By MARSHA MERCER
President Barack Obama almost let his foes turn “Obamacare” into the political equivalent of “pink slime,” the distasteful beef product made of leftover trimmings.
Obamacare, even more than Hillarycare and Romneycare, had become a term of disgust.
The more his foes blasted Obamacare, the less the president seemed willing to talk about or defend his health care law. He barely mentioned health care in his State of the Union Address and routinely dispatched Kathleen Sebelius, his health and human services secretary, to extol the law’s benefits.
Politics is a battle of perception, and Obama’s biggest accomplishment was becoming a burden. Seventy percent of people say they’ve heard mostly negative things about the law, the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll reported.
Now that the law’s fate rests with the Supreme Court, though, the White House and Obama’s re-election campaign have reversed course. They’re rebranding Obamacare as prime filet.
Supporters of the health care law chanted “I love Obamacare” outside the court during this week’s oral arguments. Fans can “like” Obamacare on Facebook or finish the sentence, “I like Obamacare because…” on Twitter. A search for Obamacare on the White House Web site yields hundreds of hits. You can read personal health care stories titled by the individuals’ names, such as DavidCare and VanessaCare.
And in an in-your-face entrepreneurial move, the campaign is marketing the Obamacare brand with an array of “I like Obamacare” paraphernalia -- buttons, bumper strips and T-shirts. Mitt Romney hasn’t yet followed suit. His campaign sells goods with only one motto, “Believe in America.”
Republicans plan to continue hammering Obama over the law, but some Democrats say the attacks could backfire. If the court strikes down part or all of the law, the decision could mobilize Democratic voters.
Former Clinton strategist James Carville says if the court were to overturn the law, it would be “the best thing to ever happen to the Democratic Party” because health care costs would escalate and the growing senior population would react strongly.
Democrats would say, “We tried,” Carville said on CNN, and the Republican Party would own the health care system for the foreseeable future.
For now, it’s Obama who owns health care. Polls show the public divided on the law but against the individual mandate which requires people to buy insurance or pay a financial penalty in 2014. The administration is reminding voters about the provisions they do like, such as allowing young people under 26 to stay on their parents’ insurance plans. About 2.5 million young people now have insurance because of the law.
About 54 million people with private insurance and 32 million seniors on Medicare have received free preventive care – such as mammograms and vaccinations. The law has saved 5.1 million seniors and disabled people on Medicare $3.1 billion – with a B – on their prescription drugs. Insurance companies may no longer refuse coverage of children with a pre-existing conditions, and the law will extend that protection to all Americans in 2014.
If the law is still around. Obama insists that the Supreme Court will uphold the law’s constitutionality. A decision is expected by late June.
As for Obamacare, Obama did try once before to co-opt the term, telling a town hall meeting in Minnesota last August, “I have no problem with folks saying ‘Obama cares.’ I do care. If the other side wants to be the folks who don’t care, that’s fine with me.” After that, though, he and his staff avoided the pejorative – until last week.
Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for Obama for America, emailed supporters the other day. “Republicans have now spent millions on nasty TV ads that try to tear down health reform,” she wrote. “They even assigned the law a moniker that they intended to be a dirty word: Obamacare. Well, we just so happen to love the name. Thanks, guys.”
Obama’s second term may well depend on whether voters believe Obamacare means Obama cares or pink slime.
© 2012 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.