Intentionally relabeled Obamacare by foes as a slander against both the law and president who signed it, the health care reform is about to take its place next to Social Security and Medicare as the nation's most enlightened social welfare programs.
There is also in the epithet more than a tinge of disparagement toward the president himself. He arouses a bare collective contempt in conservatives for his unusual and complicated origins as man born of a mixed racial union. His "strangeness" has led many of his foes to question not only the place of his birth but also his loyalty to America.
Obama finally embraced the term Obamacare himself as a proud sobriquet for a program designed to improve the health care of millions of the uninsured. But his personal embrace has not dissuaded the wide use of the term by critics as a sort of national boogeyman.
The scare tactics have not been diminished by the Supreme Court's declaration of the law's constitutionality, a surprising blow to the critics. Nor have they been discouraged by the repeated, stillborn House votes to repeal it, upwards of forty times and counting.
The now-shopworn war cry of "repeal and replace" has given way to demands in the House to "defund" it, also assured of a quick death in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Some Republicans threaten to withhold a vote to raise the debt ceiling, at the peril of shutting down the government, unless Obamacare is repealed.
Even the ultraconservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal has expressed horror at the tactic. It has compared the anti-Obamacare zealots in the House to the Japanese kamikaze pilots of World War II, threatening "to crash their Zeroes into the aircraft carrier of Obamacare."
Some fearful Republicans have warned that this sort of political suicide mission will end only as did a similar stare-down of President Bill Clinton by House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995. Gingrich blinked then and his Republican Party was widely blamed for the unpopular shutdown of national parks and other federal facilities.
The present GOP Speaker, John Boehner, has displayed none of the delusional aspirations of grandness that marked Gingrich then and now, but he has knuckled under to the most conservative anti-Obamacare zealots in the House. In not quite leading them over the cliff but giving them the leeway to jump, he puts his own tenure as speaker in question.
More seriously for today's Republican Party is the damage to its brand. It is becoming inexorably more right-wing and exclusionary, elevating the defunding of Obamacare to the heights of a holy grail. Talk after the 2012 Romney defeat about broadening the party's base in the face of the demographic growth of minority ethic voters has been overwhelmed by the anti-Obamacare crusade.
Cruz, perhaps unwittingly, put his finger on why defunding the health care law is so urgent to himself and followers. He warned that once the reforms were fully implemented, voters might embrace them as they have widely accepted Social Security and Medicare. Both programs, similarly targeted in Armaggedon-like terms in their cribs, became untouchable "third rails" not to be trifled with.
For all of Barack Obama's reputation as too prone to compromise, if there is one issue on which he is unlikely to yield, it is the sabotaging of his one major domestic legislative victory that now, for good or ill, bears his name. For once, he holds all the high cards on this suicidal Republican scheme to call his bluff. Obamacare is the law and will continue to be despite the bravado of the mindless self-immolation fringe of the GOP.
(Jules Witcover's latest book is Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org.)