GOP’s Obamacare fiction series: Latest horror story a creation from start to finish

Republicans keep coming up with flimsy Obamacare horror stories, because they created the "victims"

Published January 31, 2014 9:25PM (EST)

 Cathy McMorris Rodgers                      (ABC News)
Cathy McMorris Rodgers (ABC News)

A lot of people have made a lot of relevant points about "Bette" -- whose Obamacare "horror story" figured prominently in the official GOP response to the State of the Union address delivered by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash: Greg Sargent notes that Bette's story reflects the GOP's reluctance to help constituents navigate the law, even if it means making their lives worse; Steve Benen adds that it's a sad comment on the GOP's Obamacare "train wreck" narrative that they have such a hard time finding horror stories that stand up to scrutiny.

These are related observations and both very true. But I think I'd take each of them one step further.

For one thing, I don't think the epidemic of bunk Obamacare horror stories necessarily speaks to the law's success so much as it reveals the bad-faith nature of Republican opposition -- and this very opposition has in turn fed the stream of bogus horror stories that Republicans are systematically promulgating.

Basically, Republicans have spent the last four months soliciting angry submissions from constituents, and based on the way they've brandished these "horror stories" it seems as if a large percentage of them have come from people whose insurance policies were canceled before January 1, and were then defaulted by their carriers into more expensive plans. Just like Bette.

Republicans have generated a tremendous amount of publicity for putative victims, but it's important to note that their messaging strategy is incompatible with responsible constituent service, and bound to generate a ton of false positives. It's hard to create the impression of widespread dissatisfaction with the law if you interrogate every complaint to see if it holds up, and then weed out the people who are mistakenly disgruntled by pointing them in the right direction. Particularly after December 1, when started working more or less as intended. If that's what Republicans were doing, they wouldn't be consistently flagging stories that tumble like Jenga blocks upon the mildest expert prodding, because there'd be many fewer stories to begin with.

What Republicans are doing instead is exclusively canvassing people who either don't like the law or haven't figured out how to make it work for them or, in some cases, are genuinely worse off because of it. Or some combination of the three. People who don't know about the exchanges, or haven't shopped around, or, like Bette, refuse to participate. By definition a huge number of these stories are going to turn out to be baseless.

And that's where I'd take things further than Greg does. It's not just that Republicans prefer to exploit these horror stories rather than remedy them, as Greg describes, but that Republicans have spent the last four years intentionally maximizing the number of misapprehended victims.

Take Bette: The reason she didn't visit the Washington state health exchange was basically #OBUMMER. “I wouldn’t go on that Obama website at all," she said. This didn't start with her cancelation. This started years ago. Republicans told Bette, and others inclined to distrust Obamacare, that they'd face death panels and rationing boards. That their options would be unaffordable, and irredeemable. That the exchange sites would make their personal information vulnerable to hackers and that creepy Uncle Sam would sexually violate them. They said all this in the hope that people like Bette wouldn't give the law a fair shake, then turned around and feigned outrage on their behalf when the plan worked.

Republicans aren't sincerely distressed about the things they hear from people like Bette. People like Bette are the goal.

By Brian Beutler

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

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Affordable Care Act Cathy Mcmorris Rodgers Gop Obamacare The Right