Dems finally defend Obamacare

After ignoring the Affordable Care Act in 2010, Democrats have begun using it as a political weapon this election

Topics: Democrats, 2012 Elections, Healthcare Reform,

Dems finally defend Obamacare (Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Fresh from a victory at the Supreme Court two weeks ago, Democrats are shifting out of the defensive posture they took on health care reform since it passed in 2010 and are beginning to attack Republicans who want to repeal the law. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the campaign arm of House Democrats, is launching a new set of ads hitting seven Republican lawmakers ahead of the House GOP’s scheduled vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday. Today’s DCCC campaign, which comes on the heels of an earlier round of ads targeting 10 Republicans last week, highlights a woman named Carla whose life was saved by a breast cancer screening and warns that Republicans want to repeal popular provisions of the law that could help her, such as free preventative health care screenings for women.

“Democrats continue to be on offense as House Republicans vote this week to protect the profits of their insurance company campaign donors instead of consumer protections for patients and lower prescription drug costs for seniors,” DCCC Chairman Steve Israel, a Democratic Congressman from New York, said in a release.

The aggressive campaign from House Democrats on health care stands in stark contrast to their approach just two years ago, when Democrats were often reluctant to highlight Obamacare, and many even touted their opposition to it. “The difference between 2010 and 2012 is the difference between night and day,” a Democratic aide on the Hill told Salon. “In 2010, Democrats were trying to pass the health insurance reform bill but [were also] on defense defending it to the American people. In 2012, Democrats are on offense as Republicans do more of the same political games to protect insurance companies instead of creating jobs and protecting consumers.”

As the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza noted in September of 2010, summing up the conventional wisdom, “The evidence on the campaign trail seems to suggest that healthcare is more burden than boon to targeted Democrats this fall.” Politico reported that same month that not a single Democratic incumbent in the House or Senate had run a pro–health reform TV ad since April. The paper quoted one anonymous Democratic strategist as saying  it would be “political malfeasance” to run such an ad. Democrats assumed the crouch posture almost immediately after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law that spring. Reuters noted a week after the signing, “While Obama made flying visits across the country to tout the new legislation, a number of key Democrats who led the charge for health care reform seemed to keep a low profile and are doing little to beat the drum.”

This was perhaps not surprising at the time, considering that polling on the law had remained stable for months and showed opposition consistently outpacing support by single digits. While much of this opposition was fueled by misinformation about the law, Democrats made little effort to shift public perception before Election Day and instead opted to hunker down. Dems had to defend a huge number of seats in moderate or Republican-leaning districts that they had won in 2006 and 2008, and the GOP clearly held the upper hand, given the dire state of the economy at the time. Democrats in tough races took one look at the polls and decided they should avoid talking about their ‘yea’ vote on health care whenever possible. Meanwhile, some conservative Dems who voted against the law went so far as to adopt the GOP stance. South Dakota’s Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Alabama’s Bobby Bright and Texas’s Chet Edwards all ran ads touting their opposition to Obamacare and bashing the law using similar talking points as Republicans did.

So what changed? Herseth Sandlin, Bright and Edwards tell part of the story. All three of them lost. The election results dispatched with the notion that being a Democrat who opposed the law was a recipe for political success — of the 30 Dems who voted against the Affordable Care Act and then stood for reelection, 17 lost anyway. Their wipeout also means that there are simply fewer Democrats who voted against the law today than there were two years ago, which makes the party more united in its support of the law than ever before.

The Supreme Court’s ruling also certainly plays a role in affirming for good that the law is constitutional and providing a potent weapon for Democrats to use against Republicans still intent on repealing it.

“I think it is a smart move because the Supreme Court has ruled that the law is Constitutional and people want to move on from the past two years of political fights,” said Eddie Vale, the communications director for Protect Your Care, a progressive group defending the Affordable Care Act. “The situation is now flipped on the House Republicans, and any time they talk about repeal, we’re going to hit them for taking away people’s benefits that are popular, such as bringing back pre-existing conditions, throwing seniors back into the donut hole and kicking young adults off their [parents'] insurance.”

While the topline approve/disapprove polling averages may not have shifted much — the country remains evenly divided on the law — there is plenty of polling evidence to suggest positive movement for Democrats. According to a recent Kaiser poll, a plurality of Americans support the Supreme Court’s decision. More important, a clear majority — 56 percent — now say they think opponents of the law should give up and move on. Just 38 percent think Republicans should continue trying to block implementation of the law. A recent Bloomberg poll found that Americans strongly support most of the provisions in the law and that few want to repeal in its entirety when given the option of also expanding it or preserving certain provisions.

Bob Shrum, a Democratic strategist who worked for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign agreed Democrats’ embrace of the law is good politics, but wishes they had done it sooner. “Why didn’t it happen two years ago? I don’t know — it should have happened,” he told Salon. “I think from the beginning, we should have leaned more forward on health care and it’s smart to do it now.” Shrum noted that health care was a winning issue for Democrats long before misinformation about “death panels” sullied the picture, and he said he expects the political ripple effect of the law to only improve going forward.

Alex Seitz-Wald

Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>