Like a whale throwing itself relentlessly against the beach, Barack Obama's health-care law is now in danger of self-asphyxiation.

So much so, in fact, it now appears that all those Republican anti-Obamacare histrionics of the past few years were unnecessary.

Republicans didn't really have to shut down government, or push the nation toward default, or equate Obamacare with slavery, or stage scores of pointless repeal votes in the House of Representatives.

It turns out the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was a Republican ally all along, quietly creating the great dysfunctional golem that lurched into public view on Oct. 1.

In the few weeks that have elapsed since, Obamacare has become emblematic of overweening, tone-deaf government, politically expedient lying, and gross bureaucratic incompetence.


The president's signature health-care plan has become so mocked by voters that it became a fixture at Halloween parties. (Reuters)

In short, it has stunk out the joint, and in the process has actually helped restore the Republican brand that was so severely damaged by the incredibly foolish, and economically damaging, shutdown-and-default shenanigans by the GOP's Tea Party wing.

Republicans intend to run against Obamacare in the midterm elections next year, and, if it still exists, in the 2016 presidential race.

Why wouldn't they? Once popular, Obamacare has mutated into a particularly effective voter repellant. What is so often called the president's signature achievement is now endangering his own party and legacy.

Lightning rod

Consider Ken Cucinelli. All last summer and well into the fall, the Virginia attorney-general was 10 points or so behind his Democratic opponent in the race for state governor.

It was no mystery as to why: Cucinelli is a far-right conservative who bashed gays, pushed to re-criminalize anal and oral sex (for both gay and straight voters), pressed a law that would have required a woman seeking an abortion to undergo an intrusive vaginal probe, and compared illegal immigrants to vermin.

Most progressives, and most Virginia women, couldn't stand him.

Then, in the campaign's final days, Cucinelli seized on the Obamacare debacle, already well under way, made it his sole issue, and his numbers started rising.

He still lost, but by only 2.5 per cent. You can see why this would soothe the Republican heart and terrify Democrats.

If Obamacare can resurrect a character like Cucinelli, it's the perfect ticket for those Republicans who are more, um, attuned to the 21st century.

'Closeted Mother Teresas'

Obamacare would be bad enough if its only fault were HealthCare.Org, a website so useless and frustrating it could have been designed by the famously Kafkaesque bureaucracy in Egypt.

But it's much worse.

Health-care insurance companies have abruptly cancelled millions of policies because they no longer clear the new, more rigorous bar set by Obamacare.

This despite the president's famous assurances that "if you like the plan you have, you can keep it. Period." (A porker that is already taking its place in American political history beside George Bush Sr.'s "Read my lips: no new taxes.")

As public anger swelled, the president and his proxies protested — correctly — that the policies being cancelled were lousy policies in the first place, with all sorts of loopholes that allowed the insurance companies not to pay.

Don't worry, said the administration's spinners. Most people will be able to find better plans on the government website, and for less money, too.

That, it turns out, was another porky-pie, and the president is now apologizing for having misled people.

There are no official figures yet — the government, desperately trying to salvage this fiasco, either doesn't have or is refusing to release hard data — but news organizations are having no problem turning up people whose premiums are doubling, or tripling, or worse.

Lori Gottlieb, a Los Angeles psychotherapist, outlined her unsettling experience in the New York Times.

After her policy was cancelled, Anthem Blue Cross offered her a new, Obamacare-compliant one. For a mere $5,400 extra.

The new policy, unlike the old one, would provide treatment for Stage 4 cancer, or a sex-change operation, or maternity benefits. None of which Gottlieb, a 46-year-old woman, wanted or needed.

Most of Gottlieb's article, though, was spent detailing the peevish reaction her anger drew from her liberal, educated friends (unbearably smug, "closeted Mother Teresas," she called them).

All had the same advice for her: Understand that 15 per cent of Americans — between 30 and 40 million people — who until now had no insurance, will have peace of mind.

"I was shocked," wrote Gottlieb. "Who knew my friends were such humanitarians?" Most, she added, are facing tiny increases (rates vary from one centre to the next) or have employer-provided insurance and will feel no change at all.

It's all bad

While there is no official data yet on how many people have signed up for Obamacare, the Wall Street Journal, citing informed sources, reported this week that 50,000 people nationwide had signed up on the federal government's website in October. Washington's goal was 500,000.


U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius shakes hands with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a once keen Obamacare supporter. "Fix it," he now says. (Jim Bourg / Reuters)

A Gallup poll, meanwhile, suggested that only 18 per cent of uninsured Americans have tried to visit the website.

One in four, said Gallup, prefer to pay the fine imposed on anyone who refuses to buy insurance. The fine rises from a maximum of $285 next year to $2,085 by 2017.

That reluctance to comply is bad. Obamacare relies heavily on signing up healthy young people in order to make care affordable for older Americans who need treatment, the classic insurance equation.

Actually, there is lots about Obamacare that's bad, from the badly written policy to the software and the politics.

Understandably, Democrats from swing states are already beginning to run from Obamacare. Several have suggested changes to the law. This week, Bill Clinton said Barack Obama should keep his promise and let people stick with the plans they have.

"We heard multiple times that everything was on track," Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who helped push through Obamacare, told Obama's health secretary last week. "We now know that was not the case … fix it."

Obama agrees, and has set the rather unrealistic deadline of Nov. 30 to make things right.

Republicans, of course, want to kill the law, not change it or fix it.

But for the moment, they can just relax and obey the first rule of politics: Never interrupt your opponent when he's screwing up.