How Obama turned Obamacare into a weapon

For years the president was on the defensive about it. That's changed -- but not for the reasons the media thinks

By Brian Beutler

Published August 10, 2013 1:05PM (EDT)

President Barack Obama walks from the podium after the daily White House briefing, July 19, 2013.         (AP/Susan Walsh)
President Barack Obama walks from the podium after the daily White House briefing, July 19, 2013. (AP/Susan Walsh)

President Obama is suddenly much more confident about the Affordable Care Act, and at a White House press conference Friday afternoon he didn't just offer a robust defense of the law, but actually flipped the script on Republicans, who remain obsessed with repealing it.

"I think the really interesting question is why it is that my friends in the other party have made the idea of preventing these people from getting healthcare their holy grail," he said. "Their No. 1 priority. The one unifying principle in the Republican Party at the moment is making sure that 30 million people don't have healthcare and repealing all those benefits I just mentioned: kids staying on their parents' plan; seniors getting discounts on their prescription drugs; I guess a return to lifetime limits on insurance; people with preexisting conditions continuing to be blocked from being able to get health insurance."

NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd called it the "most passionate defense I've seen from POTUS on health care law since he signed bill."

I think that's about right. But that observation could easily be misconstrued as a testament to Obama's rhetorical laziness, when the reality is the law's long implementation process pretty much assured he and other Democrats would have a hard time selling it until now.

The ongoing conservative government shutdown freakout and Obama's seemingly newfound confidence in the ACA are two sides of the same coin. A year ago, two years ago, the law's core benefits were abstractions. There wasn't a lot of margin in defending them because they weren't a part of people's lived experiences.

That's all about to change. Uninsurance rates are about to drop quickly. "Repeal" will soon take on a much different meaning. So it's no coincidence that just as time begins running out for Obamacare's opponents, Obama himself is suddenly more comfortable turning the issue on them. The ground is shifting under their feet.

So while it's narrowly true, as National Journal's James Oliphant notes, that "This strong language about the GOP is a reminder of just how long it's taken for O to find his voice on Obamacare," it's important to remember that the law's slow rollout made it nearly impossible for Obama to seize the upper hand in the fight. Until now.

Brian Beutler

Brian Beutler is Salon's political writer. Email him at and follow him on Twitter at @brianbeutler.

MORE FROM Brian BeutlerFOLLOW brianbeutlerLIKE Brian Beutler

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Affordable Care Act Barack Obama Chuck Todd Obamacare Republicans