It’s the Affordable Care Act, not ‘Obamacare’

IT’S THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT, NOT ‘OBAMACARE’…. In some center-left circles, Republicans’ insistence on saying “Democrat Party” is about the most annoying rhetorical tic in the GOP lexicon.

“Obamacare” is arguably a competitive second.

Conservatives, even well-intentioned ones, who don’t use the word to be obnoxious, aren’t clear on why it rankles quite so much. It’s not as if “Obamacare” is necessarily derogatory — it’s intended, at least by some on the right, to simply be descriptive, and it’s easier than referencing “the health care reform law signed by President Obama.”

With that in mind, James Joyner, Patrick Appel, Meghan McArdle are all wondering why Democrats make a fuss when the word comes up. Tim Fernholz’s explanation was spot-on.

[A]s a meme, [“Obamacare”] was invented to make healthcare reform efforts unpopular with voters by implying that the government, in the form of President Obama, was going to be making your health-care decisions. It’s part and parcel with Politifact’s Lie of the Year, “the government takeover of healthcare,” because it replaces the traditional term for our health sector with the name of the head of the government.

The term also plays into the oft-repeated “liberal overreach” message spread by the president’s conservative opponents, who argued early and often that health-care reform was an ego play on the part of a self-obsessed president ignoring the public’s wishes, rather than the inheritance of forty years of Democratic campaigning to fix a broken and unjust system. And by merging the terms for health care reform and the President’s name, Republicans could attack both at the same time, maximizing their efficiency: Republicans love talking about “job-killing Obamacare” for just that reason.

If I had to guess, I’d say Republicans started using “Obamacare” as some kind of slur as a way of undermining the president’s standing. They knew they could help tear down support for health care reform, but by attaching the president’s name to it, maybe they could help tear him down, too. Remember, fairly early on in the process, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) declared, “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo.”

But in time, use of the phrase evolved. The point wasn’t just about the president, per se, but about convincing the public that the initiative was what Republicans said it was: a top-down, government imposed scheme. “Obamacare” is necessarily loaded to convey an idea — that policymakers were replacing a dysfunctional mess with one in which Americans would receive their care from the president, or at a minimum, through a process the president directs.

And if this had any basis in reality, the slur might have some merit. But the very idea is patently ridiculous, which makes the “Obamacare” as misleading as it is annoying.