As balm for a divided nation, the historic Supreme Court ruling last week that upheld health-care reform offers the prospect of healing on several fronts — even if there's no certain cure.
The benefits could be felt at the Supreme Court itself in support for the rule of law, in the expanded access of millions to health care, and even perhaps in the fractured political process that hampers Washington's ability to grapple with critical problems.
In the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the court found that Congress acted within its power to impose a tax penalty on individuals who go without health insurance. But the court did as much to rescue its own standing as it did for the health of the nation.
Roberts joined with liberal justices, thwarting a conservative victory that GOP and tea-party partisans expected. After earlier pivotal slam-dunks — from picking a president to throwing open the door to the influence of money — the conservative court, polls showed, skirted dangerously close to being viewed as just another political player.
What damage was being risked to a nation of laws when a majority of voters told pollsters that they believed the fate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) would be determined by the justices' political leanings? Fortunately, the ruling shores up that erosion of the civic fabric.
On the health-care front, the reform provides welcome certainty that — two-plus years after the law was enacted as President Obama's signature legislation — the overhaul of the $2.7 trillion health-care system will move ahead. That's critical, not only to preserve existing benefits like free preventive care, drug discounts for seniors, and the scrapping of lifetime coverage limits, but also because most states are waist-deep in building health insurance exchanges expected to help the uninsured get coverage. Similarly, the health-care sector can continue to pursue mergers and rightsizing by hospitals and medical providers, as well as other changes that offer the best hope of controlling costs and boosting quality.
Of course, opponents of the law may dash any hope that health-care reform could become settled national policy, like national defense. The battle cries for the repeal of what critics dismiss as "Obamacare" point that way. Yet the ruling finally cements health care in law — and, over time, in the minds of voters.
For Mitt Romney, the party platform plank opposing the ACA — a health-care strategy that's nearly identical to the plan he pioneered as Massachusetts governor — must remind voters that Romney stands for … well, only what he stands for on any given day.