The PJ Tatler

Were Obama's Supreme Court Remarks Really 'Off the Cuff'? And Does It Matter?

One defense that White House press secretary Jay Carney has proffered for his boss’ comments on the ObamaCare case is that he was just responding to a question, and that his answer used shorthand and was a spontaneous observation. Here are the president’s remarks:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0VFbZEX1ao

There’s an edit in the clip to focus on the juicier parts. Here is a fuller transcript of what he said.

OBAMA: With respect to health care, I’m actually — continue to be confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the law.  And the reason is because, in accordance with precedent out there, it’s constitutional.  That’s not just my opinion, by the way; that’s the opinion of legal experts across the ideological spectrum, including two very conservative appellate court justices that said this wasn’t even a close case.

I think it’s important — because I watched some of the commentary last week — to remind people that this is not an abstract argument.  People’s lives are affected by the lack of availability of health care, the inaffordability [sic] of health care, their inability to get health care because of preexisting conditions.

The law that’s already in place has already given 2.5 million young people health care that wouldn’t otherwise have it.  There are tens of thousands of adults with preexisting conditions who have health care right now because of this law.  Parents don’t have to worry about their children not being able to get health care because they can’t be prevented from getting health care as a consequence of a preexisting condition.  That’s part of this law.

Millions of seniors are paying less for prescription drugs because of this law.  Americans all across the country have greater rights and protections with respect to their insurance companies and are getting preventive care because of this law.

So that’s just the part that’s already been implemented.  That doesn’t even speak to the 30 million people who stand to gain coverage once it’s fully implemented in 2014.

And I think it’s important, and I think the American people understand, and the I think the justices should understand, that in the absence of an individual mandate, you cannot have a mechanism to ensure that people with preexisting conditions can actually get health care.  So there’s not only a economic element to this, and a legal element to this, but there’s a human element to this.  And I hope that’s not forgotten in this political debate.

Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.  And I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint — that an unintellected [sic] group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.  Well, this is a good example.  And I’m pretty confident that this Court will recognize that and not take that step.

Does that look like a spontaneous observation, or like it was a prepared statement drafted to respond to a question that the White House anticipated? The president ticks off a number of talking points to build a narrative before trying to turn conservative objections to past judicial activism back on his critics. His pauses indicate, to me, that he is trying to remember and line up the points he seeks to make, points drafted by his staff and put together to make a case for his law. It’s as if he is clicking through PowerPoint slides of bullet points in his mind as he speaks.

As is the case with most statements made by presidents, there was nothing spontaneous about what President Obama said on Monday. It was not a mere “observation” as Jay Carney insists. This was a press event, and ObamaCare was among the most important stories of the day. His staff surely anticipated the question, as they should have, and he was briefed on the response he should deliver when asked. He delivered that response in complete sentences and paragraphs. And a disastrous week has followed because his statement was laughable.

If, however, the president’s remarks were truly a spontaneous observation, don’t they reveal a disturbing lack of depth on his part? People who were never adjunct con law teachers were able to pick his statement apart within minutes of him delivering him. Nothing he proffered has stood up to scrutiny, including the line about the “strong majority,” which was also an obvious talking point. His accidental invention of two words, and especially the second Obamaism — “inaffordability” and “unintellected” — would seem to apply to the quality of thinking that he and his staff brought to bear on Monday when he was asked a question to which he should have had a better answer. Either the president doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or he isn’t informed enough to know when his staff is feeding him a load of bull.