'Obamacare' focuses gripes of encroaching government
The mom from North Carolina who opposes vaccinations and dislikes doctors and chooses to forgo health coverage because, she says, it is her right as an American. The Massachusetts Navy vet who feels health reform in his state has limited choice and ballooned costs. The husband-and-wife private investigators from Georgia who are satisfied with their own health plan and fear being forced to buy something more expensive.
They're heading, along with so many others, to Washington this month. They will stand a few blocks from the Supreme Court, clutching handmade signs and chanting as one as the high court prepares to hear arguments -- and renew debate -- over a health care law that has divided Americans and become a rallying point among a chunk of the electorate for whom "change" has come to mean "repeal."
"Obamacare" unites them. But what inspires them to converge in protest is less the law itself than what it has come to represent to a lot of people: Big government at its worst.
"It is the epitome of being in my face and telling me what I can and can't do for the rest of my life," says Christine Gates, the North Carolina mom.
"What's next• They going to tell you you can't wear a black T-shirt?" says Carlos Hernandez, the Massachusetts veteran.
"With Bush is when I became more and more aware of the fact that government was spending more and requiring more ... when Obama took over, it went from second or third gear to fifth or sixth gear," says Michael Mancha, the private investigator in Georgia.
These are more than just rants from the anti-Obama crowd, but rather a sampling of the national conversation underlying so much of the angst among voters this election year -- from Occupy protesters who rail not just against Wall Street but for the idea that "we don't need politicians to build a better society" to Tea Partiers who carry pocket copies of the Constitution and espouse the principle of "constitutionally limited government."
A December Gallup poll showed Americans' fear of big government has reached near-record levels, with 64 percent deeming it a bigger threat to the country than big business or big labor. Driving the increase was a rise in the percentage of Democrats who view the government as ever-more threatening.
"I think more and more people across the political spectrum are saying, 'Whoa. We don't want these people having this kind of power,"' says Michael Boldin, executive director of the Tenth Amendment Center, a think-tank that supports limited government. "Obamacare is the symbol for conservatives. Things like the NDAA" -- the National Defense Authorization Act, which was signed into law in December and could allow for the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism -- "are now becoming a symbol across the political spectrum."
When asked what matters most to them this election year (aside from defeating President Obama), Republican voters often respond with answers that have nothing to do with the economy, jobs, housing of even debt and deficits. Rather, they begin talking about a loss of independence, a sense of powerlessness and mistrust, a feeling that government is simply too much in their business.
They refer to recent news reports about North Carolina schoolchildren who were made to eat cafeteria meals after a teacher decided their home-packed lunches failed to meet federal dietary guidelines required for government-funded school lunch programs.
"It's that outlook on things that is just so wrong. Like we can't run our own lives," says Margaret Birkemo, a missionary from Fountain Hills, Ariz.
Or they condemn the controversial "light bulb law," setting new energy-saving standards that would have meant an eventual end to old-style 100-watt bulbs in favor of those newfangled fluorescents. After a Republican-led fight last year to overturn the standards entirely, a deal was instead reached to delay enforcement until October. The law including the new standards was signed by Republican George W. Bush.
"I'm hoarding those old light bulbs," says Gates, who serves as president of her Tea Party group in Lenoir, N.C. "I don't want any of those little curlicue ... things in my house. Uh-uh."