Obamacare Is Worse Than 9/11, Slavery, and the Holocaust—and Other GOP Talking Points

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
June 5 2014 5:03 PM

Obamacare Is Worse Than 9/11

No, it’s worse than slavery or the Holocaust. How long can the GOP afford to call Obamacare evil?

Ben Carson speaking at CPAC in March 2014 in Washington, DC.
Ben Carson said that the Affordable Care Act is “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” Above, Carson at CPAC in March 2014 in Washington.

Courtesy of Gage Skidmore/Flickr

We are nine months into the era of Obamacare, and so far, it looks like a success. Between the state exchanges, healthcare.gov, and the Medicaid expansion, an estimated 17.2 million people have received health insurance under the law. In turn, according to Gallup, the percentage of Americans without health insurance has dipped to 13.4 percent, down 3.7 percentage points from where it was at the end of last year. Democratic candidates are touting its benefits, while a few Republicans have shied away from harsh attacks to avoid a backlash from voters.

Jamelle Bouie Jamelle Bouie

Jamelle Bouie is a Slate staff writer covering politics, policy, and race.

But it doesn’t matter that Obamacare is becoming a banal part of the policy landscape. For some on the right, it’s still the worst thing to happen to the United States. In a recent interview with conservative radio host Armstrong Williams and Daily Beast contributor Evan Gahr, Dr. Ben Carson—the famed neurosurgeon turned conservative celebrity—called the Affordable Care Act a worse event than the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001:

Gahr: Who do you think caused families more pain—Obamacare or Osama Bin Laden?
Carson: Let me explain.
Williams: Let him answer the question!
Carson: Things that are isolated issues as opposed to things that fundamentally change the United Sates of America and shift power from the people to the government. That is a huge shift.
Gahr: Right. But what do you think caused specific families more pain—Obamacare or Osama?
Carson: Will you listen? You have to take a long-term look at something that fundamentally changes the power structure of America. You have to be someone who reads. Who is well-read. I want you to go back tonight and pull out what Saul Alinsky says about health care under the control of the government.
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For Carson, this is par for the course. Last year, in a speech to the Values Voter Summit, he called Obamacare “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” He’s not alone in that assessment. Across the country, Republicans and conservatives have fallen over themselves to denounce Obamacare in the most extreme terms. Which raises a question: In the fight for most outlandish comparison, who wins? With slavery and 9/11, Carson is a strong contender, but he has a few able competitors.

Obamacare vs. the Fugitive Slave Act. Who wins? Obamacare. On two occasions, Republicans have denounced the Affordable Care Act as worse than the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which—among other provisions—required law enforcement to arrest anyone suspected of being a fugitive slave, and punished anyone who aided a slave with fines and imprisonment. The first remark comes from New Hampshire state Rep. Bill O’Brien, who—during a rally last August—summed up Obamacare as such:

And what is Obamacare? It is a law as destructive to personal and individual liberty as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that allowed slave owners to come to New Hampshire and seize African Americans and use the federal courts to take them back to federal … to slave states.

A few months later, conservative columnist George Will borrowed the reference, responding to Democrats who say “the Affordable Care Act is the law” with a quip: “Well, the Fugitive Slave Act was the law, separate but equal was the law, lots of things are the law and then we change them.”

Obamacare vs. Dred Scott. Who wins for evil? Obamacare. “Worse than slavery” seems to be the most popular right-wing description for a law that subsidizes health insurance for low- and middle-income Americans. Take Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who attacked the Supreme Court decision upholding Obamacare as akin to Dred Scott v. Sandford. “The liberal blogosphere apparently thinks the constitutional debate is over,” he wrote in an op-ed for USA Today. “I wonder whether they would have had that opinion the day after the Dred Scott decision.”

Obamacare vs. the Holocaust. Who wins for misery? Obamacare. When pressed, most people reach for a handful of historical evils. The Holocaust is near the top of the list, which is why it’s not a shock to hear it invoked as a less evil counterpart to health care reform—since, you know, the only thing worse than genocide is new entitlement spending. Take Idaho state Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, who warned that Obama would eventually “pull the trigger” and establish a socialized health care system:

The insurance companies are creating their own tombs. Much like the Jews boarding the trains to concentration camps, private insurers are used by the feds to put the system in place because the federal government has no way to set up the exchange.

Not to be outdone, a Republican state senator in Tennessee followed suit. “Democrats bragging about the number of mandatory sign ups for Obamacare,” wrote Sen. Stacey Campfield in a post titled “Thought for the Day,” “is like Germans bragging about the number of mandatory sign ups for ‘train rides’ for Jews in the 40s.”

Obamacare vs. war. Who wins for horribleness? Obamacare. Sure, wars kill people, destroy communities, and ruin entire countries. But they aren’t as bad as Obamacare, explained Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in a coloring book for children. To be fair, it wasn’t Cruz himself. Rather, it was the Really Big Coloring Books publisher, who borrowed from the senator’s 21-hour anti-Obamacare speech, saying that “millions of citizens believe Obama Care is worse than any war.”

Obamacare vs. all of the bad things. Who wins for depravity? Obamacare. In a poorly punctuated tweet, North Carolina state Sen. Bob Bucho dropped the mic on the Affordable Care Act:

There you have it. Yeah, the Nazis and the Soviets murdered millions of people. But still, there’s nothing—nothing—worse than a universal health insurance law.

For as much as it’s fun to mock this hyperbole and extremism, it does pose a problem for more mainstream Republicans. Obamacare isn’t going away, and eventually the party will have to reconcile itself to that truth, lest it misses opportunities for conservative change—to move the law to the right—or rankles voters who benefit from the very thing they say is synonymous with evil.

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