It started out on the campaign trail in 2008 with the most generic of titles, “Health Care Reform.” At the time the concept was a popular one with the public at large. Everyone hated the insurance companies and the rising costs were clearly untenable long-term. Every Democratic Presidential candidate ran on the platform. Early front-runner, Hillary Clinton, had the battle scars from her husband’s (and more to the point, her own) failed effort in the early 90s. So clearly, whoever came out of the scrap for the party nomination was going to run on it and if that person won in the general election, they were expected to push on it once they entered the oval office.
But a funny thing happened on the road to reform. The “sure thing” didn’t win the nomination. Instead a recent relative unknown pulled off an extraordinary upset defeating the Clinton machine in a primary that many trees have been destroyed over by chroniclers of the election of 2008. Then this skinny guy with a funny name took on a war hero and the strangest of VP candidates in recent memory. He beat them too…handily.
Upon becoming President, one of the first things the new President quickly got to work on was what became known as the Affordable Care Act. He had forged a bond with perhaps the greatest modern champion of healthcare reform, Massachusetts Senator Teddy Kennedy, as a junior Senator from Illinois and the liberal lion’s decision to back him instead of Mrs. Clinton was a true turning point in the democratic primary. By the time the new President took office, Kennedy was terminally ill with brain cancer and not long for this world.
As I said before, the new President had a funny name. Not just his first name, but his middle and last name too. The middle was shared by the former President of Iraq. A despot whom the United States unseated with the modern-day weapons of war. “Shock and Awe” we called it. His surname rhymed with that of the most successful terrorist to ever attack our country. This is the name that the Republican Party would latch onto. Sure, they had fun with “Hussein,” but they found a greater use for that last name.
As the fight to provide affordable health care to all began, it soon became clear that the preferred liberal option of single payer was a non-starter. Even efforts to create a government run public option that would have merely been a sliver on a healthcare pie chart could not muster the needed votes. That’s when the Affordable Care Act began to take shape. Realizing that the only way forward would be to meld the current “for profit” structure with new rules, regulations, and benefits, the young President set about creating this middle path with the help of congress. It is fair to say the sausage making was ugly from the start and soon to get uglier.
The defiant GOP opposition made up all kinds of shit about the new law. “Death panels” to kill the elderly. Government funded abortions to kill the babies. Hell, the bill was an affront to freedom as we all knew it according to those on the right side of the aisle. And as the bill struggled forward in fits and starts but ever closer to the finish line, a new name was given to it. “Obamacare” they called it. With full intent of making the effort to change our healthcare system as onerous, vile, and disgusting as possible, they also made it personal.
The cost to the President was enormous. Ushered into the White House on a wave of good feeling and high approval ratings, the Obamacare pejorative took hold and deflated the President’s good will with the public. More than once advisers suggested he set it aside and move on to other things. Many wondered why he had not given up the effort with so many other terrible issues going on at the same time. A flailing economy and two wars needed their fair share of attention too. “I promised Teddy” the President said.
At considerable cost and many a compromise, the Affordable Care Act was finally signed into law on March 23, 2010.
However, the fight was not over. The PR battle waged on and Constitutional challenges started hitting the courts. Some favored the administration, but some did not. At the heart of this battle was the “individual mandate” in the law that required every adult who did not have health insurance to either buy into the exchanges or pay a fine. The concept behind this portion of the law was that the only way that the execrable pre-existing conditions policy that insurance companies used to deny people coverage could be afforded by providers was if everyone bought in to the system.
It soon became clear that the conservative leaning Supreme Court would have to take up the issue and decide once and for all on the legality of the law. By a razor-thin 5-4 margin, the law was upheld by the nation’s highest court on June 28, 2012. Obamacare became settled law.
Well, it became law, but it was far from settled. The GOP majority House of Representatives, which largely “earned” their majority by campaigning against Obamacare and taking back the House in the mid-term elections of 2010, would go on to vote to repeal the law 42 times. They did so even though they knew that Democratic Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, would never bring a vote to the floor, and even if he did, there would be no way it would pass through the Senate and onto the President’s desk, and even if a unicorn rode into the Senate with a wizard atop and cast a magic spell that somehow brought repeal to the President, there was no way it would be signed by that same President who fought so long and hard to see it through.
Even now, we still find ourselves embroiled in a doomed effort by the House to take one last stab at ending the President’s signature achievement. An accomplishment that took ideas from a Republican Governor in Massachusetts who would later ironically run against his own success in a futile effort to defeat the sitting President in 2012 behind the promise to “repeal Obamacare.” But I digress. Left with but one final bullet in the chamber before the law would be all but fully enacted on October 1st, the House GOP refused to pass a budget without–at minimum–a one year delay on the law. Knowing that any delay of the law would result in further efforts to destroy it, the President said “no,” and without a budget, all but the most essential services of government shut down on October 1, 2013. Even worse, the House Republicans are threatening to cancel payments on our loans by not raising the debt ceiling when that comes due later this month. The effects of which would be catastrophic for the economy. The President still says “no.”
Why? It’s not because he knows something they don’t. In fact, they all know the same thing. That the longer this law is in place the harder it will be to retract. Hell, it won’t be hard, it will be impossible. Many Americans may not be smart enough to know that there is no difference between the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare, but they do know that once a benefit is given, they do not want it taken away. Just think, is the GOP going to take away coverage from those that have already signed up? Good luck with that.
In the past, the masses and political opposers of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid railed against those earned benefits and the impending destruction of this nation as we know it. But they came around, and the country is still here. Even the largely unnecessary and definitely unpaid for Prescription Drug Benefit signed into law by George Bush is popular. Does anyone think Bush wouldn’t have loved for Democrats to have fought against that bill by calling it the Bushscription Drug Benefit?
Which brings me to my final point. It may not seem like it now, and it certainly didn’t seem like it at the start, but the Republican Party has done Barack Obama a massive favor. This President has accomplished some extraordinary things in the face of a sort of intransigence that this country arguably has never seen before. It is quite possible that this President will be remembered for averting a great depression, for ending two wars, for extinguishing DADT and DOMA, and for saving the auto industry. It’s also possible he will be remembered for the excessive use of drones, the overreach of the NSA, and the failure to close Guantanamo. To a degree, all those things are true. But what he will most be remembered for is not any of those things. What he will most certainly be remembered for above all is for bringing affordable healthcare to the masses.
How could he not be? The GOP named it after him. You see, a signature achievement like that can cover up a multitude of sins. Does anyone beyond the most historically astute remember FDR for his brief embrace of austerity leading to a recession after the great depression? Or even the Japanese internment camps he created during World War II? Not really. Mostly he is thought of as the man who ushered in the “New Deal” and defeated Hitler. And just think, neither of those accomplishments were named after him.
Sure, many a historian will pore over the Obama Presidency in effort to define his legacy. But no matter what they do or what opinion they attempt to forward, for the people at large in this country, it will always come back to Obamacare. The thing they will never give back.
So I am telling you now, one day the GOP will deeply regret calling the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare,” and that day cometh right soon (yes, I did just get medieval on your ass). In fact, I have a feeling it’s already here. Just look at their tense, exasperated faces as they endeavor to find a way out of the shutdown mess they have created and try to argue differently.
This article was originally published on The Big Slice.