A funny thing happened on the way to the Supreme Court and during the three days the court heard oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act. Democrats embraced the “Obamacare” name the law’s foes had used as an epithet for two years to deride the law.
In the political equivalent of what happens in battle when the enemy’s captured artillery piece is turned around and the opponent’s own shells are fired back at them, Democrats decided to take ownership of a word they once seemed to avoid at all costs.
The shift has been occurring for weeks if not months. But it became particularly noticeable around the law’s second anniversary on March 23. On that day, for instance, the Obama campaign sent out this email from top Obama political strategist David Axelrod:
“I like Obamacare.
“I’m proud of it — and you should be, too.
“Here’s why: Because it works.
“So if you’re with me, say it: ‘I like Obamacare…’ “
Shirts, buttons, bumper stickers and other campaign paraphernalia followed.
By embracing Obamacare, Democrats clearly were trying to bleed the word of its sting through the time-honored practice of co-opting a word.
It’s something racial and ethnic groups as well as gays, have been known to do, sometimes controversially, when they take the derogatory words others use to demean them and casually, even affectionately apply them to members of their groups.
The adoption of Obamacare by supporters of the law comes at an interesting time.
In January 2011, Celinda Lake, the Democratic pollster, was quoted in a Kaiser Health News article suggesting that ACA’s supporters would need to wait to use Obamacare until the president’s ratings improved.
“We do need a common narrative that includes a name,” said Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners. “When Obama’s job performance improves, it will be fine to call it Obamacare. Now, it is polarizing.”
Obama’s approval ratings are actually no better now according to Gallup than they were when Lake made that comment.
But polling is showing that he’s certainly much more popular than the Republicans left in the GOP presidential contest now vying for the chance to oppose him as their party’s nominee.
Which means that Obamacare as a word may not be quite as toxic as it once was.
If Democrats succeed in wresting away “Obamacare” from their conservative opponents, who knows what’s next? Maybe they’ll be emboldened to reclaim rehabilitate the word “liberal.”
Still no word on whether Democrats will go all the way and reclaim the word “liberal.”