Flash forward to today, and death is a big part of the debate over Obamacare, thanks in large part to Democrats.
In recent days, the specter of death and illness has permeated the debate over Republicans' plans to repeal Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act.
The Democrats' new slogan for the GOP's repeal effort is "Make America Sick Again." Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) accused Republicans of assigning the "death penalty" to the law's beneficiaries. Now-former Senate minority leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) assured us "people are going to die." New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof agreed. And White House press secretary Joshua Earnest said Tuesday that repeal is indeed "a question of life or death for some people."
It's also been in the metaphors. Critics of repeal have suggested that repealing the law would result in a "death spiral" in the individual insurance market. And House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said the law itself is already immersed in its own "death spiral." Ryan has also fought back against Democrats' increasingly morbid arguments by arguing that the law is "hurting people right now."
So why are we talking about death so much all of a sudden?
Part of the reason is undoubtedly context. When Sarah Palin and some Republicans were criticized for saying Obamacare contained "death panels" during the health-care debate, it was more because the claim was baseless than anything else. Grayson, meanwhile, was suggesting Republicans wanted people to die — not just that their actions would unwittingly lead to that result.
But Grayson's 2009 comment bears some resemblance to what Democrats are arguing today. He was casting death as the alternative to Democrats' plan. He was saying people would die if Republicans got their way, which is essentially what Democrats are arguing today.
Another key difference is that we're talking about a law that's already on the books and people have been benefiting from — along with the unintended consequences that could come from its repeal. Before, the debate was more in the abstract; today, we know that 20 million people have obtained coverage through the Affordable Care Act and that others have enjoyed the requirement that insurers cover preexisting conditions.
Of course, whether repeal will actually lead to death is for partisans to argue. Republicans would say they plan to install an even better alternative — including the preexisting conditions requirement — rather than simply getting rid of Obamacare. We have approximately zero details of what that alternative would be at this point (now that they are in power and poised to repeal Obamacare, there is more onus on them to produce one), but Democrats' accusations of impending doom don't really allow for it. That's because they don't believe Republicans will be able to do it and they prefer their version.
So it remains notable that Democrats are going down this path. It's a big charge. And it's at least partly a reflection of our increasingly pitched political rhetoric. No historical comparison is apples-to-apples, but the fact that Democrats' defense of Obamacare is so heavy on scenes of doom and death is pretty telling of our political day and age — and also the stakes of repeal.