We Hate Obamacare (But Like What It Does)

The word on Americans—one bit of conventional wisdom that is nonetheless true—is that they are ideologically conservative and operationally liberal. They are opposed to big government but support actual universal government programs like Social Security and Medicare. 

Confronted with Obamacare, conservative Americans have taken this paradox to new heights. They intensely dislike the program, but they like what it actually does.

The New York Times has a poll of four Southern states (Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina) out today, undertaken in conjunction with the Kaiser Family Foundation. It shows that most of those states’ residents “still loathe the law,” but that majorities in three of those states and a plurality in the fourth don’t want Congress to repeal and replace it. They just want Congress to improve it. 

In Kentucky, which established its own exchange under Obamacare’s stipulations, a majority believed that the exchange was working well. In Arkansas, which has established its own exchange in partnership with the feds, a plurality gave it a thumbs-up. Only in Louisiana and North Carolina, which declined to set up their own exchanges and provided no information to their residents on how to access the federal exchange, did majorities say that the exchanges were a flop. In Louisiana, 44 percent didn’t know that Obamacare provides subsidies to low-income applicants—a disabling lack of information that is apparently what happens when you mix a governor like Bobby Jindal with a media diet of Fox News. 

Arkansas and Kentucky, the Times pointed out, have Democratic governors whose approval ratings stand at 65 percent and 55 percent, respectively, while the GOP governors of Louisiana and North Carolina each have approval ratings of 41 percent. 

Saturated in right-wing attacks on President Obama and his alien ideology, and stewing in the racism in which the white South remains submerged, respondents made clear there was no way they were going to support Obamacare—though the idea of affordable health insurance, particularly among those who’d obtained it through the exchanges, retained enough popularity to curtail those respondents’ support for repealing it. More remarkably still, expanding Medicaid -- a much more socialistic program than Obamacare—through federal funding received heavy majority support in all four states, and even won the backing of a majority of Republicans in Arkansas. Take the name “Obama” off a program for more universal and affordable health coverage, and watch its numbers rise. 

In the South, then, to actually know Obamacare is to like its substance, if not the name to which it’s affixed. White Southerners’ reaction is akin to that of a small child who has taken it in his head that he hates a particular food, but actually likes it when he tastes it—provided his parents persuade him that it’s not really that yucky spinach, or broccoli, or whatever, that he’s eating. On the rage of a toddler tantrum is the fortress of modern Republicanism built. 

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