Obamacare, er Affordable Care Act, er That Thing That Must Not Be Named rebranding continues

November 22, 2013
sad elephant


What’s in a name? A rose by any other name might still smell just as bad, but could sound like it was someone else’s signature legislative achievement.

Right now, in the polls, the rollout of Obamacare — er, the Affordable Care Act — is doing a wonderful impression of a person who does not know how to swim but won’t let go of your leg, dragging everyone who touches it down into the vasty deeps where no light penetrates and those weird fish with glowing protuberances swim to and fro ominously. Metaphorically speaking, that is.

There are a couple of possible approaches to the problems of the rollout. You could try to fix all the problems.

As it stands, you have to hear criticism from people like Frank Rich, pointing out that the failures of Obamacare might run pretty deep: “How could a president whose signature achievements include the health-care law and two brilliantly tech-centric presidential campaigns screw this up so badly? How could he say even as late as September 26 that the site would work “the same way you shop for a TV on Amazon”? How could he repeatedly make the false promise that all Americans could keep their insurance plans, and then take so long to recognize that he was wrong and mobilize to correct it? This is hardly Kathleen Sebelius’s fault. It is Barack Obama’s fault — a failure of management for sure, and possibly one of character. There is something rotten in the inner-management cocoon of the White House, and if the president doesn’t move to correct it, his situation will truly 9be hopeless for the rest of this term.”

Something rotten in the inner-management cocoon? That sounds difficult to fix, or like it might become a terrifying zombie butterfly. Better just to slap another name on it!

Obamacare itself is the result of a successful branding effort, the nickname you didn’t want that wound up sticking. I’m sure this is how Ivan the Terrible felt. (“What’s wrong with Cool Ivan?” he asked his friends. “I’m cool.”) Stepping back towards the Affordable Care Act now is a savvy piece of rebranding. In the wake of all this bad publicity, the law is doing the thing your friend Katie did when she announced to the world that she was going by Katherine again. Boom! Half the bad publicity just vanished from your Google results.

This does work. Remember the slimehead? No, of course you don’t. It’s called an “orange roughy” now. And we can’t catch enough of it to supply the demand. It’s the same way Norma Jean Baker became Marilyn Monroe. Just as you can take something great with a terrible name and make it wildly popular by rechristening it, I assume you can take something that is going spectacularly badly and — at least get someone else’s name on it. Think of it like when you went to summer camp and decided that you were an entirely different person.

After all, the current name is not something anyone came up with. It’s the Nickname That Stuck. If Alaska hadn’t worked out, we’d still be calling it Seward’s Folly. But you can do better than this. Why stop at “Affordable Care Act”? Take it a step or two further and call it “Boehner’s Surprise” or “That Thing I Had Nothing To Do With Unless It Works Really Well, In Which Case, Totally” or just “Dave” to throw everyone off. If you can’t beat them, spout confusing nonsense at them until they go away, as my grandparents always used to say.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.
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Alexandra Petri | November 22, 2013