Obamacare: The Power of a Formulaic Argument

03 Aug

Since, oh, about last Thursday, I’ve been getting into some fairly heated back-and-forths over health reform with various folks I know. It’s been entirely frustrating, because no amount of calm, cool, and collected presentation of the facts on my part seems to dissuade my “opponents” from name calling, politician bashing, and rhetoric recital. Time after time I presented a series of cogent arguments only to be met with responses that I would summarize as follows:

“Obamacare. Socialized medicine. If it’s so great, why are Congress and the President exempt from it? Government is not the answer. We need the free market, not a bunch of bureaucrats telling us what to do. We have the best health care in the world, but if they take it over, we won’t. Why don’t you just move to Canada?!”

It was enough to make me see double, despite my best efforts to remain calm. “Why can’t these people understand that their points don’t make sense?” I thought. “Why don’t they realize that they are shooting themselves in the foot economically?” Well, the answer to that lies in their deeply held belief in values — something that matters more to them than the contents of their wallets — or so they are made to believe. Thomas Frank wrote about the paradox of middle class self-sabotage politics in his book What’s the Matter with Kansas? which is now being made into a film.

I wrote about the misguided but powerful use of the phrase socialized medicine earlier today, and now I want to highlight an even more calculated, more powerful, and more off-base tactic frequently employed in opposition to health care reform. I call it “Affix-Name-to-Care” and it works like this: Identify the highest ranking political leader who engenders strong opposition for any reason, legitimate or illegitimate (e.g., party affiliation, scandals, race, gender, etc.). Take the name (either first or last, but not both) of that political leader and affix it to the word “care.” The resulting pejorative (e.g., Hillarycare, Edwardscare, Obamacare, etc.) is a powerful weapon for use in soundbites and commentaries. It is both concise and value-laden.

It is critical that the term tap into as many sources of opposition as possible. Why did opponents label the 1990’s reform effort “Hillarycare” instead of “Clintoncare?” Because Hillarycare fostered opposition on the basis not only of party affilliation and scandals, but also gender — the label of Clintoncare falls short in this last category. Now we have “Obamacare,” which honestly makes me want to slap someone every time I hear it. Never mind that the plans being talked about have been drafted by members of Congress, not the President. The point is to engender negative emotions, and for some people, Obama’s name does just that, because he is a Democrat, an African-American, and some people (e.g., the “birthers”) fear he is not an American citizen or is a closet Muslim.

Logic dictates, however, that the opposition may not have gone far enough in this regard. Conservatives need to stop beating around the bush. If they really want to tap into the psyche of xenophobic America, they should just go ahead and call it what they really think it is: Husseincare. After all, it wouldn’t be any more ridiculous or any less accurate than Obamacare already is.


One response to “Obamacare: The Power of a Formulaic Argument

  1. Joel

    August 4, 2009 at 12:32 am

    "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."


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