Democrats Are In For a World of Hurt If They Keep Running From Obamacare

| Tue Mar. 18, 2014 9:59 AM EDT

Last month, when the latest Obamacare horror story turned out to be largely invented out of whole cloth, I speculated about what this means. "I'm a diehard defender of Obamacare," I said, "and even I concede that there ought to be at least hundreds of thousands of people who are truly worse off than they were with their old plans. But if that's the case, why is it that every single hard luck story like this falls apart under the barest scrutiny?" Maybe it means that Obamacare isn't actually hurting very many people at all.

But this question can be turned around. There ought to be lots of people who have been helped by Obamacare too. So why haven't the airwaves been blanketed with their stories? Dave Weigel says the answer here is simpler: yes, there are plenty of feel-good Obamacare stories. But Democratic campaigns have neither the money nor, apparently, the desire to use them:

Take Families USA, the decades-old health care awareness organization, which regularly connects journalists to sources. Last October, Families USA received $1 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to finance more reporting, more vetting, more sharing of stories. That money helped Families USA expand its team of full-time vetters from one to three. It has not, so far, helped any Democrats running terrified from Obamacare.

“We do not pass along stories to political campaigns,” says Ron Pollack, the executive director of Families USA. “When reporters are doing stories, we pass on leads—that’s what we call them—if the individuals consent. But we do not ever send stories to political campaigns.”

....“There simply is no liberal Koch operation,” complains Paul Begala, a former Clintonite and a strategist for Priorities USA in 2012. “Rather than a national ad campaign, which is not realistic, Dems should look to smart 2014 candidates to engage this issue along [these] lines. Once someone does it, and it works, others will replicate in their states/districts. Do I think Dems should respond to the Koch ads? Absolutely. But it is going to be a piecemeal response.”

So Families USA can't or won't help candidates, and the candidates themselves don't have the money to compete. And even if they did, their fear of Obamacare is so palpable that they're probably afraid to campaign positively on it anyway. This is, needless to say, a self-fulfilling prophecy: Republicans make Obamacare toxic with misleading ads; Democrats are afraid to fight back because they don't want to be tainted by Obamacare; and this leaves the field wide open to making Obamacare even more toxic.

Democrats are going to be in a world of hurt this year if they keep this up. There's no running from Obamacare. There just isn't. If they want to win, they'd better emerge from their fetal crouch and start fighting back. Nobody likes candidates who won't stand up and defend their own party's achievements.