But this doesn’t mean we’d be better off if Obama hadn’t adopted the term Obamacare. For one, for those in favor of the program, the term stands as a useful reminder of one of the few large-scale triumphs of this administration on the domestic policy front. Health care policy isn’t as inherently dramatic as battles over education, the environment or the culture wars. In the grand scheme of things, Obama’s legacy in the popular consciousness is better served by a term as memory friendly as Obamacare, just as the Johnson administration is better served by its association with Medicare rather than “Social Security Act Title XVIII.”
But what about those Obamacare opponents who think companies should be required to enroll people despite pre-existing conditions and that young people should be able to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26, while unaware that this makes hating Obamacare about as logical as seeking to breathe while disapproving of respiration? Well, we can assume that in a massive, poorly educated nation such as this one, a healthy segment will display this “keep your government hands off my Medicare” level of political sophistication.
We assume, however, that in a modern democracy, change comes from ongoing disputation, as “conversations” move in certain directions. It will be hard for such people not to notice, as time goes by, that the provisions they espouse came into being under “Obamacare,” whatever their take on Tea Party ideology. Even sooner than this, the prevalence of the meme holding these Affordable-Care-Act-loving Obamacare opponents front and center as national jokes will have a certain effect.
Oh, we won’t see many contrite admissions of ignorance. But that’s not how ideological battles are won. As often as not, people admit the truth to themselves, but they’d have no way to do even that if Obama hadn’t picked up the Obamacare term and lobbed it back.
Kanye West’s idea with the Confederate flag T-shirts is “Now, whaddya gonna do about it?” For those who want universal health care but hate Obamacare, the ignorance so deep that there’s nowhere to go but up. What are they gonna do about it? Learn, apparently — they couldn’t avoid it if they tried. That’s progress.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John McWhorter.Editor’s note: John McWhorter teaches linguistics, American studies and Western civilization at Columbia University, writes for Time Ideas and is a contributing editor for The New Republic. His latest book is “What Language Is (and What It Isn’t and What It Could Be).”