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Neutralizing The Term 'Obamacare'

This article is more than 7 years old.
President Obama signing the health care bill into law
President Obama signing the health care bill into law

I seem to be willfully tone-deaf to political nuance. But that's not the only explanation for why I've been blithely using "Obamacare" in our headlines, insensitive to the negative spin put on the term by the president's foes. It's just simply the shortest, liveliest way to say "The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," far pithier than "the federal health care overhaul."

So when I read Ben Zimmer's fun column in Sunday's Globe about President Obama's attempts to take back the term and turn it positive, I thought, "Let's all take back the term! Can't we all just consider it a neutral term and make life easier for headline writers everywhere?" Just for the records, that's how we use it. Change starts here.

From the Globe:

For five years now, “Obamacare” has been a dirty word in American politics: a term used by conservatives to dismiss President Obama’s agenda for health care reform. The bumper-sticker-friendly sentiment “Repeal Obamacare” has become a favorite mantra of Republicans on the stump.

In recent weeks, however, as the Supreme Court geared up to consider dismantling the health care legislation passed by Congress in 2010, the term “Obamacare” began popping up somewhere new: among the Obama team members themselves. What Obama’s advisers are attempting is an act of linguistic appropriation. They are trying to reclaim “Obamacare” as a positive term.

It’s a daring campaign strategy. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or PPACA, as the legislation is officially known, is performing poorly in opinion polls. Its judicial future is uncertain. But the effort to make a rhetorical silk purse out of a sow’s ear is a familiar one in political history--and sometimes, the gambit has even worked.

This program aired on April 9, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.

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