For nearly three years, the Democratic approach to the political unpopularity of President Obama’s health care law was denial. Deny it played a significant role in the party’s historic midterm losses in 2010. Insist, in the face of contradictory evidence, that as more voters experienced the benefits of the law, the more popular it would become. Deny it would be a major issue at all in the 2014 midterms.
The latest version of the argument points to polling showing that voters don’t want to repeal the law but prefer to see it fixed—perfectly in line with the newly adopted positions of vulnerable Democratic officeholders. In a memo leaked to the press, Democrats argue they can neutralize their health care vulnerabilities by promoting their desire to fix the law and blaming Republicans for intransigence in seeking a full repeal. But dig a bit deeper past the talking points, and it’s unclear what they want to fix—beyond their broken poll numbers.
Indeed, in a sign that Democrats are stuck in neutral on their Obamacare messaging, the “news” from the memo is months old. The strategy devised by the sharpest party operatives has already been in effect in numerous ads across the country and was promoted by the party’s top strategists two months ago. In those targeted races, public polling has shown Democratic standing worsening where the on-air Obamacare debate has already begun. (See: Landrieu, Mary; Hagan, Kay.)