Its official name is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. That speaks volumes… both literally and figuratively.
You probably know the same law by the pejorative name given to it by its (mostly Republican) critics: "Obamacare."
Regardless of which way the U.S. Supreme Court ruling goes this week, the Democrats are turning their greatest recent victory into defeat by talking about it in the wrong way. By contrast, Republican language is devastatingly good because it hones in on the broad principles that most Americans support, while ignoring the clear benefits of the law for average people.
Americans are for limited government in principle and expansive government in practice. They overwhelmingly despise "Obamacare" while supporting all of its component parts except the health insurance mandate. For example, while two-thirds want the entire law over turned by the court, 82% support the provision in the law that prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.
This disconnect is everywhere you look. People who show up for tea party rallies on the Capitol Square drive on taxpayer supported highways and streets to get there, hold their rally in a beautiful publicly owned and operated space, are protected by taxpayer paid police officers, and if one of them has a heart attack getting worked up by all that government presence in their lives, it will be a Madison paramedic that comes to save their life. She'll be paid for by somebody's taxes.
Yet, the GOP has won the language battle. They've been able, through constant, steady, relentless language to frame the debate as a "government" (which you have nothing to do with) taking "your money" and giving back nothing in return.
The reality is that we pay less taxes than almost any other developed nation, and get tons of services and benefits in return. Never mind the local property taxes that go to support the services for the tea partiers on the Square. There's Medicare, the National Park System, an enormous military (I would say too big) that protects us and our interests all over the world, a small foreign aid program, the Peace Corps, Head Start, and on and on.
And yet, you'd think the only thing government does is build "bridges to nowhere."
Winning this debate means changing the language.
Good political language has two overriding characteristics. It's honest and it resonates with the big middle political class where elections are won and lost.
Too often I hear even Democrats employing Republican language and unwittingly reinforcing dominant ideas that undermine our own policies. What we need is a new language that talks about our government not as some alien force but as an extension of our own values, and that recognizes the taxes we pay as the fair cost of services we want.