“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."
So now that the sages of the Supreme Court have spoken about the constitutionality of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, let's get straight to the takeaways:
1. There's no credible way to spin this as a "win" for limited government. Folks such as Wash Post columnist George Will and legal theorist Randy Barnett, to name two of many on the conservative and libertarian ends of things, are working hard to say the real silver lining in the SCOTUS decision is the clear language the court used in limited Congress' use of the Commerce Clause. As Will put it, "At least Roberts got the court to embrace emphatic language rejecting the Commerce Clause rationale for penalizing the inactivity of not buying insurance."
Yeah, well, when Chief Justice Roberts closed a window, he opened a door. Sure, I'd like to have some of what I assume Roberts and the rest of the Supes were smoking when they signed off on the it's-a-tax-not-a-penalty decision, but medical is illegal even in states where it's legal (wha?). That's due to the decision in a slightly older Supreme Court case, Raich v. Gonzalez, which showed the Commerce Clause to be infinitely stretchable when need be.
Will may be right that yesterday's decision may spark a backlash in favor of smaller government (or at least one that calls a tax a tax), but anybody who thinks government at any level will feel even the slightest bit limited by the ruling is flat-out wrong.
2. Hey Republicans: Mitt Romney is the worst possible candidate you could have right now. Before the ruling was even clearly reported, Republican and Democratic "strategists" (can't we call them something more accurate and less flattering?) were all claiming that yesterday's decision sealed the deal for their preferred party.
Let's leave aside the large and unchanged fact that Obamacare remains unpopular (most recent polls show majorities of Americans opposed to it and the number rises among those who say they are "well-informed"). The 2012 election will largely turn on the overall state of the economy, not whether the crux of Obamacare is recognized tax now rather than a mandate (though I must admit that now it's a tax, I kinda miss the broccoli mandate).
More to the point: Obamacare is essentially Romneycare on steroids (hmm, are those covered under the new law?), so having the architect of the latter blasting the former for doing what Romney crowed about doing in the Bay State is a tad confusing. It doesn't help that Romney, whose vagueness when it comes to spelling out anything about any of his policies is muy legendary, is vowing to "repeal and replace" Obamacare immediately upon taking office. The repeal part is self-explanatory (if not fully convincing) but what's he gonna replace it with? And if it's not a real market-driven plan that dismantles not only Obamacare but Medicare, why am I listening?
As CNN's Erin Burnett noted on OutFront last night, the "Affordable Care Act" has virtually no cost control mechanisms in place and a recent analysis by the firm Bradley Woods projects that insurance premiums will rise about 7.5 percent annually under the law.
Watch Burnett discuss the Supreme Court ruling with me, RedState's Erick Erickson, Buzzfeed's Ben Smith, and CNN's Roland Martin: