When Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Congress had to pass Obamacare for us to find out what was in it, she had a point.
Alas, familiarity in this case breeds contempt. Gallup tells us:
Less than two months before the health insurance exchanges open nationwide, more Americans disapprove (49%) than approve (41%) of the Affordable Care Act. An additional 11% have no opinion. As this landmark legislation enters the next phase in its implementation process, it remains divisive. With the exception of a bounce likely caused by President Barack Obama’s re-election in November 2012, Americans have been more disapproving than approving of the healthcare law. . . . Americans who say they are very or somewhat familiar with the law are more likely to disapprove (55%) than approve of it (42%).
In other words, Obamacare’s unpopularity may not have peaked yet. The horror stories have yet to percolate (wait for the exchanges to go up — or fail to) and many voters don’t fully appreciate how this is going to affect them (e.g. higher rates, losing the catastrophic plan they like).
In 2010, the White House promised Obamacare would be a bonus for the Democrats; they lost the House. Rounding the bend into 2014, President Obama accuses Republicans of disturbing what is already “settled.” The only thing settled, however, is the public’s attitude toward Obamacare, which is decisively negative. That is why Republicans will run on Obamacare and vulnerable Democrats mostly won’t.
The danger for Republicans is that they give Obama an escape hatch, allowing him to turn this into an issue about Republicans’ unfitness to govern. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has it exactly right:
I think people, at least in my state, Republicans like me want less government, want limited government, but we want government that works, and I don’t think shutting things down makes anything work. We should make the case for limited government and also make the case for why electing more Republicans to the Senate and, ultimately, a new president will help us remove Obamacare. But shutting [the government] down is not the option. Other options to me are wide open.
That’s the nub of it: If Republicans are to win, it is by seizing on the public’s dislike of Obamacare, the Democrats’ singular “achievement” of this presidency, to make a larger point about fitness to govern. The argument is (in case Republicans advocating a shutdown have muddled it so badly you forgot) that Democrats’ blind adherence to a gargantuan and unworkable health-care plan they intend to stuff down the public’s throats suggests they are contemptuous of voters and driven by ideology. Skepticism about big government is increasing under Obama for good reason; the public thinks government is too big and isn’t responsive to them. Obamacare made the point better than any GOP campaign speech ever could.
Why in the world would they make that argument for the Democrats against themselves?
Republicans win when Democrats overreach, not when Republicans do. The GOP succeeds when it can appeal to voters’ common sense skepticism about the “Big’s” — Big Business, Big Government and Big Labor. The GOP wins when it debunks the portrait of them as irresponsible and driven by unworkable ideology.
This is why it makes perfect sense to pound home the problems with Obamacare, make Democrats defend it, hold them accountable in elections and run on an alternative philosophy. That alternative philosophy can’t be reactionary or extreme. If it is, many voters in key swing states and districts will refuse to jump from the frying pan into the fire.