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David Hill: ObamaCare as a punch line

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The night before last week’s NFL player draft, “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon launched the fun with a segment titled “Meet the Players — NFL draft edition.” Fallon proceeded to introduce maybe a dozen players, one by one, to the hoots, cheers and jeers of the jocular studio audience on hand. 

One of the first players presented was Auburn University’s massive left tackle, Greg Robinson, the second player eventually chosen in the draft. Fallon wisecracked: “Greg doesn’t let anyone get through, which has earned him the nickname ‘The ObamaCare Website.’ ” The drummer did a rim-shot and resounding kick-bass to accent Fallon’s punch line and the crowd went nuts. Even the likely apolitical Robinson seemed to chuckle. 

That’s where this president is these days. The masses are no longer laughing with him. They are laughing at him. The entire culture has decided that ObamaCare, arguably the president’s signature “accomplishment,” is a complete joke.

This has literally changed politics in this election cycle. Previously, I was worried that Republican primary candidates would — as they have for several cycles — butcher each other this year and spoil general-election prospects by going too hard on issues like abortion, gays, guns, immigration, no tax pledges and so forth. Too often, candidates would veer so far right and to the extreme in primary races to beat their opponents on these issues that they would be unelectable come the November election. That’s less so this time. 

I am finding that ObamaCare, in all its glory, is now competing with jobs and the economy, deficit spending and budget balancing to be the top issue. So this time around, candidates are trying to outdo each other in opposing ObamaCare. I even see ads where candidates for legislative and local offices, few of which would ever have any real say in undoing ObamaCare, are featuring it among their top platform pledges. Who says a Michigan drain commissioner or Georgia sheriff can’t take on ObamaCare? Speaking out against it has become a way of revealing your core values. 

And it’s such a flawed program that you seemingly cannot malign it to any extreme. It’s as if a candidate could say, “When ObamaCare is declared dead and buried, I pledge to dig it up and kill it again.” This declaration would probably be greeted by wild applause, even if there’s no drummer in the house to rouse the crowd with a kick-bass. It’s as spontaneous as patriotic “USA, USA, USA” chants in the post-9/11 months. Why talk about machine gun rights when a simple rabbit punch into ObamaCare’s solar plexus will leave it pummeled and bleeding on the dais? You can even get a laugh by saying that Mr. ObamaCare would go to the emergency room, but he hasn’t got any coverage because the website went down. Ka-boom!

The public just doesn’t know what to do with ObamaCare aside from laugh. An early May CNN/ORC poll of 1,000-plus American adults showed no consensus exists on what to do. Fix a little, fix a lot, or go back to “Go”? All options get just a smatter of backing. A few hardy Americans, 12 percent, even told CNN to just leave ObamaCare as is. Maybe they just enjoy the laughs. 

In the end, though, a lack of clarity among the electorate about how to respond is a real problem for the president and his party. And for the independents, who may decide the next two election cycles, there is little optimism about a way forward. A 54 percent majority of nonpartisan voters say that ObamaCare’s problems will likely not be solved. One in 8 Democrats even doubt ObamaCare’s repair. 

A Democrat can’t lose any more than 5 to 7 percent of his or her base and still win. ObamaCare will puncture every vulnerable Democrat’s minimum winning coalition come this November.

Hill is a pollster who has worked for Republican campaigns and causes since 1984.