[This is going to be one of those short columns which rambles around and doesn't really go anywhere. Just to warn everyone in advance.]
The topic of the week in the political world has been President Obama's signature health care reform law, officially the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Early on, most folks realized that "PPACA" wasn't really the best thing to call it (although some still do use this term, pronounced "puh-pack-ah"). In general, Democrats stink at this whole "name a bill so its initials spell something" game on Capitol Hill. If this had been a Republican idea, my guess is it would have been called something like the "REAGAN IS AWESOME Act," or something equally clever (no, I'm not going to take the time to figure out something that spells that, but if you've a mind to, or to suggest an equally-plausible Republican name, feel free to do so in the comments). Getting back to the Democratic law, however, most Democrats have taken to shortening the name to just the "Affordable Care Act" or "ACA" -- up until very recently. I haven't heard anyone attempt to pronounce ACA yet (ack-ah? ass-ah?), instead just the initials are used. But while "Ay Cee Ay" is better than "puh-pack-ah" it still doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.
Of course, I am being deliberately obtuse here. Early on, before the law even passed (I am not interested enough in that factoid to check whether it is true, I should mention), Republican opponents labeled it "Obamacare." Or, sometimes, "ObamaCare." Before we get to that, though, we have to run through a quick history, which is mostly accurate (but not obsessively so), of the use of "-care" to name these things.
While Medicare and Medicaid go back to 1965, I can't truthfully say they have always been called that. The federal government's involvement with medical care actually goes back to the early 1900's, just after the turn of the century, but the consolidation and expansion that Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law is what everyone means by "Medicare." [As I said, I barely bothered to research this, but I did find the first Medicare signup card, issued to Harry S Truman and witnessed by L.B.J. at the bill signing ceremony. The consolidation and expansion was originally Truman's idea, so this was a staged photo-op type of thing, as a courtesy to him.] What I did not find in my admittedly-underwhelming five minutes of research was when the term "Medicare" was first used. So, without a shred of evidence either way, I'm going to assume that it was called this all along.
I remember, a few years back, when the health care reform battle began (or "the most recent round of it" I should say), I first had occasion to type "Medicare" and "Medicaid." When I first did so, I spelled them "MediCare" and "MedicAid" which is how I always assumed they were spelled (having never used either, I have no personal experience to go on). But when I did fact-check it, I was surprised that they both only have a leading capital letter: Medicare and Medicaid.
The first use of "slap '-care' on someone's name" in my memory (once again, shoddy research rears its ugly head) was what got labeled "Hillarycare" (or "HillaryCare"). This was Hillary Clinton's attempt to get a health care reform bill through Congress so her husband could sign it into law. It failed. So did many other bills introduced at the time by members of Congress to compete with the Hillarycare proposal, but none of them was ever named "SenatorJonesCare" or anything similar.
Fast forward to Barack Obama, and the PPACA. Initially, both Obama and the Democrats found "Obamacare" demeaning and insulting and they refused to use it. This led to years of watching Democrats interviewed on television in exchanges such as:
INTERVIEWER: So why did you vote for Obamacare, and what do you have to say about it now?
DEMOCRATIC OFFICEHOLDER: I did indeed vote for the Affordable Care Act, and I think the ACA is going to...(etc.)
Valiant efforts to stop the usage of "Obamacare" largely failed, however. Within the past week, the White House finally threw in the towel, and fully embraced "Obamacare." The political advisors finally figured out that if the legislation actually becomes well-liked after its full implementation, using the term Obamacare would remind everyone who got it passed -- Obama's legacy, to put it another way. The president has been saying things like: "You want to call it Obamacare? Fine, I'm Obama and I do care!" which would have been more effective a few years ago, but is still worth making the attempt in an election year.
Since it is indeed an election year, a law from the past has been rebranded using this "Name-care" formula. Once again, this was done by political opponents (although this time, from the same party). At some point very early on, during the Republican debates, people started slamming the former governor of Massachusetts for signing "Romneycare" into law. One even cleverly made the point sharper, by using the meld of "Obamneycare," although (I believe, as I am too lazy to look it up today) the candidate who coined the term chickened out by not using it in an actual debate, when everyone expected him to. Huntsman? Maybe it was Huntsman, he's always been rather forgettable.
Which leaves us with dueling "-cares" for the general election: Romneycare versus Obamacare. This only leaves one question, that of capitalization. Is it HillaryCare, RomneyCare, and ObamaCare? Or Hillarycare, Romneycare, and Obamacare? Inquiring minds want to know. Since all three are neologisms, there is no long history to inform us.
I'm going to -- forevermore on these pages, as an editorial policy -- come down on the side of Hillarycare, Romneycare, and Obamacare. I have two main reasons for this decision. The first is that it conforms with the term being customized (and eponymized, if that's even a word) -- the root name "Medicare." While surprising to me personally (see above), this is not "MediCare," so we're going to call this a general rule: one capital letter per term.
The second reason I'm going with "Obamacare" is that this is the way Obama's campaign has now begun using it (do a web search for "I like Obamacare" to see this, as once again, I am too lazy to do so for you in order to provide a link). On Obama's official campaign site, the word is either all capitalized ("OBAMACARE") or used with only the initial capital "Obamacare." Since neither Mitt Romney nor Hillary Clinton is likely to ever attach such an imprimatur on their namesake terms, we're going to rule this decisive and final.
Now I just have to figure out if Obamacare is going to cover Chronic Pundit Laziness Syndrome or not....
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant