the longing for marriage has taken a population that was - in the 1970s and 80s - radical and extremist revolutionaries, marginalized, excluded from society and outcast from their families, angry and hell-bent on reshaping the very character of society, and it has converted that population to a voting block whose greatest feigned political advocacy intention is getting their own white picket fence. Once-radicals, who formed the Gay Liberation Front and pushed for boundless free love, the abolishment of social institutions and claimed solidarity with all oppressed peoples - are now begging for stability and commitment, basic protections for their children's welfare, and the chance to secure low-rate mortgages on very tasteful bungalows with impeccable yards in up-and-coming neighborhoods. The SCOTUS decision both advances stability in communities and precludes the nosey government bureaucracy from intervening in our most personal decisions. Newsflash for Republicans: same-sex marriage the last argument holding the rich white corporate power-gays from voting and donating Republican. Better start making friends.
How did this happen? While no one was looking, liberalism died. Since the policy failures of the 1970s, and the reactionary Reagan revolution that emerged, it turns out that no one loves the big government programs that were the hallmark of 1960s liberalism. Here is another secret, we all loved Reagan: he wasn't perfect, but he was strong and twinkle-eyed and hopeful, and even if he was actually smart, he acted sweet and dumb in a way we really appreciated. He won like 48 states! We were smitten. And since Reagan, the vast majority of America is decidedly meritocratic capitalists. The French can keep their high tax rates and Canadians can keep their government healthcare and the Russians can keep their terrorizing of gay people. We want to buy our own health insurance and we want the government to stay the hell out of our lives. The Democratic Party figured this out and shifted right, leaving the Republicans stuck fabricating threats to religious freedom and gun-ownership and denying climate change and underinsurance. You almost have to feel bad for them: market-based healthcare and cap-and-trade were their ideas and the Democrats straight-up stole them.
The fact that we don't see these policies for their philosophical underpinnings demonstrates the blatant extent to which Fox News's liberal-conservative, good-guy/bad-guy dichotomy has infiltrated our language and our most fundamental understanding of the political dynamics. Blowhards like Ann Coulter repeat the word "liberal" disparagingly so many times that none of the Fox News dittoheads are even sure what it means anymore. Ask two. One will tell you liberalism means government tyranny over every aspect of lives -- no more freedom! The next will tell you liberalism means that anyone can do whatever they want -- too much freedom!
Clinging to the simulacrum of intelligent argument, Republicans now throw half-hearted policy proposals over a scarecrow of racist and homophobic fear and anger. The great modern conservative thinkers -- Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, William F Buckley Jr. have left the room -- and it turns out that most modern Republicans haven't even read them. Most of the great ideas -- health insurance exchanges, carbon tax, the earned income-tax credit and welfare reform, have been adopted by Democrats. What the Republicans have left are Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh and the Tea Party goons - the fabrication of false problems and the denial of real ones. This is not Conservativism -- it's desperation. In "The Essence of Conservativism", Russell Kirk wrote "The conservative is a person who endeavors to conserve the best in our traditions and our institutions, reconciling that best with necessary reform from time to time."
For the Republican party, a reconciling with necessary reform is long overdue.