BY MARC McDONALD
Like many progressives, I've never been a big fan of the Affordable Care Act. After all, in many ways, it's really nothing more than a warmed-up revision of the Heritage Foundation/GOP health care proposal from the 1990s.
However, given the awful state of the current bloated, inefficient U.S. health care system, Obamacare is bound to be an improvement (if only because it's impossible for the system to be much worse than it is now).
And if Obamacare improves access to health care for millions of Americans, it will pose a big problem to the GOP in elections for years to come.
The GOP, of course, is aware of this. And as a result, we can expect the GOP to step up its ongoing disinformation campaign against Obamacare.
You've got to give Republicans credit for one thing: the GOP does a masterful job of spreading disinformation. We saw this in 2003 with the torrent of lies that got the U.S. into the Iraq War fiasco. We also saw this with the Swift Boat lies that helped sink John Kerry's 2004 campaign. We continue to see it with the "Birther" nonsense.
To this day, millions of Americans continue to believe that Obama was born in Kenya and that Saddam attacked the U.S. on 9/11.
The Great GOP Noise Machine excels at spreading lies and disinformation. And it's clear that as Obamacare's full implementation date approaches, we'll see the GOP's lies and propaganda rise to a fever pitch.
I believe this could be devastatingly effective in tarnishing the Affordable Care Act, even if Obamacare turns out to be a success.
The problem is, the current health care system is a terrible mess. Many people are deeply unhappy with it. And now, any time anyone has any problems whatsoever with their health care, Obamacare will become a handy catch-all scapegoat.
A recent incident made me realize the obstacles Obamacare faces in countering the GOP disinformation war.
An elderly woman I know recently visited a hospital here in Texas. She had a routine checkup. There were no problems and everything went well.
However, she said she was upset and angry.
"As I was getting ready to leave the hospital, some agents from Obamacare came and started asking me questions," she told me.
"Agents from Obamacare?" I asked.
"Yeah, they were agents from Obamacare. They wanted to ask me questions. I told them to shove it and I immediately left the hospital."
I was curious. What was she talking about? Granted, this was someone who was a hard-core, Obama-hating Republican. Day after day, she marinated her brain in the toxic stew of Fox News/Drudge/talk radio filth. As is the case with other Tea Baggers, nothing she said ever surprised me.
But agents from Obamacare? That had me wondering.
I wound up calling the hospital in question. It turns out that the hospital had hired a survey company to ask patients a few questions about the quality of their care.
Somehow, in the mind of this Limbaugh-listening woman, this survey company had morphed into sinister "Agents from Obamacare."
How could such amazing disinformation come about? It shouldn't really be surprising. After all, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin railed in 2009 on about Obamacare's "death panels." And Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) recently urged a repeal of Obamacare "before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens."
I'm get the feeling that the "agents from Obamacare" incident could just the tip of an iceberg.
I was further reminded of this during a recent visit to my insurance agent to discuss my health-care plan. My insurance company is one of the largest companies in America. With Obamacare's full implementation nearing, I had a few basic questions about its impact on my current health-care plan.
Incredibly, my insurance agent knew nothing about Obamacare's impact on my policy. He was unable to answer any questions I had. Instead, he quickly steered the conversation to a Rush Limbaugh-like attack on Obamacare and on Obama himself.
"It's a mess," he said. "Mitch McConnell was right when he said Obamacare is a failure."
I thought about asking my insurance agent how he knew the Affordable Care Act was a "failure" if he knew nothing about it. But I let it pass.
Later, with a few clicks on the Web, I was able to quickly get answers to my Obamacare question. But still, it irked me that my insurance agent had made zero effort to educate himself about Obamacare's impact on his customers' health-care plans. Whatever his political views were (and it was obvious he was a Limbaugh Dittohead) he owed it to his customers to inform himself about the law.
These two incidents give a glimpse into what Obamacare is up against. I'm sure similar incidents like this are playing out millions of times a day across the country.
As the Affordable Care Act comes into force, anyone who ever has had any complaint at all about their health care will tend to instinctively blame Obamacare. And (as the "agents of Obamacare" incident shows) even people who don't have any problems with their health care coverage will still find reasons to attack Obamacare.
The whole thing could become a public relations nightmare for Obama and the Democrats.
After all, the woman who told me about "Obamacare agents" herself actually had no complaints about her health care coverage. She was, after all, covered by Medicare. Although after talking to her, I realized that she (like many Tea Party types) had no idea that Medicare is a government program.
Sigh. So much ignorance, so little time.
The problem is, a lot of Americans simply aren't very bright. Blame it on our abysmal public schools. Blame it on our terrible news media. But whatever the reason, the fact is, tens of millions of America are likely to blame Obamacare for anything and everything (even if they benefit from its provisions).
In the battle of public opinion, Obamacare still faces a steep uphill battle. Thanks to GOP lies and disinformation, a lot of Americans could well be convinced that Obamacare is a bad thing, even if the program succeeds.
Obamacare should be a signature victory for President Obama and the Democrats to rally voters in future elections. But, instead, it could well be a millstone around the necks of the Democrats for years to come.
Such is life in 21st century America: a nation in decline, where tens of millions of Americans are profoundly misinformed---and where the GOP does its utmost to ensure that people remain ignorant.