What’s in a Name?

Matt Glassman is upset that debate moderator Maria Bartiromo referred to the health care bill passed in 2010 as “Obamacare” rather than a more neutral name.

I think at this point quite a few ACA supporters have embraced the name “Obamacare,” so I mostly don’t think it’s a big deal. However, I think that Glassman is wrong to imply that using only the formal name of the law — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — is more neutral. That name, as with virtually all bill names, was chosen in part for its propaganda value.

As someone else argued, and I think it was Jonathan Cohn but I’m not sure, Obamacare is actually quite neutral: Obamacare is pejorative if and only if you don’t like Barack Obama. Surely we don’t think of Pell Grants or Roth IRAs as slurs, correct? In other words, Obamacare works exactly like Dodd/Frank, which does function as a slur for devoted listeners of conservative talk radio, but for most people is just two meaningless names.

All of which is why I use ACA, which is the most neutral version, in my view — not Affordable Care Act, but ACA. Well, that, and also that it sets up the ACA/Obamacare distinction I’ve made a few times. But for a debate moderator to use Obamacare? I noticed it, but I don’t have any particular problem with it.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.