YG Network, a conservative advocacy group founded by former staffers for Eric Cantor, has started an anti-Obamacare advertising campaign targeting the young, having already placed a satirical ad on Saturday Night Live. Americans for Prosperity is considering setting up kiosks at Ultimate Fighting Championship matches and college-football games to warn attendees against joining the exchanges. FreedomWorks is promoting opportunities to “burn your Obamacare card”—which FreedomWorks is printing up for the purpose of burning—as a way of implanting the notion of forgoing insurance as an act of generational rebellion. Dean Clancy, the group’s public-policy director, tells Reuters, “We’re trying to make it socially acceptable to skip the exchange.”
Fortunately for Obama, this field of battle favors his side. To pass the law, he needed to win over skeptical senators. To defend it in court, he needed conservative jurists. But identifying and persuading young people is a battle Obama does not expect to lose to Republicans, and in place of the federal outreach funds, the administration is deploying a campaignlike array of weapons: microtargeting, including door-to-door outreach, and all forms of media. (A few weeks ago, Katy Perry tweeted out a link informing her 42 million followers that health care was available beginning October 1.) Obama has turned over much of his campaign fundraising apparatus to Enroll America, which is raising undisclosed millions to reach out to the uninsured.
It is hard to imagine that the news about Obamacare over the next few months will be good. The rollout of Medicare, and the addition of prescription-drug coverage under George W. Bush, both provoked mass confusion and complaint, and those laws were not fighting off an angry rearguard insurgency. The question is whether the glitches and failures amount, in either reality or perception, to the sort of catastrophic failure that leads panicked insurance companies, potential customers, governors, and state legislatures to pull out.
Conservatives have portrayed their war against the exchanges as a desperate last stand against Obamacare and for freedom as we know it. History is replete with previous examples of last stands. Ronald Reagan warned conservatives in 1961 that if Medicare passed into law, “one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.” The conservative movement sustains itself by constantly disregarding its warnings of the last mortal threat to liberty and redirecting itself onto the next one. Yet it has made opposition to Obamacare completely central to its identity. If the Obamacare train does not wreck—or, to put it more accurately, if conservatives fail to wreck the train—it will be fascinating to see: What will they do next?