Bench Memos


I occasionally run across comments contending that it’s impolite to refer to President Obama’s health-care legislation as “Obamacare.” I’d like to explain briefly why I don’t accept this contention.

For starters, there are plenty of supporters of the legislation who routinely refer to it as Obamacare. A quick Google search limited to Slate’s website generates a slew of articles containing such references: for example, an article by Simon Lazarus subtitled “Why this week’s decision upholding Obamacare may carry extra weight at the Supreme Court”; another by Dahlia Lithwick subtitled “Why calls for Elena Kagan to recuse herself from the Obamacare case are ridiculous”; David Weigel’s post titled “Laurence Silbermann [sic] Upholds Obamacare”; and seemingly countless neutral uses of the term in articles.

Second, if, as Dahlia Lithwick puts it, the legislation is one of Obama’s “signature accomplishments,” it’s only fitting that it bear his name. (How can you have a signature without a name?)

Third, there is nothing inherently pejorative about the term “Obamacare.” How could combining the name of the president with the very favorable term “care” be pejorative? If the legislation were intensely popular, you can be sure that Democrats would be using the label at every opportunity.

Fourth, I don’t see any preferable shorthand. The formal title of the law, the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” is long—and, like many bill titles, tendentious— and its acronym, PPACA, would not be recognized by most readers.

Today, as it happens, is the second anniversary of the enactment of Obamacare. I hope very much that one year from now we will be referring to Obamacare only as a historical relic. As my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague (and National Affairs editor) Yuval Levin summarizes it in his “Unhappy Birthday” post on the Corner:

This law is horrendously bad health-care policy, it rips at the fabric of our constitutional order and our economic order, it makes a joke of any notion of limited government, and it involves a faith in centralized expert management that is utterly disconnected from the realities of modern life. It is the culmination of the liberal welfare state in every respect, and it was enacted just as the failures of that welfare state were becoming most plainly and painfully apparent. It stands to exacerbate and accelerate all of those failures, and so to make the crisis our country faces far more urgent and grave.

If this disaster isn’t repealed, I’m confident that the term “Obamacare” will indeed acquire an enduring stigma, and attain nearly universal status among Americans as an ugly epithet, for the good reason that the law will have done such irreparable damage.

Update [3/26]: Well, this ought to settle it: The Obama re-election campaign on Friday embraced the term “Obamacare.”


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