Obamacare II: What’s In A Name?

April 27, 2014
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Henry Vespa continues his look at all things Obamacare. This week, why is it even called Obamacare?

So, maybe this is a bit of a tangent but I got curious… how did everyone (on both sides of the great political divide) start calling this initiative “Obamacare”? I mean I understand that it’s a little snappier than the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but is it really wise to associate a wide-ranging social initiative so strongly with a single (and to some, controversial) individual? Maybe this is just my stereotypical British reserve, but it seems either a touch egocentric or just dismissive, depending on who’s using the term.

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Well, it seems that originally it was pretty much an insult. Back in 2007 (remember the good old days, before we had a solid reason to shoot bankers on sight?) journalists and lobbyists starting referring to the presidential candidate’s plans for tackling the health cover issue as “Obamacare”, as a way of diminishing and dismissing it. Not nice, but that’s politics, especially at election time.

It wasn’t long before the politicians themselves joined in. Republican Mitt Romney was an early user of the term, associating it with the Democrats and proposals for “socialized medicine” – whatever that is. Incidentally, fair play to Mitt; when he was governor of Massachusetts, he pushed through a successful state-wide healthcare reform that mandated individual health insurance and used government subsidies to bring about virtually universal health coverage. You know, if I didn’t know better, that would sound like a state level precursor to the PPACA… but why would the Republican Romney oppose the rolling out of the same successful measures on a national scale by a Democrat president? Huh.

Anyway… “Obamacare” quickly became the pejorative nomenclature of choice but then the Democrats decided to adopt the obvious strategy in face of name-calling: they (re)claimed the word and started using it themselves. As the man himself apparently said, “I have no problem with people saying Obama cares. I do care.” Shrewd move. As things got under way and the PPACA came into force, the Department of Health actually started using it in advertising. And in 2012, when running for re-election, the Obama team used it throughout the campaign. So, “Obamacare” is now in everyday use; that’s how language works.

Obamacare II: What's In A Name?

But what happens when we name something after a person? It seems to me that the two become intertwined, irretrievably entangled. Taken to extremes, they may even become equivalent. Now, in a good way, that can lead to a legacy; a positive remembrance of a major change for the better. But the other side of the coin? Such naming can lay the groundwork for dismissal later on. In the future, if (when?) Barack Obama is out of favor, anything strongly associated with him risks being tarnished and lessened.

Once the next Republican president is in office (next term, the one after, sooner or later it’ll happen because that’s the two-party political game, folks) the PPACA is going to have to be some sort of rip-roaring success to survive. I guarantee that now that it’s called “Obamacare”, it’s automatically on the Republican list of things to be discarded if at all possible. Every new government’s main agenda when taking up the mantle of power and control is to blame and disparage its predecessor… sad but true.

To be continued…

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