Last week, for the first time in five years, former President Barack Obama returned to the home he occupied for eight years, from 2008 to 2016, to tout what will likely go down in history as the signature achievement of his time in the White House, the passage of the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.
Obama’s visit to celebrate the re-shaping of the American health insurance system to expand coverage and provide healthcare security to tens of millions of more Americans served as a very necessary reminder of not just of what Democrats have fought for to make the lives of the most vulnerable as well as the majority of Americans better, at great political price, but also of what Republicans have fought so hard to deprive Americans of.
This last point is key:
Democrats—and frankly the media as well—must tell the story of what Republicans have viciously and vociferously fought to deny Americans, especially as the nation approaches midterm elections this November.
The telling of this story is key for American voters because they are the ones who pay the price eventually for their decisions and the degree to which those decisions are accurately and thoughtfully informed.
If not for John McCain’s dramatic thumbs-down vote in July 2017, when Republicans were voting to repeal elements of the Affordable Care Act, 16 million Americans would have lost their health insurance and premiums would have skyrocketed. Millions would have lost their employer-based coverage, health insurance marketplaces would have been basically destroyed in many states, and women’s health services would have been gutted—all but for one simple downward turn of the ailing McCain’s thumb.
Donald Trump, of course, promised since h started campaigning for the 2016 election that he would reveal a fabulous healthcare plan to replace Obamacare once it was repealed, one that insured everybody. The promise, repeated over and over again, never materialized.
Gullible and ill-informed voters continue to pay the price for the promises that never materialize. Sure, Democrats pay the price at the polls, as they did in the 2010 midterms after the ACA passed, taking what Obama called a “shellacking” and handing over congressional majorities to Republicans in the wave of Tea Party enthusiasm.
Obama told reporters last week, when asked what Democrats need to do to avoid a similar drubbing in this year’s midterm elections: “We got a story to tell, just got to tell it.”
But the story isn’t so easy to tell, as Obama himself spelled out when chronicling the saga of the ACA:
“Given all the noise and the controversy and the skepticism, it took a while for the American people to understand what we had done, but, lo and behold — a little later than I’d expected — a lot of folks, including many who had initially opposed health care reform, came around. And today, the ACA hasn’t just survived, it’s pretty darn popular.”
But that noise and controversy and skepticism succeeded in drowning out the truth about what was good for Americans, what served them well, and what moved us toward democratizing our economy, at least in the sphere of health care.
And Americans have paid a big price for the four years between 2016 and 2020, watching democracy hang by a thread, watching Trump give a trillion dollar tax cut to the wealthiest Americans and corporations while the average American worker and family suffer, and watching divisions grow as authoritarian tendencies intensify.
Telling the story of what Republicans seek so desperately and strenuously to deny Americans is as necessary as telling them what Democrats have to offer.
Republican lies to be called out and highlighted in bright yellow, and they need to be asked pointed questions over and over again in public settings until they answer and come clean with their positions they are so rarely asked to explain.
For example, have you ever really heard a Republican explain why they don’t support legislation that ensures billionaires pay some small fraction of their wealth to afford the infrastructure of the very nation that makes it possible for them to generate their wealth to being with?
Sure, we hear Senator Elizabeth Warren talk about how by taxing the wealthiest just two cents on every dollar of their vast fortunes over $50 million could pay for universal child care making it easier for parents to work, relieve crippling student loan debt which would stimulate the economy, lower health insurance premiums, and more.
But we don’t hear Republicans answer for their opposition to such policy. And we don’t hear Democrats, or the media for that matter, vociferously call out Republicans for their hostility and violence in denying Americans support in meeting their most basic of needs while cutting taxes for billionaires.
Instead, we hear of the failures of Biden and Democrats to pass the legislation polling shows the vast majority of Americans support.
Democrats need to focus intensely on loudly telling the story of what life in America will really be like if Republicans rule.
Telling the story of the ACA is one way to do that, and so is telling the story of the child tax credit the Republicans as well as Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema refused to pass as part of the Build Back Better legislation.
Americans enjoyed and depended on the monthly child tax credit monies they received from June through December 2021. It kept 3.7 million children out poverty and provided food security for millions of families, conditions which were eroded when payments stopped after December.
Sarah Anderson, for example, relied on the money after losing her jobs, just to survive.
“The money wasn’t a replacement for that income, but it just helped keep everything afloat,” she said in an NPR interview.
“To lose that money, especially when the price of everything has skyrocketed … I just feel really abandoned by this country,” Anderson said.
“I go to bed at night just wondering how are we going to pay all of these bills this month. And I just don’t want my kids to feel that stress.”
If the story of our political world—and the actions and positions of our political parties—is told accurately, however, we would all realize that it is the Republican Party who is abandoning Anderson and other Americans, not the country as a whole.
This is the story Democrats and our media need to tell fully.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.