Friday, June 29, 2012

Ron Johnson's Very Bad Field Trip to the Supreme Court

Far and away the biggest loser in the wake of the Supreme Court's Obamacare ruling, at least as far as Wisconsin is concerned, is Ron Johnson. Here's why:

Obamacare has always been Johnson's pet issue. He cited it has the issue that motivated him to run for the Senate in 2010. The issue caused him to cravenly retrofit the story of his daughter's infant illness into a political parable. His rhetoric on the subject has been so overwrought so as to be nothing short of apocalyptic. He's repeatedly called the law "the greatest assault on our freedom in my lifetime" and claimed that it's implementation would result in the removal of American's "last shred of freedom."

This kind of rhetoric is patently absurd, but it's really all Johnson has in his struggle against the bill. 

Starting in early March Johnson and his team put together a strong publicity push designed to make Johnson appear to be one of the law's principle opponents. The Senator may certainly loathe the plan more than his colleagues, but he's done precious little--if anything--about it. He appeared on just about every cable news show there is, wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal and sat in the gallery during the arguments. Each time he repeated his predictions of doom.

Johnson's strategy (and that of several other Senators) was to basically let the GOP lawyers do the heavy-lifting in front of the Justices and then swoop in front of the cameras when it came time to hand out credit. Why else do you think he was hanging outside the Court on Thursday? It wasn't to hand out unspeakably stupid soundbites to liberal watchdogs groups.

Now Johnson looks silly. His statement following the ruling was characteristically hyperbolic:
“Today’s Obamacare decision establishes that there is no area of Americans’ private lives that is off limits to federal intrusion and control. Freedom took a real body blow. It is now up to Congress – and hopefully a new President – to repeal this unpopular monstrosity and replace it with free market reforms that will actually improve the quality and restrain the cost of health care in America.”
(Here's a fun game: replace the word "freedom" with "Ron Johnson" any time you read or hear a Johnson speech/op-ed/statement. The words are almost perfectly interchangeable, which should probably give the reader a pretty good hint as to what "freedom" means to Ron Johnson.)

If you need further proof of just how disastrous this decision is for Johnson just listen to this interview with Charlie conducted not long after the ruling. Johnson doesn't even bother to hide how dejected he is or how bad the decision is for him. That's largely because Johnson has staked an enormous amount of his political capital on the law being repealed. Yes, Johnson does manage to recite the GOP's talking points about this firing up the base and this being a "tax increase" that the President must now run against, but does anyone really think the Republicans were going to run a campaign without accusing the Democrats of raising taxes? Has that ever happened? Is the GOP even capable of doing that?

Now that Johnson has lost the "freedom" argument, expect him to pivot to the "cost" issue. The first is a moral argument, one that any idiot can make. The second is a policy matter and this is where Johnson has proved to frequently flounder. Johnson's approval/disapproval numbers sit at an underwhelming 36/35. More temper tantrums will not win over the 29% of Wisconsin voters still waiting for Johnson to connect with them.

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