Question to Democrats: Whose bright idea was it for you to start using the term “Obamacare?”
Oh, yeah, that’s right–it was the guy who created it. Putting his hands up in resignation after a few years of unnerving Republican temper tantrums, the god of Obamacare thought co-opting the term would be a clever way of turning the tables. “I like it,” said the President during his first debate with GOP nominee Mitt Romney this same time last year. “I do care.”
From that point forward, Democratic strategists and message gurus ran with it. A year later, it’s as officially designated as the actual law’s real name, the Affordable Care Act. Oddly enough, it’s the only thing Democrats and Republicans can agree on during the budget impasse, as cable news outlets use it flippantly on their Chyrons.
But, it’s not like the president was in what you’d call a green-light frame of mind when he said it during what was easily his worst debate performance ever that fateful night in Denver. He looked miserable and constipated. And, it’s not like he'd done the best job of selling the law since its legislative debut a few years earlier. Republicans had struck political gold with the term, molding it like kids stretching Play Doh and making enough gains to retake the House in 2010. And here we are.
It was a stretch for the President and his party to assume easy use of one of the most divisive and derisive political phrases ever created for the purpose of dehumanizing an opponent. It’s not like Lyndon Johnson got saddled with something like “JohnsonAid” or “JohnsonCare” when he plowed the very controversial Medicaid and Medicare amendments through Congress in 1965. So, even if Obama is POTUS, why take the word of a man who always fumbles on selling his trademark law to the general public? A YouGov poll finds 34 percent want to stop “Obamacare” even if it means a shutdown, compared to the 26 percent who want to keep it under the same circumstances.
Democrats contend demographic superiority on the topic, pointing to loyal portions of the base from African Americans to youth voters and even a slice of white voters (mostly female) who prefer the term. And it's all about getting folks enrolled, they say–even with the website experiencing several days of glitches.
But, on that ugly path to what’s now a full week of federal government shutdown, no one thought to check in with that large share of Americans who’ve completely bought into the GOP caricature, with many convinced that it’s not even law yet. Others believe it’s all part of the President’s sinister socialist plan, like the 25-percent who think he’s plotting a third term, according to a recent Public Policy Polling survey.
Messaging, of course, is everything in politics. Voters, we’ve found, don’t care much about facts or reality–they only see what you put in front of them. Many don’t know that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are actually identical. A recent CNBC poll found “30 percent of the public don't know what ACA is versus only 12 percent [for] Obamacare.” The real kicker is that 46 percent oppose Obamacare while 37 percent oppose ACA.
Pew Research also found similar, but much more “stunning” (if not predictable) breakdowns: 91 percent of African Americans dug the term “Obamacare” compared to only 29 percent of whites. Essentially, that recent Jimmy Kimmel bit on Hollywood Blvd. (with its lone and frazzled black “Obamacare” supporter) wasn’t so much a prank as it was sad reality.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s time to face the funk. Nearly unanimous bi-partisan usage of “Obamacare” is killing its sale, and leading the nation to the brink of another economic armageddon. Yet Democrats, sniffing their boss’s glue, don’t seem to get it.
CHARLES D. ELLISON is a regular contributor to The Philly Post, a veteran political strategist and Chief Political Correspondent for UPTOWN Magazine, the Washington Correspondent for The Philadelphia Tribune and the weekly Washington Insider heard every Sunday at 9:50am ET on WDAS 105.3 FM. Reach him via Twitter @charlesdellison.