Ever since the term “Obamacare” made it into popular vernacular, I have hated it. I initially hated it because the GOP was using the term pejoratively to poke fun at the President’s health reform law. I mean, after all – it’s not like we called Medicare “Johnsoncare” or Social Security “Rooseveltcare”. I hated the term even more once the President started to embrace it; with all due respect Mr President, accepting the use of the pejorative term for your signature legislative achievement muddied the message to the American people. Embracing the term “Obamacare” instead of the Affordable Care Act was possibly the worst public relations move the White House could have made with regard to the law, aside from the general lack of publicity about the law prior to the 2012 election.
If you don’t believe that statement, last week’s media coverage of the government shutdown provides ample proof. Polls have consistenly shown that people don’t like the law when it’s referred to as “Obamacare” but love the individual components of the law – things like coverage for pre-existing conditions, allowing young people to stay on parents’ insurance until age 26, etc. As Jimmy Kimmel quipped “It’s like the opposite of a (McDonalds chicken) McNugget.”
But Jimmy Kimmel also learned that plenty of people have no idea that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are the same thing. The exact same law. A recent CNBC poll found more Americans oppose Obamacare than oppose the Affordable Care Act. But more Americans support Obamacare than the Affordable Care Act. It doesn’t seem to make sense until you know that CNBC polled two different groups, using “Obamacare” for one group and the Affordable Care Act for the other. Forty-six percent of the group asked about “ObamaCare” opposed it. But only 37% of those asked about the health law opposed it. Conversely, 29% of those polled support Obamacare compared with 22% who support ACA. (the remainder didn’t have enough information or were neutral).
Rationally speaking, this makes no sense. But that requires that Americans be rational, informed human beings, and that’s where it all falls apart – and why the term “Obamacare” is such a tragedy. Because that same CNBC poll determined that 30% of the public didnt know that the Affordable Care Act was, and even with all the press, 12% of those polled didnt know what Obamacare was either. You read that correctly – nearly a third of those polled didn’t now about the biggest health reform law since Medicare and Medicaid were enacted.
The ignorant American is an enormous problem, and one of the biggest problems in our democracy. Because politicians will never blame the public for being ignorant of the issues, and far worse, they play on our ignorance to pass their agendas. The Republican Party knew that labeling the Affordable Care Act as “Obamacare” would instantly make a specific subset of the American public hate the idea – merely because the President’s name was associated with the law. The President similarly bet that attaching his name to the legislation would rally the Democractic Party behind the law. As Jonah Goldberg notes, since “politics is so often driven by our attitudes toward specific personalities, for many Americans, their attitudes toward a monumentally significant piece of legislation are driven by something as petty as whether ‘Obama’ is in the title.” If you believe the CNBC poll numbers, it would seem both parties’ logic was somewhat successful.
“Worse, virtually all the conventional wisdom, not to mention academic and media gasbaggery, is that the biggest problem with our political system is that not enough Americans are participating.” In order to vote, we must be informed enough to form opinioins on pieces of legislation. It’s fairly safe to say that if you don’t know that Affordable Care Act is, you probably aren’t voting. And the ill-informed voter is problematic for both political parties… depending on which party is able to whip up enough emotion right before an election. Holding the public’s attention after election season is over, however, is an entirely different matter. After all, the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010…