Sarah Palin gave birth to “Death Panels” four years ago this month. Death panels with bureaucrats deciding who got care and who did not, who got to live or die, were quickly debunked. But there was no stopping the emotional energy opposing the ACA–for Republicans it was a matter of political life or death. In the summer of 2009 Republicans went on the attack, from claims of death panels to shouting matches at constituent town halls. It was a raucous political summer, to say the least.
The Republican offensive was so swift and powerful that the Democrats did not have a chance to put up much of a defense – let alone an offense. Democrats were blindsided; just months earlier Barack Obama had won a sweeping victory on a platform of healthcare reform. The Democrats were left scratching their heads while the Republicans charged forward, culminating in the shellacking in the 2014 mid-term elections.
What a difference four years can make. Democrats, especially the President, learned from their 2009 mistake – which was putting forward a policy without a defensive or offensive strategy.
Today the Obama administration and friends of the ACA have put into place a full-scale air and ground offensive.
Americans United for Change and Protect Your Care have put together a nation-wide public relations blitz promoting Obamacare. Democratic elected officials are touting the ACA at roundtables from the Lone Star state to the Sunshine state. And in Illinois, not only have supporters been involved in promoting the law, but also in protesting lawmakers that oppose it.
However, the Obamacare offensive has not stopped Republicans from continuing their frontal assault. The conservative Heritage Foundation leads the charge having recently kicked off a nine city “Defund Obamacare” tour. Tea Party Senators Lee, Cruz, and Paul will also be pushing back through their own rally opposing Obamacare to be held in September.
The Republican opposition to the ACA has been consistent and unrelenting, evidenced by forty attempts at repealing the legislation. But this time around the pro-healthcare lobby should be able to mute the Republican defensive tactics or at least match them. The administration is holding its own in its hand-to-hand combat with the GOP. But the deeper problem is that the general American public remains unsupportive of the ACA.
Gallup recently reported on how the support for the ACA has gone down over time and currently sees a majority of Americans opposed to President Obama’s signature legislation. Perhaps more worrisome is that the more familiar a person is with Obamacare, the less supportive they are. A related issue is the lack of information among those who are most likely to benefit from the ACA – Latinos. So the Obama administration finds itself simultaneously combining a large-scale informational campaign with a defensive and offensive messaging strategy.
Obamacare is the law of the land and is in little danger of being repealed. But the administration’s bigger worry is that the ACA has never really won the hearts and minds of the American public. While the current Obamacare offensive strategy is robust, I can’t help but ask whether it is too little too late.
The lack of an offensive strategy early on has cost the emotional buy-in of Americans. This is of particular importance, because in order for Obamacare to work all Americans need to take part in it. Obamacare will go into effect, but in the short-term it will suffer from the lack of early strategy. The administration will have to rely on the current offensive initiatives to undue a lot of the bad feelings and misinformation that were established early on – but as the saying goes, better late than never.
Veronica Defrancesco Soto
Monday, 2 September 2013