By Gabriella Kostrzewa
Nancy Pelosi was adamant. She has never referred to the Affordable Care Act as Obamacare.
“The Affordable Care Act, as I call it, as I always called it,” she said. Pelosi had taken to correcting David Gregory, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press, when he kept calling the Affordable Care Act Obamacare.
The trend continued throughout the Sunday talk shows when prominent Democrats stressed that the name of the Affordable Care Act was, well the Affordable Care Act.
President Obama also made it clear during his hour-long news conference. Not once did he refer to the ACA as Obamacare.
Politico acquired a recent talking points memo written by the White House and distributed to Democrats urging them to refer to the ACA as the Affordable Care Act, not Obamacare.
This is in stark contrast to President Obama and how much he embraced the term while on the campaign trail last fall.
“We passed Obamacare—yes, I like the term—we passed it because I do care, and I want to put these choices in your hands where they belong,” Obama said.
Why the sudden change? Well, the ACA has not been a popular law lately. Democrats and the White House are at times struggling to defend their key piece of legislation over the past five years.
The words Affordable Care Act also polls higher than the term Obamacare. Although, the Jimmy Kimmel show isn’t an accurate scientific poll, the video of people saying they prefer the Affordable Care Act to Obamacare epitomizes the successful framing that has been created around the term.
Democrats and Obama broke one basic rule for framing: do not use your other side’s language when arguing against them.
Republicans have been successful at framing the term Obamacare as derisive term that signifies government interference and an encroachment on American liberty and freedom.
It doesn’t matter that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are the exact same thing. As Robert Entman argues in his article “Framing: Toward Clarification of a Fractured Paradigm,” the American public is often not well informed. “Framing therefore heavily influences their response to communications,” Entman says.
George Lakoff in his book Don’t Think of an Elephant, would argue that Democrats made a key mistake because they embraced the Republican’s language about the Affordable Care Act.
As soon as Democrats utilized the term Obamacare, those words drew Democrats into the Republican worldview. “Framing is about getting language that fits your worldview. It is not just language. The ideas are primary and the language carries those ideas, evokes those ideas,” Lakoff says.
As a result, when Democrats began to use the term Obamacare, they also brought with them all the negative connotations that Republicans have established. It is therefore only natural that the American people would view the ACA and Obamacare differently.
With the onslaught currently being placed on the ACA by the media and the American people, the Democrats have done the smart thing and referred to the ACA by its official name. This way Democrats and the White House can hopefully mitigate some of the negative connotations that surround the ACA.
Entman, R. (1993). Framing: Toward Clarification of a Fractured Paradigm. Journal of Communication, 43(4), 51–58.
Epstein, R. J. (2013, November 19). Taking “Obama” Out of Health Care. Politico. Retrieved from http://www.politico.com/story/2013/11/barack-obama-obamacare-affordable-care-act-health-care-law-100034.html
Lakoff, G. (2004). Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Company.