04/25/2011 03:11 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2011

Defending the High Ground

The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to review the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's signature issue of his presidency. This means that the court will not consider the law until at least sometime next year. The court's action today means that health care will no doubt be the central issue of the 2012 campaign. The American people will decide.

After the election of '08, our new President spent every last dime of his political capital passing the health care bill. He did so because America's broken health care system is the iconic symbol of this country's growing income disparity. Obama ran on the issue of essential fairness for all and it is the discrepancy between good health care and no health care that dramatizes that lack of fairness.

So, Obama's expenditure of political capital on that one issue, leaving aside fair taxes, job creation, and the environment, that puts him directly in the Republican assault. And speaking militarily, although he seized the moral high ground with his health care victory, that position will be difficult to hold come election time.

If Obama chooses to defend health care on the grounds of fairness and equality for all Americans, joining every other civilized nation on Earth with some form of universal care, he may win that battle. If he does choose that tack and is re-elected, the Supreme Court may affirm the law, allowing it to stand on the grounds that it represents a transformative moment in our history. After all, there is no constitutional bright line to suggest which way the court may swing. Either way it will be a subjective decision.

It would be a mistake, I believe, for the President to run away from health care and shift attention to other issues like the economy, since he has no control over the economic recovery and is stuck in the mud of debt. Health care is the issue he must defend, but he can broaden its reach to pound away on the obligation we have to create an environment of fairness for future generations.

In the Nineteenth Century, when Emerson was asked what was the most important thing a person could do to become successful in this world, he said, "Get health." He went on to say, "Drop the cant; stop the whining and treat illness sanely." Indeed. No barrier to the recovery of the nation's fortunes is more important than giving our citizens access to consistent, effective health care. Emerson knew debilitating illness intimately, heard the whimpering within his own walls, and saw the effects of it on character.

To win this war, (and make no mistake it will be all-out warfare) President Obama has to accept the sad reality that the American people simply do not understand his health care law and they need clear, repetitive explanations to defend the high ground he gained when he took office. Minus that, he won't win, and the country will surrender to the forces of greed, narrow self-interest, and poor health care.