What if they had called it "Johnsoncare?"
by David Atkins
What if, instead of Medicare, Ronald Reagan and his fellow conservative Republican friends had mockingly called it "Johnsoncare"? A quick Google search tells me I'm not first or second person to think of this, but it nonetheless illustrates the delicious corner into which Republicans have painted themselves.
Back when Medicare was created, Republicans opposed the idea fairly strenuously. Just as a reminder, here's Ronald Reagan saying that Medicare would surely lead America to a socialist dictatorship:
But by and large, conservative opposition was muted. Once Medicare was passed, conservatives didn't choose repeal of Medicare as their hill to die on, nor did they decide to attach Lyndon Johnson's name to the program in an attempt to destroy both. And that's how today Republicans can try to claim with a straight face that they are the true defenders of Medicare. Few today would know that when Medicare was first introduced, it faced angry opposition.
Imagine if Republicans had taken up the full politicized revolt against Medicare that they have against the Affordable Care Act. If they had, LBJ would be remembered more for "Johnsoncare" today than for the Vietnam War, and his face might adorn Mount Rushmore. Every election cycle for a generation or two, Democrats would take great pains to remind voters just how much the opposition had stood against Johnsoncare, preferring to see the elderly die in misery and squalor.
Some conservative extremists even today want to repeal "Johnsoncare." But most were wise enough to avoid placing themselves into such a trap.
But not so today. Today, Republicans have placed all their chips against the Affordable Care Act. Not for a generation or more will Republicans be able to credibly claim to voters that they want to "protect" Obamacare, after voting 42 times to repeal it. Nor for a generation or more will they be able to credibly praise President Obama compared to, say, a presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren if she promotes true single-payer healthcare. It's hard, after all, to claim that there's anyone worse than the Communist Kenyan AntiChrist. Nor again will it be possible to "rebrand" Obamacare as anything other than Democratic President Barack Hussein Obama's healthcare plan.
No, the battle lines here are set. Either Republicans make the President's signature healthcare plan a failure, or Republicans see their brand badly tarnished as voters are reminded daily of the positive effects of a healthcare plan Republicans opposed, enacted by a President Republicans despised, bearing that President's own name.
Repealing, defunding and sabotaging Obamacare isn't an ideological statement by Republicans now so much as a survival mechanism. They've placed all their chips on red and spun the wheel, and woe betide them if the roulette ball falls on black. Their only saving grace is that Obamacare isn't as universal or socialistic as Johnsoncare, and thus won't be quite as popular. But the general dynamic remains the same.