The Language of Obamacare

February 27, 2014 - 5:53 AM

A couple of weeks ago I made the point that Democrats had been on a mission to remove the word "Obamacare" from the American lexicon.

For the better part of January, using the word "Obamacare" would cause them to launch into a finger-wagging lecture on the name of the program -- the ACA. I countered that the real name was the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. If the Left could chose a pseudonym, "ACA," then so could I, "Obamacare."

We have won that fight.

On the floor of the United States Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) was engaged in trying out mid-term election rhetoric about the Koch Brothers when, according to the Weekly Standard, he said:

"We heard about the evils of Obamacare, about the lives it's ruining in Republicans' stump speeches and in ads paid for by oil magnates, the Koch brothers."

Reid threw in the towel and used the "O" word.

Another example: The Atlantic Monthly is a seriously Left-leaning magazine (much as the Weekly Standard supports conservative thinking). If any publication would be true blue - so to speak - and want to lead the Democratic messaging parade it would be the Atlantic.

However, a quick search of "Obamacare" on the Atlantic website came up with nine articles with that word in the title -- just since the beginning of 2014.

Why does this matter? Because words count. That's why you always hear so much about "messaging" as in "we couldn't get our message out" from the losers in elections.

Frank Luntz, the Henry Higgins of this sort of thing on the GOP side has been pitching the fact that words and phrases can change the course of an argument for decades.

"Estate Tax" sounds like something that only matters to Lord Grantham, owner of Downton Abbey. Frank trained Republicans to use the phrase "Death Tax" which sounds like something that matters to the owner of every small business in America.

As far back as 2009, according to an article by Randy James in Time Magazine, Luntz was writing the health care dictionary.

He said that Republicans should use the phrase "health care rationing" (although I don't think he takes, or even wants, credit for Sarah Palin's "Death Panels"). Worse yet, the people who were going to do the rationing were "politicians" so GOP politicians should warn against "putting politicians in charge" of their constituents' health care.

Frank warned against running into the Congressional GOP's usual hidey hole - economic arguments - when, according to James, he wrote that there should be "less talk of consumers and free markets, more talk of patients and wellness."

Given the loud parsing of the recent CBO report on workers, jobs, and Obamacare, I don't think either side has learned that lesson.

For most Americans health care is a process that involves the mysterious world of hospitals, pharmacies and doctors. We give ourselves up to being prodded and poked, being given pills and potions; and being examined by people we trust with our lives.

What has done the most damage in the first four month of Obamacare? The broken website? No. It was Barack Obama's empty promise that, if you wanted to, you could keep your insurance plan and you could keep your doctor.

In his 28-page memo on the language of health care, Luntz was prescient in writing Republicans should be passionate in calling for the "protection of the personalized doctor-patient relationship."

The bottom line, according to Frank Luntz is: "We need to stop looking at [health care] from a global perspective and restore the humanity to healthcare. We need to focus more on people and less on the system."

Five years old, but still good advice.

So, you can see why Democrats tried to separate the ACA from the President's name. But, they couldn't.

As the clock continues to click toward the November elections and, assuming Obamacare still moves votes, that may turn out to have been the single most important political failure of the Left in this election cycle.

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the Harry Reid floor speech, to the Atlantic Magazine, to the Time Magazine summary of Luntz' memo and to the full 28-pager you can download. Also a Mullfoto from my trip to the West Coast last week.