If you look at President Obama’s State of the Union address as primarily a political speech to kick off his re-election effort, you get a strong sense of what the Obama campaign thinks are his strengths and weaknesses.
The auto rescue and several foreign policy successes made up a huge part of the speech. But if you weren’t paying extremely close attention, you may have missed Obama’s few passing references to his signature health insurance law.
As best as I can tell, these are the only references to the Affordable Care Act in the entire speech:
I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury pollution, or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean. I will not go back to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny you coverage, or charge women differently from men. And I will not go back to the days when Wall Street was allowed to play by its own set of rules.
That’s why my education reform offers more competition, and more control for schools and States. That’s why we’re getting rid of regulations that don’t work. That’s why our health care law relies on a reformed private market, not a Government program.
On the other hand, even my Republican friends who complain the most about government spending have supported federally financed roads, and clean energy projects, and federal offices for the folks back home.
That’s it: in the entire 7,000 word speech, there are only two lines, one of which ignores the proposed large expansion of government Medicaid, sandwiched between other unrelated talking points.
I take this as a strong sign that the Obama campaign is basically admitting they simply can’t win the politics on Obamacare. It’s a sign they believe their best political approach is just to ignore the issue as much as possible in the campaign. The law was unpopular when it passed and is still unpopular to this day. There is no reason to believe it will get any more popular by November.
In the auto rescue case, the policy was actually implemented right away, and now we are seeing results. In contrast, almost all of the health care law and its promised benefits won’t even start to be implemented for another two years. Obama simply can’t campaign successfully on health insurance reform when there are few tangible benefits from his signature law, and the health insurance coverage situation is now worse than when the law was passed.
This strategy of mostly ignoring health care may even work politically for Obama if Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination. Given the incredible similarity in their health care laws, Romney is going to have a tough time successfully hitting Obama on the issue without leaving himself vulnerable.