The Problem with Silence

On Jay Leno’s show last night, Mitt Romney unveiled his answer for what he would do to replace the Affordable Care Act if it’s repealed—nothing. The exchange is a little long, but worth reading in full.

The short story is that the conservative “alternative” to Obamacare is the pre-reform status quo, where insurance is increasingly unaffordable, and medical costs can bankrupt a family. Politically, this is the kind of thing that the Obama administration should be able to capitalize on, as it illustrates the extent to which the GOP doesn’t have a plan for dealing withe uninsured. But I’m not sure that they will. In fact, I’m not sure that they can.

Since its passage two years ago, President Obama has done a terrible job of defending the Affordable Care Act in the court of public opinion. That’s not to say that presidential rhetoric could convince strong opponents of the law, but there’s a lot to be said for clearing misconceptions and giving the public a sense of what the law is supposed to do. As it stands, a plurality of Americans oppose the law, and significant numbers believe that it’s already been repealed.

The public simply doesn’t know what it has or what it will lose if the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare, and because of his silence, the president won’t be in a position to use this as a rallying call in the election. Indeed, if Americans take anything away from a health care repeal, it’s that President Obama ignored the economy to overreach with an unpopular—and unconstitutional—law to reform health care. Few people will care—or even know—that the whole controversy is manufactured right-wing outrage.