07/06/2012 02:33 pm ET Updated Sep 06, 2012

Why Dems Should Not Gloat Over Health Care Ruling

This post originally appeared in USA Today.

A couple of weeks ago, it was reported that GOP House Speaker John Boehner, confident that the Affordable Care Act would be held unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, put the word out to Republicans to avoid gloating, telling colleagues, "Don't spike the ball."

Now that the top court has upheld the legality of the health care law, my advice to Democrats is the same.

First, the court decision will energize the GOP conservative base more than ever before -- and that's a good thing for Mitt Romney. This is especially so now that the Supreme Court has defined the individual mandate as a tax.

Second, it's still "the economy, stupid." On Election Day 2012, most voters will still be judging which candidate -- Barack Obama or Romney -- will do better at creating jobs, renewing economic growth and prosperity, and paying down America's $15 trillion national debt. So far, Obama's approval ratings are more negative than positive on the economy.

Third, the Supreme Court ruling won't change many minds. Those who were against the health reform act will remain so, whether or not the justices decided 5-4 that it is constitutional.
But here is where Obama faces his greatest challenge -- and opportunity.

Undecided the key

This presidential election will be decided in the "soft center" of undecided voters, which most polls consistently show is 10 percent to 15 percent of the electorate. Up to now, the Republicans have won the message wars on what they negatively call "ObamaCare." The polls show that most Americans oppose the law because they bought the Republican message that the legislation constitutes a socialistic "big government takeover."

Now Obama must hit the reset button and get the facts out more effectively about what is actually in the law -- and what is not. He must and can prove that the law is a predominantly private-sector-based system that provides substantial benefits for the 85 percent of Americans who have insurance, not just the 15 percent who do not.

Getting down to details

For example, Obama should break the act down into the components that polls show a majority of Americans support -- such as guaranteed insurance for those with pre-existing conditions; for those who lose their jobs; for those with children up to the age of 26; and for preventive treatments such as mammograms and annual physicals.

Most importantly, Obama must tell the truth -- even at the risk of offending his liberal base -- that the Affordable Care Act, far from a big government takeover, rests on the conservative principle of allowing only private insurance companies to sell insurance on Internet marketplaces, whether on state-run "exchanges" or private-sector Internet sites.

Obama must also remind everyone that he and the Democrats ultimately rejected allowing even a single government-controlled insurance policy to serve as a "public option" and decided, instead, to allow the private market to provide competition to reduce private insurance company premiums.

In short, Obama has to start talking about health care reform repeatedly as a centrist public-private partnership that has many benefits for all Americans -- in red states as well as blue states. He must command the message heights that the bully pulpit of the presidency uniquely provides him.

The Supreme Court's decision last week gives him no choice -- he won in the court; now he needs to win the court of public opinion.

Lanny J. Davis is a lawyer, author, commentator and was special counsel to President Clinton.