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Hating Obamacare, loving the Affordable Care Act

Americans hate Obamacare but love the Affordable Care Act. That is the big story from one of America's more reliable sources of information, Jimmy Kimmel.

Mr. Kimmel, the comedian who hosts ABC's late night talk show, "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" posted a camera crew on a street in Hollywood and had them interview a random sample of Americans. The question put to these people was "Which do you support, Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act?"

Of those who ended up featured in an appallingly hilarious clip on Mr. Kimmel's show, not a single one knew that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are one and the same thing. All but one of the interviewees expressed dislike for Obamacare and gave a variety of reasons for hating it: It is socialist, it has holes in it, it forces everyone to buy into it, it is anti-American and -- I'm not making this up -- it will lead to gun prohibition. They like the Affordable Care Act, however, because it is, well, affordable.

Mr. Kimmel's stunt illustrates a problem at the core of the argument over health care and most other contentious issues in this country: Huge numbers of voters are simply ignorant. Either they simply do not pay attention to public affairs or they uncritically accept all the spin thrown at them by partisan politicians and pundits. This is what has given us the weird phenomenon of big majorities of Americans expressing support for the individual aspects of the Affordable Care Act, even as many of them insist they hate Obamacare.

Republicans, Fox News and radio talkmeisters like Rush Limbaugh have done an expert job demonizing the health care plan from the day it was brought before Congress in 2009. The Democrats got it passed into law, but they ran away from it in the 2010 election. In the process, they not only lost control of the House of Representatives, they lost control of the conversation.

So, here we are now with the government shut down because tea party Republicans are still trying to kill Obamacare, even as thousands of Americans are inundating government websites with queries about how to sign up for one of the health insurance exchanges that kicked into gear last week. The Affordable Care Act is fast becoming a popular and permanent reality in American life, but fantasies about the evils of Obamacare continue to cloud the minds of inattentive citizens from Hollywood to Hampton Roads.

One woman who vehemently condemned Obamacare while singing the praises of the Affordable Care Act was asked by Mr. Kimmel's merry pranksters if she thought an informed electorate is vital to a healthy democracy. The woman answered with a firm, "yes" -- making herself look like an idiot, not only to the television audience, but to the bigger audience who have seen the clip online.

However, that was the one answer she got right. An informed electorate is essential to our democracy. If there is any hope for spreading enlightenment, though, it rests with our comedians -- guys like Mr. Kimmel, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. They are almost the only truth tellers who may be able to grab the attention of the gullible, oblivious crowd.

For our republic, laughter is not only the best medicine; it seems to be the only antidote to spin.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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