President Barack Obama used to consider it a slur to call the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (2010) "Obamacare." He recently decided, though, to embrace the term. Some pundits believe he had little choice because the term has become so widely used.
"You want to call it 'Obamacare'? That's OK because I do care," Obama said in a March 16 speech.
Supporters of Obama's re-election can go to the campaign's website and order t-shirts, bumper stickers and buttons that say, "I Like Obamacare." For $35, you can get the "Obamacare Pack," which includes all three.
"On 'Obamacare,' Republicans spent hundreds of millions branding 'Obamacare' as a negative, and we believe we can turn that to our advantage," Stephanie Cutter, a spokeswoman for Obama's campaign, told The Washington Post on March 23. "The term is incredibly popular with the president's supporters, who will fight to the end to defend the law after 70 years of work to pass health reform."
This is a big change for a president who used to be offended by use of the term.
Different theories have been offered as to why Obama has embraced the term. One is that it is a strategic decision to reframe the debate over his signature health care initiative.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a political scientist with expertise in political communication, told Public Radio International that recasting language is common in politics.
"There were initially very strong attacks on Social Security and Medicare as names and as concepts," Jamieson explained. "Now people of all ages regard them as so integral to the way that government operates. So across time words change meaning as we live out the experiences that are being named by the words."
Washington Post political reporter Chris Cillizza believes that Obama had no choice but to embrace the term because it has become so commonly used. The Google politics blog noted that "Obamacare" has become, in 2012, more common in internet searches than "Affordable Care Act" or "Health Care Reform." Also, the top rising searches related to "Obamacare" are "Catholic Obamacare," "Romney Obamacare," "Supreme Court Obamacare" and "Romneycare."
Based upon Google's data, Cillizza concludes, "Given that reality, the White House – and President Obama's 2012 reelection team – had little choice but to try to throw their arms around the term, which has long been pushed as a pejorative by Republicans."
Jamieson and Cillizza's theories are, of course, not mutually exclusive. It may be that Obama is both forced to embrace the term and trying to make the best of it by turning it into a positive.
While Obama has embraced the term "Obamacare," news from the Supreme Court this week suggests that "Obamacare" may no longer exist by the November election.
The Supreme Court heard three days of oral arguments this week for a set of cases challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. After Tuesday's hearings, most court watchers believed that the most likely outcome is that the Court will strike down the individual mandate, a central feature of the law. Plus, if the Court strikes down the individual mandate it could strike down the entire law, when it delivers its opinion in June, arguing that the individual mandate is too central to the law to leave the rest intact.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, though, at a Wednesday press conference, that there is no "plan B" in place if the Supreme Court declares that the law is unconstitutional.
"I can tell you that there is no contingency plan that's in place," Earnest said. "We're focused on implementing the law. And we are confident that the law is constitutional."