July 5, 2012
Chief Justice Roberts of the US Supreme Court has received quite a bit of scorn in the aftermath of the decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Many conservatives believe he sold out.
This is a person who was appointed by former President George W. Bush. President Obama actually opposed his appointment; yet Roberts provided the deciding "swing" vote declaring the individual mandate is legal as a tax.
So the question is: Is he exercising strong leadership or is this political activism or betrayal? Our political climate has become so polarized that it is indeed difficult to even speak of leadership without resorting to partisanship. However, we must remember that the Supreme Court is supposed to be nonpartisan. Yep, that is the idea. Their role is to interpret the law and exercise judicial restraint. Their purpose in reviewing the individual mandate was to determine whether it was constitutional, not whether it was good policy. I am going to give Chief Roberts the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was acting according to what he believed was right. This has nothing to do with whether I agree with the decision.
The issue that resonates most for me in this situation is the incredibly difficult positions in which we place our leaders. We idolize them, then shoot them down. When we agree with their decisions, we hail them as brilliant. When we disagree, they become scoundrels. We don't always stop to think about the complexities of the decision, or what we might do in a similar situation. We have the luxury of criticizing after the fact.
This issue also seems to illustrate the Social/Cognitive Psychology phenomenon known as the "Confirmation Bias". That is, we select or favor information that confirms our biases. In other words, we start with a set of beliefs, then go out in search of information to confirm those beliefs, which means we are naturally being selective about the data.
We all do this, by the way, but it is a limited way of looking at the world. It keeps us set in a particular mindset and does not allow for new ideas. We should question our knee-jerk reactions to decisions as a way of counter-balancing the Confirmation Bias. Questions to ask ourselves: Are we being selective in the information we seek vs. looking for the best data? Is there an alternative point of view that we are overlooking?