News outlets across the country are discussing a federal judge’s ruling that a key part of health care reform, the individual mandate, is unconstitutional. The New York Times and Washington Post blared A1 headlines about the decision today, and the story led each of the network news broadcasts last night, following stories about extreme winter weather in the Midwest. The idea that health care reform might be unconstitutional was once, not too long ago, a very marginal and unknown position — it remained the province of far-right legal scholars. As Josh Marshall writes, “a year ago, no one took seriously the idea that a federal health care mandate was unconstitutional. … But the decision that just came down from the federal judgment in Virginia — that the federal health care mandate is unconstitutional — is an example that decades of Republicans packing the federal judiciary with activist judges has finally paid off.” (TPM traces the evolution of the legal argument here).
While conservatives were mounting a highly-coordinated legal challenge to the constitutionality of health care reform, the movement’s leaders were also mounting an aggressive public relations campaign to provide political cover for their radical effort to overturn a popular bill. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli began making appearances on right-wing media outlets and at widely covered Tea Party conventions to push the constitutionality issue.
Yesterday, on the day that a federal judge in Virginia ruled that the individual mandate unconstitutional, Cuccinelli went on the Mark Levin Show to thank the extreme hate radio host for his “critical” “help” and “partnership” in pushing the public case for unconstitutionality and helping his listeners understand the legal arguments:
LEVIN: You’ve done a great thing here Ken, you’ve got great lawyers in your office, and —
CUCCINELLI: You know, I appreciate that Mark – I also appreciate the help. I don’t know if you’ve told your listeners but you’ve been in on this all the way along; you did a great job on Comstock and the necessary and proper clause and some of your listeners probably don’t care about all those details, but honestly it all helps and it’s all critical. In some respects the case is pretty straightforward, but of course when you get into the nitty-gritty not all of it is simple, so having you all alongside with us was definitely helpful. I appreciate it.
LEVIN: Well it was a great honor. You’re the leader on this. [...]
CUCCINELLI: Hey Mark, thanks for your partnership, it’s good to have teammates. When we got in this, and when you guys got in this, everybody was saying ‘oh, you guys don’t have a chance.’ Well we do have a chance, the constitution has a chance, and it’s worth fighting for. And we’re going to keep fighting for it. Thanks for the help.
Of course, the right-wing media that Cuccinelli found so useful in his push against health care reform has plenty of other ideas about the law, too. Levin has said he believes the health care laws are akin to “economic slavery,” and never hesitated to push pernicious lies about “death panels.” A sampling of Levin’s opinions on health care reform:
– Levin said President Obama is a “bully” who has “taken our health care away.” [7/2/10]
– Discussing health care reform, Levin said the Obama administration has a “Soviet-style industrial plan in place” and wants to “kill the economy.” [7/2/10]
– Levin told Sarah Palin that “[y]ou’re absolutely right about” “death panels.” [11/18/10]
– Levin issued an ominous warning to seniors: “Senior citizens, you are in their target area. … You will be expended.” [10/16/09]
– In rant on health care, Levin equated Senate Finance bill with “economic slavery.” [10/14/09]
A crucial part of Cuccinelli’s war on health care reform is clearly the public relations push; the New York Times reported yesterday that “[w]ithin hours of the judge’s decision on Monday, [Cuccinelli's] political Web site was advertising on the conservative drudgereport.com and other Web sites.” Unfortunately, Cuccinelli has relied on poisonous, dishonest media figures like Mark Levin to help make his argument — a fact rarely mentioned in the mainstream media coverage.