Traitor! Turncoat! Benedict Arnold!
Those contemptuous epithets and more were hurled by Republicans and conservatives at Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. moments after he single-handedly saved Obamacare, joining liberals on the bench to break a 4-4 tie.
The Supreme Court has abandoned us," Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared. "Simply disappointing," Florida Gov. Rick Scott moaned. "Activist court," Rep. Michele Bachmann cried.
Even Ari Fleischer, the former spokesman for George W. Bush, who appointed Chief Justice Roberts to the court, joined in. "I miss Justice Harriet Miers," he whined.
But they all miss the point, and, more, by looking purely at the political, miss the forest for the trees.
In voting to uphold Mr. Obama's disastrous health-care overhaul, the chief justice took away the president's main line of attack that surely would have been deployed had the court voted 5-4, along party lines. The Divider in Chief, already bent on stoking cultural warfare — upper-middle class vs. lower-middle class, white against black against Hispanic, gay against straight, believers against non-believers — had no doubt hoped to win one more target for his bilious bifurcation.
Were the five justices appointed by Republican president to have stuck together in opposition, Mr. Obama would have toured the country (at taxpayer expense) to decry the court's action as nothing more than an act political usurpation — how dare those five men take away the will of the people?!
But Justice Roberts did just the opposite (and, bonus, also strictly adhere to the original intent of the Constitution). Obamacare is unconstitutional if it were to be enacted via the Commerce Clause, but not if it's simply a tax, the justice wrote. "Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness."
In so doing, Justice Roberts has just busted Campaign 2012 wide open. The high court's ruling leaves in place 21 tax increases costing nearly $700 billion. Of those taxes, 12 would affect families earning less than $250,000 per year.
Now that Obamacare's penalty is a "tax," not a "fee," Mr. Obama is breaking a 2008 campaign pledge not to raise taxes on Americans earning less than $250,000. This new "tax" will hit across the economic spectrum, despite his campaign declaration that health care should "never be purchased with tax increase on middle-class families." Now, Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats have enacted the largest tax increase in history.
Chief Justice Roberts has given Mitt Romney a key attack: The president is a tax-and-spend liberal bent on expanding government to unprecedented levels. And the presumed Republican nominee knows it: "If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we're going to have to replace President Obama," he said from a rooftop in Washington overlooking the Capitol. "What the court did not do on its last day in session, I will do on my first day if elected president."
Mr. Obama, of course, gloated about the win. "The highest Court in the land has now spoken," he said. Indeed it has: And a majority of the justices are calling your "fee" a "tax."
So, for Campaign 2012, it's game on. And for his part, Mr. Fleischer regained his pithy pundacity after digesting the high court's ruling. "Mitt Romney will appeal this decision to the American people on November 6th. Oral arguments are already taking place."
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.