After the quake, it's time to assess the damage

Paul Greenberg

6/29/2012 11:53:00 AM - Paul Greenberg

The only thing sure about decisions out of the Supreme Court of the United States is that you can never be sure about them, Wasn't the swing vote on the court supposed to be that of Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy? Instead, it's Chief Justice John Roberts who wrote yesterday's majority opinion upholding Obamacare, casting the fifth vote in the 5-to-4 decision.

What's going on here? Haven't these justices read the script? Don't they know the rules? Don't they know they're supposed to follow the customary fault line between the court's conservatives and liberals? Don't they read the papers, or at least the distinguished pundits, professors and long-time court-watchers who've time and again explained how this 5-to-4 play works? Instead, both Brother Kennedy and the chief justice were offsides.

This wasn't supposed to happen, and some of us just love it when it does. Not only because it leaves the "experts" as embarrassed as they often are by what can happen in real life, but because there is no warrant for a court's impartiality like its unpredictability. The law is funny that way, and justice can be, too.

All the tea leaves haven't been read yet in the wake of this long and complicated decision about an even longer and hopelessly complicated law. Many decisions and complications doubtless lay ahead as the law begins to creak into motion -- like some Rube Goldberg contraption that will take years to produce a clear result if it ever does.

For the moment, let us hold on to a few things the court's decision does seem to make clear:

--Not just the legal but the moral authority of the Supreme Court, so long and arduously established over the course of American history, remains strong, even unquestioned. That is no small thing in a country that prizes the rule of law. And should.

--Americans are about to witness another vast expansion not just in medical costs but the size of its government bureaucracy -- federal, state and maybe on any and all levels with a connection to health care. Even a vague connection.

--Medicaid is about to come down with a massive case of elephantiasis, complete with accompanying cost. As for Medicare, it's about to be further endangered. The future of both those programs will bear watching. And guarding.

--The private sector, too, is about to be wrapped in still another thick layer of red tape, administrative headaches and general confusion. Doctors, nurses, hospitals, insurers, lawyers, administrators, employers, certainly patients and of course the taxpayers will all have to wander through this new and additional expanse of expertise, which is quite different from knowledge. Or even usefulness. As anyone who's ever gotten crosswise with an insurance company or that even bigger company, the U.S. government, can testify. All the forms may be electronic now but there'll be just as many of them. No, more of them.

Did anybody actually believe it when we were told that extending medical insurance to uncounted millions more would save money and make the system more efficient? Or that Obamacare isn't a tax? It's precisely on that ground it was upheld yesterday. One after the other, other purely political facades will surely collapse.

So fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy ride. For years. The modern world is about to become more modern, or maybe postmodern. And even more surreal.

Those of us who believe simple is better then complex, and small is beautiful, will just have to do what we can to get through this thing. Like trying to repeal Obamacare and decentralize the monster. Or at least pare it down if that's at all possible. For a law can be constitutional and still be awful.

As you don't have to imagine but knew all along, not just court watchers may have got a shock yesterday. The economy is about to get a bigger one, however slowly it sets in year after year.

Now on to more debates, some productive, many not so. The ratio of reason to emotion, not to say hysteria, can grow mighty lopsided, especially in a presidential election year.

Many a question remains to be resolved. Or not. Better to resolve them than let them linger and fester. As the country has done with its broken immigration system. Now on to settling as many doubts as a still confused country can after this quake.

. .

They say, or at least Bismarck did, that God looks after fools, drunkards and the United States of America. And the evidence of the past 236 years, as another July the Fourth looms, lends a certain credence to that faith.

As he emerged from the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia that sweltering summer of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of government he and his colleagues had given us. A republic, he said -- if we could keep it. The same goes for the spirit of independence.