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Monday, December 5, 2016

Last week, the GOP-dominated House of Representatives voted to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — or “Obamacare.” As expected, the vote fell largely along party lines.

House Speaker John Boehner and his partisans knew perfectly well that the vote was political theater. In the very unlikely event that the Senate followed suit, President Obama would surely veto any effort to repeal his most significant achievement. It was the 33rd time the House has voted to repeal all or parts of the law, so Boehner’s minions are well-practiced at this tedious bit of drama.

It plays well to the GOP electorate. While the nation is closely divided on the merits of health care reform — polls show about half the voters support it, while about half do not — the Republican base is strongly opposed. Independent voters want Congress to move on to other matters, such as kick-starting the sluggish economy, but very conservative voters want the Affordable Care Act ripped out, root and branch.

Given the broad merits of the law — which guarantees virtually universal access to health care — that’s odd. It’s especially curious when you consider that Obamacare still has private health insurance at its heart; that’s unlike Medicare, a single-payer system of health insurance delivered entirely by the government. The senior citizens who rant that the Affordable Care Act takes the country down the path to “socialism” may have missed the irony.

Some part of the opposition to the Affordable Care Act is based on gross misperceptions. Even before the law passed, conservative opponents started a disinformation campaign based on distortions, deceit and outright lies. The most infamous of those was the claim about death panels, which was so outrageous it was hard to believe that responsible people would repeat it. But arch-conservatives such as Sarah Palin have no trouble being irresponsible in support of their causes.

But there is another, equally troubling facet of the opposition to health care reform — simple racial prejudices. Allow me to be as clear: There are certainly critics of the Affordable Care Act who hold no racial animosity. But there is also an impressive body of research that strongly suggests racial prejudice fuels some of the opponents.