President Obama embraces ‘Obamacare’ label. But why?
By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake,
Even as the Supreme Court begins oral arguments over the constitutionality of President Obama’s health care law today, the incumbent and his reelection team have made a critical strategic decision to embrace the term “Obamacare.”
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks as he attends a joint press conference with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak at the presidential house on March 25, 2012 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
The decision to throw their arms politically around “Obamacare” — initially a pejorative term coined by Republicans to deride the Affordable Care Act and compare it to Hillary Clinton’s failed “Hillarycare” effort — is a significant shift in how the president and his team talk about the law.
For much of the two years since Obama signed the bill into law, the incumbent — and his party — have played defense on it, attempting to convince a skeptical public that it was a much-needed reform and not an unnecessary government takeover.
Democrats now acknowledge they lost that message fight — and the results of the 2010 election, in which Republicans ran hard against the law and picked up a whopping 63 seats in the House, is evidence of that fact. Even now polling suggests a majority of the American public — 52 percent in an early March Washington Post-ABC News poll — oppose the law.
What the White House and the Obama reelection team in Chicago clearly believe is that the Supreme Court case amounts to the opening of a new front of the message wars surrounding the health care law. And, if they lost the first fight because they played too much defense, now they are doing their damnedest to get on offense — early and often.
“On Obamacare, Republicans spent hundreds of millions branding Obamacare as a negative, and we believe we can turn that to our advantage,” said Stephanie Cutter, a spokeswoman for Obama’s campaign. “The term is incredibly popular with the president’s supporters, who will fight to the end to defend the law after 70 years of work to pass health reform.”
Embracing the term “Obamacare” is a recognition that the president owns the law politically-speaking no matter what the court decides. That reality means he must re-define “Obamacare” in the eyes (or, more accurately, ears) of the public. “Obamacare” currently stands for everything people don’t like about the law. The White House has to make it stand for all the good things in the law.
We’ve written previously that the lack of movement in the Affordable Care Act’s poll numbers leads us to believe that very few people are either undecided or persuadable on the issue. The White House begs to differ, and the embrace of “Obamacare” is a leading edge of a strategy to change minds on what the law means.
Even if they’re wrong, the White House had decided not to give up on health care as a political issue without a fight. And judging from how Republicans view the law, a fight is why they will have.
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