Steve Chapman

Arguing the latter point, they came within a whisker of getting the Supreme Court to invalidate the law. Republicans also predicted the plan would be impossible to administer, a forecast that has gained enormous credence thanks to Kathleen Sebelius.

They have the advantage of opposing the expected evils of Obamacare, which have eclipsed the defects of what went before. One way to make a program popular is to make the benefits visible and the costs inconspicuous. But the individual mandate and the signup snafus reversed the formula. Lots of people are leery of being shafted or coerced, while those who will gain appear to be mostly unaware or ungrateful.

Not that a different approach would have been more successful. In early 2010, pollster Douglas Rivers of YouGov/Polimetrix reported that when asked what would happen if Obamacare passed, most people said they would get "worse care at a higher cost." And if it didn't pass? They would get "worse care at a higher cost."

Republicans have succeeded in changing the subject. Instead of discounting the disease, they can focus scrutiny on the president's defective remedy. They can also divert attention from their failure to do much of anything about the supposed ailment when they held power.

They oppose Obama's plan as a burdensome, costly federal solution, only 10 years after they approved George W. Bush's burdensome, costly federal solution to another supposed failure of American health care: the obligation of retirees to pay for prescription medicines.

That program is now accepted and protected by politicians. Had Obamacare been equally popular, it might also become an unchallenged part of the landscape. But it became law without ever generating a durable national consensus.

Lacking that consensus, enactment was not the end of the fight. It was just the opening round in a fight that will not be over soon.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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