Megan McArdle does her level best to defend the right’s favorite legislative sobriquet.
I will stop referring to it as ObamaCare when we stop calling them the Bush tax cuts for the rich. It is an effective shorthand for a law that is otherwise unwieldy to describe. If legislators wanted me to call it something else, they should have given it a catchy name like “Medicare”, not a hypertrophied piece of propaganda like the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. I don’t know why the left considers the term particularly perjorative; it is a health care program, and it is Barack Obama’s signature legislation.
Personally, I have no such lofty agenda; I just don’t have a better term for it. But surely progressives think it is going to succeed. Shouldn’t they be thrilled that the rest of us are associating Obama’s name with it at every turn?
Pundits and Andrew Sullivan’s readers conclusively answered the question a while back: “ObamaCare” is pejorative, because it is only used pejoratively. Why are any slurs — ethnic, sexual, etc. — offensive? Very few have an offensive root meaning. They acquire their potency only through consistent usage to marginalize and insult. Meaning depends upon context. McArdle suggests we “reclaim” the word: but that can’t happen until the pejorative use ceases to be the majority use. Using the phrase “ObamaCare” invokes all manner of classless, offensive, and even racist images, like the one at right, and cannot be divorced from that history. It’s that simple. We needn’t come up with a fancy rhetorical justification here: we can simply acknowledge the reality of the situation.
Let’s try anyways. “ObamaCare” offends in a way “Bush tax cut” does not because “ObamaCare” deletes a descriptive name for a policy and replaces it with the President’s, thereby transforming the policy’s name into a way of making some value judgment about the President (McArdle seems to agree on this point). Whichever way you use it, positively or (more likely) negatively, the phrase diminishes the office of the President, and suggests the President’s direct involvement not with the bill, but with care decisions, which plays nicely into the misleading and inaccurate right-wing narrative about “death panels,” and what have you. The possessive (“the Bush tax cuts,” or “the Obama health care act”) does not offend because it is strictly, and by connotation, accurate. The comparison would be to something like “BushFare” — a way of implying that the tax cuts were Bush’s form of welfare for his rich buddies — not “the Bush tax cuts.” Which would be equally tacky.
Simpler still, using pejorative, cutesy phrases is not how statesmen conduct themselves when discussing matters of national importance. “ObamaCare” is part and parcel of a political dialogue that diminishes, insults, and oversimplifies, all to make sure that when we talk politics, we do it at an an emotional rather than an intellectual level. I expect better from the party of Lincoln, in a government built by men like Adams, Jefferson, and Washington.