Obamacare or Not Obamacare?

by Andrew Johnson
Democrats, family members ignore Pelosi’s “Affordable Care Act” policing.

Nancy Pelosi wants to throw out “Obamacare.” Not the law itself, just the name. The House minority leader insists that we all call President Obama’s signature health-care law the “Affordable Care Act.”

Unfortunately, Pelosi’s fellow Democrats, her family members, and even the president have other ideas.

A reporter at a sparsely attended press conference learned Thursday what happens when you refer to the president’s signature health-care law by its popular nickname in front of Pelosi.

“It’s called the Affordable Care Act. It’s called the Affordable Care Act. I know you didn’t intend any compliment or derogatory — it’s called the Affordable Care Act,” the California Democrat adamantly corrected. “Affordable, affordable — there’s a reason — affordable, affordable, affordable, affordable, affordable.”

Others have gotten a sharp retort after mentioning “Obamacare” around Pelosi. In recent months, the erstwhile speaker of the House has made a habit of snapping at people using the monicker “Obamacare.” She has decried use of the term in press conferences and even on Meet the Press.

That is, unless you’re a high-ranking Democrat or someone close to Pelosi. They don’t seem to have gotten the San Francisco congresswoman’s memo, nor do they draw her condemnation.

Although Pelosi considers “Obamacare” toxic, Obama himself has championed the term, and he continues to do so. The same afternoon Pelosi lectured the reporter on the name, the president used it in a speech in Florida. Obama has repeatedly embraced the term, claiming he had “no problem” with it because, he says, he does care about the health and well-being of millions of people he has never met and never will meet. The president confidently predicted Republicans would drop the term following the law’s success, in an effort to prevent him from taking credit for it.

“Once it’s working really well, I guarantee you, they will not call it ‘Obamacare,’” he said last fall. His Organizing for Action group’s website also provides merchandise brandishing the word “Obamacare.”

Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is also a culprit. For example, she has repeatedly assured that it is “darn right that our candidates are going to run on the advantage that [is] Obamacare” in November. The supposed epithet also litters Wasserman Schultz’s Twitter account, along with the official DNC Twitter account, promotional materials, and graphics.

While policing Obama and Wasserman Schultz may be above Pelosi’s authority, those she does have a role in overseeing are guilty as well of violating her rules. Pelosi’s daughter, Christine, has shared a new meme multiple times, demanding that opponents “Don’t Tread on My Obamacare.”

Additionally, Pelosi’s communications director Drew Hammill, the person in charge of the congresswoman’s messaging, has not been shy in promoting the term on his account.

The fight over the Obamacare/A.C.A. distinction has been a seesaw war for several years. Although “Obamacare” was at first interpreted as a jab at the president, the term’s growing popularity, and the consistent unpopularity of the law itself, generated a subtle and complex struggle over language. Many opponents now make ironic use of the term “Affordable Care Act” as a way of highlighting the high costs of premiums under the act.

In December, MSNBC thinker Melissa Harris-Perry likened “Obamacare” to the N-word and Obama’s adoption of it to the kind of détournement by which blacks, gays, and other groups have adopted former slurs. Neither Harris-Perry nor Pelosi has addressed the possible racial overtones of political terms like “Reaganomics,” “Hillarycare,” “McCarthyism,” or “Romneycare.”

The president’s acceptance of the term isn’t cutting any ice with Pelosi either. When the reporter Thursday pointed out that he was reflecting Obama’s own usage, Pelosi shot back, “And I tell him the same thing I told you.”

By any other name, Pelosi’s fellow Democrats are worried about the health-care law ahead of this year’s midterm elections. Alex Sink was recently defeated in a Florida special House election in which Obamacare was a central issue. Many Democrats who (unlike Pelosi) represent less-than-navy-blue states are desperate to put distance between themselves and the Affordable Care Act. If the elections don’t go their way, Pelosi, Obama, and Wasserman Schultz could have bigger concerns about the law than what to call it.

Pelosi’s attempt to wordsmith away the linkage between the law and the president who engineered it may have made one small bit of progress: Google returns 174 million results for the search term affordable care act, but only 20.6 million for obamacare.

— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.