Most presidents have a legacy. It's usually an event or cultural movement that defines not only a presidency, but an era in history. Lincoln had the Civil War, tasked with holding the nation together. Teddy Roosevelt transitioned the nation from a continental power to an imperial one. Hoover failed to deal with the 1929 Stock Market Crash, and subsequently the beginnings of the Great Depression. FDR's presidency was so long he arguably had two distinct legacies: the New Deal and Pearl Harbor, resulting in WWII.
For President Obama the ACA, or Obamacare, will be his legacy and the GOP helped shape it into something greater than it should’ve been.
That’s not to say ACA isn’t, to paraphrase Vice President Biden, a “big fucking deal”. In terms of historical impact, and social progress, it’s landmark. But it should’ve been a footnote or simply a paragraph at the end of history books middle school kids never seem to get to. Obama’s legacy isn't so much the impact ACA will have on our healthcare system (the full scope won’t be readily apparent for years) it’s the dramatic way in which it was implemented. That is, the GOP's opposition makes ACA historically appealing.
In essence the GOP has created a narrative with dramatic elements tailor made for historians. It was a fight conservatives needed to have, but not to the degree at which they did. Extremist ideology, not reality became the benchmark for the fervor of their opposition. Because the GOP made nothing short of outright repeal against what was essentially a conservative idea they’ll be seen as standing in the way of progress. By using lies so egregious against the implementation of desperately needed fixes for a broken system they’ve cast themselves in the role of the villain.
History is an art with scientific aspects. Data doesn’t speak for itself, and while the goal of interpreting that data is to be as objective as possible a historian needs to be a good storyteller. Ever since Thucydides used the structure of the Greek Tragedy to write the History of the Peloponnesian War dramatic elements have been essential to historical interpretation. While historians no longer wax with the same philosophical certainty of the Greeks, History is still an important cultural guide. It can give those of us in the present some insight as to how, and why we’re here.
Sometimes there’s a moment so perfect it illustrates the feeling of an era. It’s an example that creates historical meaning more succinctly than a table of statistics. It’s a manifestation of historical presence. Rep. “Mean Jean” Schmidt of Ohio and her unbridled joy at what she thought was the Supreme Court striking down the Individual Mandate more than anything sums up Republican hubris against Obamacare. The madness that encapsulated the repeal fervor is now systemic. It’s part of the GOP DNA, one in which they cheer for the repeal of a law that’s aimed to improve the health, and even save the lives of its citizens.
ACA should’ve been a landmark event, but never the legacy of a liberal leaning President. It is full of conservative ideas that focused on bolstering the health insurance marketplace. While a step in the right direction, most solidly progressive liberals weren’t enamored with ACA’s final product.
In a nutshell Obamacare simply forces the private marketplace to function as it should: making companies compete against each other for customers, while at the same time actually providing something of value to those customers. The GOP talking point that Obamacare is “a government takeover that liberals love” is trite if not laughably absurd. ACA being legislation of mass destruction, one designed to dismantle American Free Market Capitalism is pure delusion. There was no Public Option, and Single Payer wasn’t even on the table for discussion. If anything it may have contributed to the depressed Democratic voter turnout in 2010. It was also the beginning of accusations from the Left that Obama is a weak President.
But reality doesn’t matter to the GOP anymore. As a party the GOP decided to let the conversation on ACA be high jacked by charlatans and extremists. Obama became Grand Caliph Stalin-Hitler whose divine mission was to strap grandma to a gurney and wheel her in before a “death panel”. ACA was transformed into Obamacare, a name with nefarious intentions, one destined for failure. It was supposed to be the albatross that sunk the Obama Administration. It was part of the “Don’t do a fucking thing, and blame the black guy” strategy the GOP adopted. Terms like “astroturf” entered the English lexicon thanks to big money groups masquerading as grassroots movements opposed to Obamacare. Those same groups created the Tea Party, gave it an artificial significance it did not deserve, and helped the GOP to retake the House and several state governments.
Now the GOP is reduced to writing op-eds in the Washington Examiner that are full of the same, tired ass lies while some of more calculating, but still saner members are quietly voicing they should move on. Mumbling incoherently, with a mind shattered by a reality they refuse to grasp, the Tea Party has been reduced to gobbling their own shit in their padded, epistemic bubble. At this point outright repeal seems a remote proposition at best.
An important element of ACA, the Individual Mandate, has survived a Supreme Court Challenge. Even after a shaky website rollout, one over-hyped into a “disaster” by the mainstream media, Healthcare.gov has met its 7 million sign-up goal. Close to 10 million Americans now have affordable health insurance thanks to Obamacare. Obamacare is a success. By voicing such radical opposition, one untethered to reality Republicans have unwittingly created a legacy for a President they loathed, forever enshrining his place his American History.