President Obama has struggled to sell his healthcare law to Americans for years. Now the shutdown is giving him a new spotlight to do it—and just in time.
Millions of Americans need to sign up in the coming weeks and months, if Obamacare is going to work. And suddenly the president finds himself with the attention of the nation.
While Obama would in any case have held events to encourage Americans to sign up, the shutdown gives him a much bigger platform, since his daily remarks are monitored more closely by the media.
It's an unintended consequence of a fight Republicans picked over funding the government, hoping to delay or scale back the health care law, not give the president a better way to sell it.
In Obama's first response to the shutdown Tuesday, he stood in the Rose Garden and not only blamed Republicans for the fiasco, but transitioned into enroller-in-chief, urging viewers to call centers and a website that launched Tuesday.
"There's a hotline where you can apply over the phone and get help with the application," Obama said in his televised remarks. "Or just get questions that you have answered by real people in 150 different languages. So let me give you that number. The number is 1-800-318-2596 -- 1-800-318-2596."
The sales pitch is part of Obama's hard-line strategy, which liberals have cheered. With polls showing that the GOP bears the brunt of the blame for the shutdown, he's made it clear he won't sign any government funding bill that defunds or delays his signature legislative accomplishment.
Added publicity aside, by ensuring that the law remains a hot-button political issue, Republicans appear to have hardened Obama's resolve.
"I think they’ve seared into the public consciousness their opposition to it," Stan Greenberg, a veteran Democratic pollster who has worked for Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry, told MSNBC. "But also Obama’s presidency is one that is linked to that change. So he has to come out of that firmly protecting those changes. He can’t go back."
Of course, politicizing the ACA also may have made some entities that might have helped promote it squeamish. Republicans sent a letter last month to executives from the major professional sports leagues, warning them not to work with the administration to help get the word out. Though a few individual teams have run PR campaigns, none of the leagues have participated.
Celebrities have been a different story: 'N'Sync, Pearl Jam, Jason Mraz, and John Legend have tweeted #KnowYourOptions or #GetCovered, urging the public to look into Obamacare. The writers at Funny or Die wrote a skit for Jennifer Hudson, spoofing "Scandal," with Hudson giving advice about the ACA.
So far. Americans seem eager to sign up. Millions logged on to the online state exchanges Tuesday, the first day they were up and running, causing some to crash.