WASHINGTON — Now that President Barack Obama‘s re-election campaign has lifted an unofficial ban on using the opposition’s term for his health care law, Democratic activists have been chanting “We love Obamacare” in front of the Supreme Court.
“It just rolls off the tongue much easier than `We love the Affordable Care Act,’” said Lori Lodes, who supports the law and has been coordinating public outreach keyed to the court deliberations for the Center for American Progress.
But no presidential campaign makes such a move lightly. Obama’s campaign is trying to use the weight of his opponents’ rhetoric against them. Like martial arts or wrestling, except with words.
“It’s rhetorical jujitsu,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an expert on political communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Center.
Republicans coined the term as an insult, linking Obamacare to an apocalyptic litany of woes they contended it would bring about: rationing, soaring costs, unemployment, death panels – even if they were nowhere mentioned in the law.
As “Obamacare” became a household word, the president and his supporters faced a choice. They could keep snubbing the term, leaving it to the law’s critics to define what it stands for. Or they could embrace it and try to put their own spin on it. That’s what the campaign chose to do, going public last Friday on the second anniversary of the law’s signing.
“It meets the voters where they are,” said deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter. And it does show that Obama cares, she added.
“It’s a word that is hugely popular with our supporters, who will fight to the end to defend the law,” said Cutter.
Some Republicans are not exactly amused.
“It doesn’t matter whether the president and his political campaign choose to use the term,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. “I believe they have been confident since the beginning of the president’s term that the new law would prove to be popular, and that simply isn’t the case.”
Jamieson said Obama’s move makes sense from a practical standpoint.
“The word has moved into common usage,” she said. “They can’t afford to have their candidate’s name tied to socialism, rationing and death panels. That means they’ve got to claim it and embrace it.”
“Care” is a word that carries positive connotations. So Jamieson says the Obama campaign can now work on directly equating his health care law with Medicare. Denounced as a stepping stone to socialism when it was being debated in Congress, the health insurance program for seniors and disabled people is now considered politically unassailable.
Cutter says it will also help Obama draw a contrast between his approach to health care and Republican plans, including the House budget proposal that calls for converting Medicare for future retirees into a system dominated by private insurance plans.
In the official name of the law, the word “care” was somewhat overshadowed. Congress named it the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or PPACA. Some lawmakers still refer to it by that acronym, pronouncing it pea-pah-cah.
Supporters have preferred to call it the Affordable Care Act, or ACA for short. But “ACA” doesn’t convey anything about caring.
Campaign officials say there wasn’t much discussion about embracing Obamacare. The president tested the approach at fundraisers. Then campaign manager Jim Messina emailed supporters: “Happy birthday Obamacare … make sure your friends and family know that Obamacare is something to proud of – and worth fighting for.”
Last year, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., tried to block lawmakers from uttering the term “Obamacare” on the House floor.
Now the Obama campaign is selling “I Like Obamacare” T-shirts.
No matter which way the Supreme Court rules, they could become the next collector’s item for political junkies.