Thursday will go down as one of those monumental days in the annals of U.S. history. In what was a 5-4 landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Barack Obama's comprehensive healthcare reform bill and said it passes constitutional muster (although with some caveats).
The court ruled that the government may effectively compel citizens to buy health insurance, something which is in stark contrast to the ethos of individualism that has become part and parcel of American life, where government is a necessary evil that should keep its hands off socio-economic issues as much as possible.
The justices said the penalty on those who fail to join the insurance pool is nothing more than an ordinary, and hence permissible, tax (despite the White House's assertion that the law is not a form of taxation). This served as the court's main rationale for declaring this mandatory insurance bill constitutional. But by rendering its decision, the court declared the era of limited, minimalist government in the U.S. officially over; our personal lives can no longer be separate from the society we live in and the government that operates around us. The collective must ensure the well-being of the individual.
Obama dedicated the first two years of his term to ushering in healthcare reform, in the form of the Affordable Care Act, but the gulf between liberal and conservative America got wider over that period. For a while, the ACA served as the centerpiece of the Obama administration's governing agenda. This focus exacted a heavy political price as it precipitated, among other things, the rise of the Tea Party movement, which came into being as a Republican Party phenomenon, and has served as a means to protest "Obamacare." It also proved crucial in the 2010 mid-term elections, when it helped Republicans take back the House of Representatives and crush the Democrats.
Despite the ongoing criticism over key provisions in the ACA, Obama is now in a position to claim the mantle of success by having stuck to his guns and set in motion the reforms that had eluded others in the U.S. time and again. This piece of legislation has been his signature accomplishment on the socio-economic front. It is also ground-breaking and revolutionary. Had all this been overturned, Obama's political standing could have been in shambles, four months before the elections. That said, with the U.S. electorate still divided over the reform, the perception of Obama as a competent president who gets things done may not necessarily translate into votes.
To sum things up, there is quite a bit of irony in the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, tossed Obama his political lifejacket. Come Nov. 6 we will know whether he has reached a safe harbor.