(CNN) — The Obama administration has not always been great at selling its agenda, but the president’s adoption of the right-wing slur “Obamacare” as a prideful new name for the Affordable Care Act has been a notable exception. We often think the proper response to being called a dirty name is to object. That’s a good first step, but in the long term, the judo approach is constructive — hurl the power being used against you back to your opponent.
For example, in 1968 William F. Buckley could offend Gore Vidal by calling him a “queer” on television. Today, the line would feel antique and impotent, in large part because gay men adopted the term for themselves and denatured its sting.
Women today are doing the same with b—h. Black people long ago adopted the N-word as a raffish term of in-group affection, and if you ask me as a Black person, we’d do better to stop going to pieces when White people say it.
If the word didn’t do the job, people would be less likely to use it. Kanye West understands the technique. His idea of emblazoning the Confederate flag on T-shirts to take possession of it in the name of Black America is inspired. The good ole boy hangs a Confederate flag out his window and Black people are walking by under it in T-shirts with the same flag on it — that’s how you get a new world started.
Yet on Obamacare, we face the awkward fact that the right wing has not been completely vanquished in its quest to vilify the program with a name. We hear of quite a few out people out there who confidently espouse the tenets that the Affordable Care Act is based on and yet lustily declare themselves opposed to Obamacare, which they think is something separate. (Watch this Jimmy Kimmel video to see people do that very thing.)