By John Kruzel ’14
WASHINGTON – Reaction was mixed at the Supreme Court, where justices today voted 5-4 to largely uphold the Obama Administration’s historic healthcare overhaul that includes a mandate requiring nearly every American to possess health insurance lest they face a tax penalty.
Bright yellow banners emblazoned with a coiled snake and the “Don’t Tread On Me” mantra appropriated in recent years by libertarian and right-wing republican Tea Partiers waved near pink poster board espousing pro-reform, pro-Obama, pro-women’s health slogans, as members spanning the political spectrum gathered hours ahead of the ruling to rally and witness history en masse.
The group comprised a mélange of usual suspects (liberals, conservatives, libertarians) and unusual suspects (Israeli doctors, belly dancers, and a man dressed as the grim reaper). Abutted by a press pool, where some reporters took shade from the oppressive heat under golf umbrellas, an occasional chant poked through the cacophony of the dueling demonstrators.
“OBAMACARE IS ECONOMIC SLAVERY! OBAMACARE IS ECONOMIC SLAVERY!”
“Nice slogan, but no content!” Teresa Browngold yelped in response. Browngold, who made the three-hour drive from Doylestown, Pa., hoisted a homemade poster with a menu of causes and complaints.
“We have a leper colony in the United States,” said the silver-haired, short-cropped activist, who was sweating under a bright orange sun that reverberated off the marble building facade. “It’s called people with pre-existing conditions.”
Speaking to The Redirect before the ruling, Browngold said a decision that upheld the Affordable Care Act would signal to the rest of the world that the United States is capable of recognizing and dealing with a major problem facing citizens.
“It’s a shame ‘negotiation’ and ‘compromise’ are dirty words over there,” she said, motioning toward the Capitol across the street from the courthouse. “I’m glad Obama was willing to do both to break the gridlock.”
“IF YOU WERE BORN AFTER ROE v. WADE THEN YOU ARE A SURVIVOR!” belted out a woman speaking from a makeshift podium and public address system.
Another Pennsylvanian made a four-hour drive. In addition to gas money, he and his friends pooled hundreds of dollars to print white font letters on neon blue tee shirts featuring today’s date and the words “CORRECTION DAY.”
He wheeled his tee shirts in a wood-and metal children’s toy cart and parked just beyond the stairs of the court. Carl Myer of Lancaster, Pa., handed out tees as he talked about his motivation to invest his time and money toward the anti-Health Care Act cause.
“I was reading a book about the founding fathers,” he said. “It made me realize two things. One, this country has gotten off the track they envisioned. And two, it’s important to make sacrifices for your country.”
Nearby a young, wonky type representing the AFL-CIO’s Alliance for the Retired argued with an older gentleman about the merits of the bill. When it became clear the more senior of the two was less informed of the bill’s finer points, the conversation turned into a lecture on provisions that contemplated the expansion of Medicare.
“WE MUST CONTINUE TO PRAY! WE MUST CONTINUE TO PRAY!”
In the shadow of the Capitol Rotunda, where Congress was busy fighting over Attorney General Eric Holder’s contempt-of-Congress charges, some simply aired frustration with the state of modern American politics.
“People say it’s bad for the budget but, there’s nothing bad about healthcare,” said native-Washingtonian Omar Lyons, adding that he believes some critics simply disagree with Obama’s policies regardless of their merits. “There are venomous attacks on everything Obama does, anything he speaks on is so polarized now. How can you function and get past things? It’s time for new concepts. It’s a legacy thing now.”
Americans were not the only spectators on hand for the historic decision. Doctors Eugene Gelman, Israel Gluzman and Netanel Steinberg of Israel gravitated to the courthouse to see whether the U.S. would join the vast majority of modernized countries to offer universal healthcare coverage to its citizens.
In addition to boasting a lower infant mortality rate and longer life expectancies than the U.S., Israel performs major surgeries and other medical procedures at a fraction of the cost of American healthcare.
“It’s not so great like everyone thinks; it has its problems,” Dr. Gelman said. “But in the big picture, [universal healthcare] is a good decision and is working well [in Israel] because everyone can get health insurance, and we have some of the best hospitals.
“We don’t count money when we treat people,” he added. “We just want to make them feel better.”
Suddenly a flurry of reporters toting reams of paper raced from the courthouse to the press pool. The “slip opinions” – the first printouts to fly through the courtroom doors – would inform (in theory, anyways) broadcast anchors who would quickly digest and report the court’s decision to the world at-large.
Fox News’ Gretta Van Susteren, a Georgetown Law School graduate, snuggled into a collapsible chair and flipped through the pages contemplatively, judiciously yellow-highlightering. Meanwhile her colleague Shannon Bream announced the individual mandate was unconstitutional. On live television.
Cheers erupted from a conservative crowd standing within an earshot of the announcement. The contagion spread from the Fox News broadcast area to the larger group.
Once this erroneous report was corrected, it was the other sector of the crowd’s chance to cheer. The court did not sustain the mandate as a command for Americans to buy insurance, but as a tax if they don’t. That’s how Chief Justice John Roberts voted, and his view prevailed, according to SCOTUSBlog.
The dueling groups thus swapped elation and sorrow, and the media dispersed throughout the crowd, documenting the triumph and tragedy in interviews, photos and footage.
Asked by The Redirect what this decision meant for the Obama Administration’s legacy, former Representative David Wu (D-Ore.), who helped craft the legislation, said today places Obama in the pantheon of presidential reformers.
“This puts him up there with Franklin Roosevelt, Lydon Johnson – ”
“How about Jimmy Carter!” yelled an angry man who caught a snippet of the interview as he walked by.
In an ironic twist, Michelle Bachmann, a one-time GOP presidential hopeful, took to the podium to explain the ruling to her Tea Party backers. But as she described the court’s judgment, it only encouraged healthcare reform proponents.
“The Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate as a tax…,” she said.
The celebration drowned out her second clause: “…most expansive and expensive…Congress…history…United States of America.”
(Jasmine Shergill ’13 and David Burr ’13 contributed to this article.)