The young couple holding hands outside the entrance to “Creepy Carenival” held on the National Mall July 23rd were rather baffled by it. “I think it’s something about Obamacare?” the woman said. “I think they’re going to talk about it?” They had happened upon it on a walk; they weren’t sure if the message would be for or against.
The event had been put on by Generation Opportunity, a lobby group of free-market minded youngsters who mostly advocate on millennial issues like youth unemployment and student debt. Obamacare, their spokesman informed me, was their first foray into healthcare. In case there’s any confusion, they’re against it: they say that it increases health premiums for those 27 and under who wish to buy healthcare through the federally mandated program. The carnival (“Where fun is Mandatory”) had catchy slogans to go with its theme, featuring a contortionist “bending the rules” and a kissing booth for love and law that are “too good to be true”, but somewhere the metaphor about how Obamacare failure is like (or unlike?) three ring fun may have been lost. None of the attendees I spoke to said they had any strong feelings about the law; mostly, they saw an opportunity for free snacks and fun for their kids and took it. In fact, there seemed to be as many staff and journalists as carnival goers (granted I arrived early).
I chatted with a few performers and blue-shirted young men from Talk of the Town, the entertainment group whose games were hired out for the festivities. Their employer, it appears, did not provide health insurance: The young acrobat was still on her parents’— she says will think about what to do once she turns 26 (but "her views are her own and do not represent those of Generation Opportunity"). Another, older carnival worker said he bought his direct through the insurance company. A third young man, running the high striker, had been instructed to give a flimsy hammer to anyone under 27, and an actual sledgehammer to anyone older. I read aloud a placard at his station, which said that women under 27 would on average see their premiums rise by 44 percent, and men by 91 percent. “You’re the first person all day to read that,” he informed me. When I asked him about the meaning of the trick versus real hammers, he shrugged. Some staffers quickly swooped in to explain—something about the game being rigged against you—but the exact gist remained a bit opaque. But they were very kind in offering to point me to the right person for comment.
It hardly needs mention that millennials unhappy about Obamacare is bad for its chances of long-term success. For the law to work, the ACA needs healthy young people to subsidize the old—this is how insurance works, and it means an uptick in their premiums. But I’m not sure if anyone who didn’t already dislike the law would have walked away with their minds changed or having learned anything new. It was good fun. I asked for a teddy bear as a keepsake. I was informed they were technically for the winners of a raffle. But a kind staff member bent the rules and gave me one anyway.
(Photo by David Weigel: "Creepy Uncle Sam" joins three "death panel" members in the Creepy Carenival's Haunted Hospital.)