Media revive Clinton-era smear, dub White House health care plan "ObamaCare"

››› ››› MORGAN WEILAND

Many media figures have dubbed President Obama's health care reform proposal "ObamaCare," reinventing the terms "HillaryCare" and "ClintonCare" that were used by opponents of the Clintons' reform proposal. In doing so, these media are often seeking to frame the debate in negative terms.

Many in the media have dubbed President Obama's health care reform proposal "ObamaCare," reinventing the terms "HillaryCare" and "ClintonCare" that were cooked up by opponents of the Clintons' reform proposal in the 1990s. In doing so, these media are often seeking to frame the debate in negative terms. For example, the "Number One voice for conservativism" Rush Limbaugh described the administration's health reform plan as "Obama care" and equated it with the conservative bogeyman of "socialized medicine" during the May 13 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show.

The terms "ClintonCare" and "HillaryCare" were conceived and repeated by opponents of the Clinton health care reform proposal. As Haynes Johnson and David S. Broder documented in The System (Little, Brown and Co., 1996), during the battle over President Clinton's reform plan, "a loose confederation of special-interest groups nationwide ... united for one purpose -- to kill what they termed derisively 'Clintoncare.' " Johnson and Broder also reported that " 'Clintoncare' " became the "shorthand ... used everywhere by opponents of their plan." From Johnson and Broder's book:

Hours later, in its coverage of the speech, the New York Times reported [health economist for Citizens for a Sound Economy and former aide to President Bush Michele] Davis's critical reaction to the plan Bill Clinton had just presented to Congress and the American people. It would, she charged, "force insurance companies and HMOs to ration care in order to survive under federally established premium caps." Within days, the conservative lobbying group she worked for became the first to label the Clinton health approach government-run health care, a term that became a mantra of reform opponents, repeated again and again in the months to come. Soon that seventh-floor conference room, located three blocks from the White House, became the nerve center for strategy sessions with a loose confederation of special-interest groups nationwide. They united for one purpose -- to kill what they termed derisively "Clintoncare." (p. 52)

[...]

For the First Lady, the most alarming sign of hatred came the next day in Seattle, on Saturday morning, July 23, hours after her husband had made his emotional midnight phone call to Ira Magaziner. For days before she arrived in Seattle, anti-Hillary rhetoric had filled the talk shows. People were urged to demonstrate against her, against the President, and against "Clintoncare," the shorthand now used everywhere by opponents of their plan. (p. 461)

Similarly, in a July 12, 2006, New York Times article, Raymond Hernandez and Robert Pear reported that the recommendations from President Clinton's Task Force on National Health Care Reform, which Hillary Clinton led, "were derided as 'Hillarycare' by opponents and arguably cost Democrats control of the House of Representatives in the 1994 midterm elections." And in a June 10, 2006, Times article, Robin Toner and Anne E. Kornblut reported that "conservatives scornfully called" the Clinton's health care plan " 'Hillarycare.' "

One example of a conservative using the term "Hillarycare" in this way is the following passage from The Truth About Hillary (Sentinel, 2005), Edward Klein's book devoted to smearing Hillary Clinton:

The Health-Care Debacle: In 1993, President Bill Clinton launched his new administration's major domestic program -- health-care reform -- and appointed his wife to head the task force. With typical arrogance, Hillary proceeded to hold secret meetings, keep powerful figures in Congress in the dark, and create a comically complex and hugely expensive plan that came to be known as Hillarycare. As a result, the program was killed, the Republican won both houses of Congress in the next midterm election, and Hillary was politically discredited for the next four years. (p. 38)

In reporting on the first major Democratic health reform proposal since the Clintons' plan, many media figures and outlets have reverted to the same negative language, referring to the Obama administration's health care plan as ObamaCare. The term is widespread in the conservative media, used by the likes of Limbaugh and the National Review to attack the president's health reform proposal; since May 13, Fox News host Sean Hannity has referred to the administration's health care reform efforts as ObamaCare at least five times. The term has also occasionally popped up in places like the Politico and MSNBC.

Examples of media referring to the White House's health care reform plan as ObamaCare include the following (transcripts not provided or linked to were accessed using the Nexis database):

  • In an October 26, 2008, Washington Times commentary, "Beware of ObamaCare," Scott W. Atlas, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, asserted that "Mr. Obama's health plan relies on a radical expansion of overburdened entitlements, and on creating new government programs that only seem moderate when compared to other extremist advocates of even more centralized power."
  • A December 31, 2008, Investor's Business Daily editorial asserted that "ObamaCare's massive new spending will be a tough political sell, especially with taxpayers already footing the bill for bailouts of banks and the auto sector, and millions of Americans losing their jobs -- which is where Tom Daschle comes in." The editorial later added: "If, as expected, President Obama insists that a big government health care reform is imperative for economic recovery, this shrewd legislative warrior will be his general, in charge of imposing the kind of socialized medicine found in France, Britain and Canada, where waiting lists and substandard quality are the norm."
  • Politico titled a February 26 article reviewing the health care components of the administration's budget "Obama-care 101: The president's 8 principles."
  • In an April 9 Fortune article, Washington editor Nina Easton wrote: "Rick Scott is ready to talk-about his political campaign against Obama-care, [and] about his latest attempt to radically change the way health care is delivered."
  • In an April 27 Weekly Standard commentary, "Defeat Obamacare," executive editor Fred Barnes asserted: "For now, the natural opponents of Obamacare are divided and fearful. ... The conservative movement hasn't set its sights on stopping the president on health care. Tea parties won't suffice. It's up to Republicans to rally a well-financed army of relentless opposition -- not for the good of the party, but for the good of the country. And who knows? Obamacare might suffer the fate of HillaryCare. Stranger things have happened in Washington."
  • During the May 12 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, "Could you tell me, first off, what is this so-called Obama care? What's going to change if you get -- if the administration gets their way?"
  • In his May 12 Wall Street Journal opinion piece, "How ObamaCare Will Affect Your Doctor," American Enterprise Institute fellow Scott Gottlieb concluded of Obama's health care plan: "More government control of doctors and their reimbursement schemes will only create more problems."
  • During the May 13 edition (subscription required) of his syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh asserted: "At the White House today, there was a meeting between Obama and Congress about passing his 'Obama care,' his socialized medicine by July 31st." Limbaugh also described Obama's health proposal as "Obama care" a second time (subscription required) during that show.
  • During the May 13 edition of his Fox News show, Hannity asserted that "[w]e have a real big vigorous debate coming on, issues like Obama care and nationalizing health care."
  • During the May 20 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News contributor Bernie Goldberg asserted that Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, which owns NBC News, "doesn't want stories that say Obama care may be a bad thing."
  • During the May 23 edition of Fox News' The Journal Editorial Report, Dan Henninger, deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, said during a discussion of health reform: "The Senate Finance Committee put out a document attached to these hearings, which I read through. If you read the text, it shows how cockeyed this idea of Obama care is."
  • In a May 26 Chicago Sun-Times opinion piece, "Wisconsin rep's health plan beats Obamacare," Steve Huntley asserted of the president's plan that it would "force ever greater government control over the medical decisions of Americans" and later added that "[e]veryone acknowledges Obamacare is vastly expensive."
  • During the May 28 edition of his Fox News show, Hannity said, "[T]he Daily Mail had a report. That women with advanced breast cancer, the government rationing body of Great Britain says you can't have those drugs," adding, "That's coming. That's Obama care."
  • In his June 5 Washington Post column, "Obamacare's Antidote," former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson defined "Obamacare" as "requiring employers to provide insurance or pay a fine, creating a government-operated insurance option, and subsidizing the purchase of insurance for the poor."
  • In a June 9 Wall Street Journal commentary, "Canada's ObamaCare Precedent: Governments always ration care by making you wait. That can be deadly," Manhattan Institute senior fellow David Gratzer asserted: "Congressional Democrats will soon put forward their legislative proposals for reforming health care. Should they succeed, tens of millions of Americans will potentially be joining a new public insurance program and the federal government will increasingly be involved in treatment decisions." Gratzer went on to describe problems with Canada's health care system and concluded by saying: "Americans need to ask a basic question: Why are they rushing into a system of government-dominated health care when the very countries that have experienced it for so long are backing away?"
  • During the June 10 edition of his Fox News show, Hannity asserted that Obama is "going to talk about nationalizing health care, Obama care. That big debate begins tomorrow." He continued: "That is not included in the pay-go nor is the stimulus, nor is the omnibus, nor is the $3.6 trillion budget. So it's really deceptive. He's trying to create the impression he's conservative on fiscal matters when, in fact, he's not."
  • During the June 12 edition of his Fox News show, Hannity asked Fox News host Mike Huckabee: "Now Obama care. How bad is this?" Huckabee replied, in part: "It's going to be bad."
  • During the June 12 edition of his Fox News show, Hannity asserted, "[W]e just got information now that the early estimates in terms of tax increases for Obamacare is $600 billion in taxes, $400 billion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. These are the early numbers. He's already laid down $634 billion as his down payment for this. We have quadrupled the deficit, quadrupled the debt, and we're going to be paying $1 trillion in interest on Obama's economy and all the money he's spending now as we steal from our kids."
  • In his June 14 Chicago Tribune column, "Deluded on health care: Generous government-sponsored care will cost you," editorial board member Steve Chapman wrote that the administration has suggested health reform "won't cost you and me anything," even though "[e]stimates of the cost of Obama care start at $1.2 trillion over the next decade."
  • During the June 16 edition of his Fox Business Network show, Neil Cavuto asserted, "[I]f this national health care end justifies the tax hike means, will the American taxpayer go along? Well, a lot depends on this administration not repeating the roughshod approach many say the Clinton administration took with something called HillaryCare 16 years ago." On-screen text featured while he spoke said, "Can 'Obama-Care' Escape What Happened to 'Hillary-Care'?"

  • During the June 16 edition Fox Business' Bulls & Bears, co-host David Asman said during a discussion about health care reform: "Let's talk about the entire system, because, after all, we have to pay for it somehow. We've put out so much in spending already. We just don't have the money. How do we do it without just completely leveraging our future?" Commentator Gary B. Smith replied, in part: "I don't see that you can and I want to be included on the A-list of naysayers. So -- but, you know, here's the problem. You know, all the extrapolations, all the budgeting is being done based on, you know, current, you know, form and speed, you know, that 1 trillion number. But, you know, there's two issues with that. One is, give me the government program where the actual costs equaled the forecasted cost. It doesn't. It's normally 100 percent more." He later added: "[I]n fact, we have a case study in Massachusetts, which essentially is a -- kind of a mini-version of what ObamaCare would be. They started with a budget of 1.6 billion a year; it's now at 1.9 billion a year. So, you know, right there's a government entity not able to meet its budget projections."
  • During the June 16 edition of MSNBC Live, while on-screen text read, "HillaryCare vs. ObamaCare," co-host David Shuster asked, "And from HillaryCare to ObamaCare, what really has changed in the 16 years since 1993? Anything? That's coming up next on MSNBC."

  • In a June 16 National Review Online article, "The High Cost of ObamaCare," Lawrence A. Hunter, president of the Social Security Institute, asserted that "Americans must understand: ObamaCare equals HillaryCare; same poison, different bottle."
  • In a June 17 Washington Times commentary, "Obamacare: Medicine by bureaucrats," Robert Goldberg, vice president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, asserted that "[a]ffordable coverage should not be difficult or substandard. Under Obamacare, it will be both."
  • In a June 18 Wall Street Journal commentary, "The GOP Can Stop ObamaCare," Karl Rove described the administration's health reform plan as "President Barack Obama's government-run monstrosity" and later described it as the "nationalization of the health-care industry."
  • In an upcoming Weekly Standard article dated June 22, "Dare to Defeat ObamaCare," Yuval Levin and William Kristol, the publication's editor, asserted that "conservatives need to defeat the government insurance 'option' -- and then move on to finish the job by exposing the other massive problems with ObamaCare, so as to bring the whole edifice of bad and dangerous 'reform' crashing down." They later added: "[T]he struggle to save the country from ObamaCare could mark the beginning of a new center-right coalition to restrain the grossly excessive ambitions of the administration and congressional Democrats, with regard not only to health care but to spending and borrowing, and to the role and reach of government more broadly."

From the June 16 edition of Fox Business Network's Cavuto:

CAVUTO: Well, if this national health care end justifies the tax hike means, will the American taxpayer go along? Well, a lot depends on this administration not repeating the roughshod approach many say the Clinton administration took with something called HillaryCare 16 years ago.

From the June 16 edition Fox Business' Bulls & Bears:

ASMAN: Let's talk about the entire system, because, after all, we have to pay for it somehow. We've put out so much in spending already. We just don't have the money. How do we do it without just completely leveraging our future?"

SMITH: I don't see that you can, and I want to be included on the A-list of naysayers. So -- but, you know, here's the problem. You know, all the extrapolations, all the budgeting is being done based on, you know, current, you know, form and speed, you know, that 1 trillion number. But, you know, there's two issues with that. One is, give me the government program where the actual costs equaled the forecasted cost. It doesn't. It's normally 100 percent more.

ASMAN: Well, hold on. I can give you one example. You asked the question. The prescription drug program; it was supposed to cost, I think, 55 billion a year. It's now costing about half of that, because there are incentives worked into it.

SMITH: Well, all right, I'll give you that, and then I'll counter with, you know, General Motors, the post office, Amtrak, the Defense Department, et cetera. But --

LIZ CLAMAN (co-host): OK. And then, I can counter with Safeway and Whole Foods; they've got ideas that are working.

ASMAN: Sure.

SMITH: Yeah, but that's not a government program. And, in fact, we have a case study in Massachusetts, which essentially is a -- kind of a mini-version of what ObamaCare would be. They started with a budget of 1.6 billion a year; it's now at 1.9 billion a year. So, you know, right there's a government entity not able to meet its budget projections.

From the June 16 edition of MSNBC Live:

SHUSTER: And from HillaryCare to ObamaCare, what really has changed in the 16 years since 1993? Anything? That's coming up next on MSNBC.

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