Thursday, November 10, 2011

The "Obamacare" Question

Matt Glassman is upset that debate moderator Maria Bartiromo referred to the health care bill passed in 2010 as "Obamacare" rather than a more neutral name.

I think at this point quite a few ACA supporters have embraced the name "Obamacare," so I mostly don't think it's a big deal. However, I think that Glassman is wrong to imply that using only the formal name of the law -- the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- is more neutral. That name, as with virtually all bill names, was chosen in part for its propaganda value.

As someone else argued, and I think it was Jonathan Cohn but I'm not sure, Obamacare is actually quite neutral: Obamacare is pejorative if and only if you don't like Barack Obama. Surely we don't think of Pell Grants or Roth IRAs as slurs, correct? In other words, Obamacare works exactly like Dodd/Frank, which does function as a slur for devoted listeners of conservative talk radio, but for most people is just two meaningless names.

All of which is why I use ACA, which is the most neutral version, in my view -- not Affordable Care Act, but ACA. Well, that, and also that it sets up the ACA/Obamacare distinction I've made a few times. But for a debate moderator to use Obamacare? I noticed it, but I don't have any particular problem with it.


  1. If she had said "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," half the people on the stage wouldn't have known what she was talking about.

  2. Regardless of its perceived slur value, to use it in a formal debate setting is wrong. It's not factual, it's a subjective descriptor. It's akin to a NYT reporter using it in an article without putting it in quotes. You wouldn't accept that, would you?

    The fact that some or even many on the left are now using "Obamacare" as their own subjective descriptor, defusing its slur value, doesn't change its subjective nature. Perhaps that will change in a couple years, but not now.

    And I disagree that Obamacare is akin to Dodd/Frank, changing meaning depending on your political position. Dodd/Frank and other terms are accepted shorthand, but they almost always *derive* from the actual names of the laws. Obamacare is a complete invention, and has no legislative derivation.
    Plus, it's good to remember the actual derivation of this particular locution: Hillarycare, which was always entirely a pejorative.

  3. Jon, I don't think of Obamacare as pejorative, but nor to I think it quite comparable to Pell Grant or Dodd-Frank. The former is a formal name, the latter a traditional way of referring to laws passed by Congress. Obamacare has an element of jest, barbed or affectionate depending on your feelings about O -- like, say, Reaganomics, which I suspect may originally have been coined w/ some sarcasm. I can't think of any direct equivalent -- a mega-program referred to informally by a neologism incorporating the President's name. Can you?

  4. I seem to remember seeing a (real) clip on the Daily Show or maybe Colbert where Obama himself says he doesn't mind the name. He said something along the lines of "I don't mind if people call if Obamacare. If people want to say that 'Obama cares', that's fine with me."

  5. I've talked about this before, but it's worth reiterating: Imagine it wasn't Republicans but Obama himself who first dubbed the bill "Obamacare." How would people have reacted? I suspect the common reaction would have been to find it brazenly egomaniacal, as if the bill were more about him than about solving the country's health-care crisis. And I think that's exactly the point Republicans were aiming for when they coined this term (and when they coined "Hillarycare" back in the '90s). It's a way of disparaging the bill through a subtle ad hominem directed at its creator.

    All that said, I don't think there's really any long-term harm in embracing the term. I've used the term myself many times. The point of comparison that always springs to my mind (because I can't think of any political examples) is "the Big Bang theory." That term was coined by the theory's leading detractor, Fred Hoyle, but it gradually came to be accepted as the standard term for the theory. Some scientists still object to the term because it's inaccurate (the beginning of the universe was neither big, nor a bang), but it's more vivid and catchy than any alternative that has ever been concocted, so it's understandable why it succeeded.

    The same is true with "Obamacare." If Democrats had come up with a catchier title, they could have dislodged "Obamacare." But they didn't, so "Obamacare" rules the day, and I don't really have a problem with that.

  6. This issue is sorta a lefty achilles... that they're often obsessed with lingo and jargon, and they often seem to believe that their evil Faux News enemies are "tricking" all the stupid people with lingo and jargon.

    I mean, for many on the Left, they're certain that they're correct in every detail, and nobody who wasn't tricked or brainwashed would disagree with them. That one academic geek out at UCLA or wherever wrote that book about how the Left just needed to brush up on their own jargon and lingo, and then they'd start winning the political battles handily, because clearly they had the better of every issue, and even the rubes would see that, once they were jingoed properly.

    Everybody's stupid, you know. You just have to trick them with lingo and jargon.

    This also gets at the roots of lefty attempts at censorship which we've seen so often. The evil Faux News enemies must be silenced, because their lingo and jargon is so unfair, and incorrect. The People should only hear "correct" lingo and jargon, in other words. And so, we get food thrown at speakers who the campus Left disagrees with, and other such attempts to silence all dissent with leftist orthodoxy. Directionally, the food throwing is of a piece with the Fairness Doctrine, and censorship in general, it's just found fertile soil in the land of campus speech codes.

    ObamaCare was a mistake, and it's extremely unpopular. The only brainwashed among us were those who actually believed that they could talk people into supporting it, after ramming it through. What a bunch of clueless rubes.

  7. This issue is sorta a lefty achilles... that they're often obsessed with lingo and jargon, and they often seem to believe that their evil Faux News enemies are "tricking" all the stupid people with lingo and jargon.

    Two words: GOPAC memo.

  8. Actually, this is exactly the problem with the Administration.

    Somebody call you a mean name? Adopt it. Make it your own. Go around and boast about Obamacare.

    Don't cringe in the corner. Don't (cough) delay the implementation until after the election. Embrace what your opponent fears.

    I reckon our Kenyan socialist president didn't do well in schoolyard fights.

  9. Kylo,

    I have no problem with Gingrich, GOPAC or anybody else using the jargon and lingo they prefer.

    Why do you lefties have a problem with that?


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