President Obama is getting a little (and not enough, I'd say) flack for saying to a heckler at this week's Pride celebration in the White House, "you're in my house." The sentiment, while understandable, belies the fact that dissent is enshrined in our American culture, and it will come through the doors of even the President's house. Eartha Kitt, famously, angered Lady Bird Johnson by speaking forcefully about deaths in Vietnam at an otherwise non-political luncheon. Laura Bush had to cancel her planned program celebrating poets when those poets made clear they didn't support the invasion of Iraq.
But more pointedly, being President doesn't make the White House yours.
The President has walked this line throughout his term in office; there's a tension between the "great man" pose he rode into the office and the sense that he's more than a bit diffident about the glad-handing, everyman aspects of taking lofty ideas into practical application, never mind the tension of disagreement and dissent. He seems aloof, even cold. He comes off as high handed at times - he's managed, more than once, to annoy congressional leaders because he seems to have no sustained relationships that he can leverage to achieve his own policy goals. He lectures, rather than attempting to persuade.
I don't think all of this makes the President terrible, just human, and flawed. He's a smart man. He's able to see the big picture. He'e clear-eyed about what need to happens to make progress. I think he's less thrilled with people who don't see what he sees. And he's not exactly patient about waiting for others to catch up. I'm also not entirely sure it gives him a real feel for the struggles of people, say, in poverty. Or the emotional pain of a man whose lover has to be deported (the point of the Pride protestor). Feelings, emotionality... these things get in the way of clear eyed assessments. It's hard to fake the caring side (just as it's also hard to pretend to be smart).
Oddly, that's why I think the Supreme Court had little choice today but to uphold the Obamacare subsidies. And that, really is where the President may be more accurately firm in saying "not in my house."
The Affordable Care Act made provisions for each state to operate a health insurance exchange, as a way to give individuals, the self employed, unemployed, or small business workers the opportunity to buy insurance as a group. The "individual market" had been one of the worst features of the insurance market for healthcare, where premiums were expensive and policies were often terrible, providing little coverage with high deductibles. While the exchanges have issues, and policies still have some fairly high deductibles, the exchanges combined with tax subsidies for low wage workers have enabled any more people to obtain insurance.
It was the subsidies that brought the case to the Court; a small group of (questionable) plaintiffs claimed the required purchase on the exchange was onerous, and that the subsidies were illegal because they should only apply to state exchanges and not the federal exchange, based on one clause in the mammoth law. For months, since the case was taken up by the Supreme Court, there was speculation that an adverse ruling would "destroy Obamacare." Doomsday scenarios were predicted. Panic in the streets. Dogs and cats living together. You get the picture.
Calmer heads - me included - have quietly pointed out the obvious: the lawsuit made no sense. If a state fails to operate an exchange - as many Republican led states chose - then the federal exchange operates as the state's exchange, and the subsidy is for the same purpose. That, in essence, is what John Roberts said today. And it's basically the same thing the President said, in his calm, definitive way when asked about it a month ago. He also said the Supreme Court should never have taken the case. That's accurate too, though, as always, he appeared somewhat high handed in saying it.
Conservative hatred of the President has everything to do with his calm sense of certainty. "Arrogant" is their first descriptive term about him, and it has, of course, everything to do with race, though that too just makes them angrier. "It's not because he's black" they fume, and at best we can't know. But it sure seems that having this black man be so smart and so right so often really annoys them.
The President came out today for a "victory lap" speech in the Rose Garden that again made his point: I was right, this thing is working, and opponents should just get used to it. It's my house. See that chair? I put it there. It may not be the "kinder, gentler" way of expressing it, but that is not the President we have. If anything, this is the notion of a Presidency that conservatives have favored more than the left: tough, no nonsense, certain of his mind and his actions. Which may explain why so much of the loathing the President gets from the right seems so, well, childish - it's the tantrums of overfed kids who can't get more dessert. Because daddy said so, that's why. Conservatives have replaced their strongest suit - a clear eyed, almost cold, assessment of human nature and the facts - with the appeal of emotions and feel good slogans. And liberals, God love us, have gone in the other weird direction - a party of clear eyed realists using data to support the feel good policies of helping the less fortunate. Because we love them, and everybody.
More than most lefties, conservatives need the kick in the head of taking in the view of the world that doesn't agree with their every whim: they've been blind sided by Mitt Romney's loss, by the unpopularity of endless war, and now by yet another decision that says more health care available to more people is better. And liberals, while embracing the President's forcefulness in standing up for his policies, might want to look around that house and ask, did we really need a chair? and does it really need to be just, well, there? It's our house, really. And it's ok to redecorate. No matter what daddy says.