I have come, however circuitously, to the view that the ability to change one's mind about things that matter is a mark of maturity -- and sometimes greatness. Few pundits, let alone politicians, were able to change their minds about the Iraq War after the premises through which it was launched were revealed to be bogus and the body count grew and grew. Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's sea-change metamorphosis as an economist comes to mind as a rare instance in which a high-visibility media figure acknowledges that he was wrong about important stuff. Mitt Romney's willingness to change his mind repeatedly about everything big and little marks him as a man as small as President Lincoln was large because of his metamorphosis from being just another American who thought blacks were inferior to their emancipator.
This brings us to U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, who it would appear had initially rejected the individual mandate -- the keystone of President Obama's Affordable Care Act -- and was ready to side with the high court's conservative justices but then found that the mandate could be considered a tax that falls within the purview of Congress and sided with the eventual 5-4 majority.
I will leave it to greater minds than mine as to whether Roberts bowed to pressure from the White House, which I happen to think he might have, or understood that overturning the ACA would, in the eyes of many voters, brand his court as ideologically driven and open it to attacks from moderates and liberals, which I also happen to think he might have. But justices do change their minds during the highly secretive deliberations that precede any major decision, and it may simply be that this strict constitutionalist -- which he has been most of the time in his seven years on the court; yes, probably even in the smoking turd of a ruling known as Citizens United. At the end of the day, Roberts settled on the It's A Tax argument that had been pitched by Obama's solicitor general during oral arguments on whether the act should be overturned in the service of judicial restraint.
Which the aforementioned Romney has kind of sort of agreed with while angering Republican leaders who don't want to go off-message. Romney himself, meanwhile, has his own health-care reform plan, but as The Times' David Brooks trenchantly put it today, he "now keeps in a secret compartment in subsection C in the third basement of his 12-car garage.
The reaction from conservatives to Roberts like the despicable John Yoo speaks volumes.Yoo, the shameless former Bush Justice Department official who rationalized the use of torture, said that if reports that Roberts changed his mind are true, he "has not just made a mistake of constitutional interpretation, but of political leadership [emphasis mine]. His job is not to finesse the place of the Supreme Court in the political world, in which he and most justices are rank amateurs, but to get the Constitution right first and then defend the institution second.”
I am no fan of Roberts. He lied through his teeth during his confirmation hearings and has tacked the court -- with an ample assist of the Three Stooges (Alito, Scalia and Thomas) -- to the right and to the point that it has become a de facto arm of the Republican Party.
But in one instance, at least, the Constitution of which Yoo was and remains so disdainful, which leading Congressional Republicans also have shown themselves to be, deeply mattered to Roberts. And because of that the U.S. at long last has a shot at reforming a health-care system built on greed and waste that has left upwards of 45 million Americans out in the cold when they have an accident, get sick or contract a disease.