Obamacare, its unpopularity and the Duckie Principle

What does this guy have in common with Obamacare? Paramount Pictures/NBC News

Two months before enrollment in the health-care exchanges begins on Oct. 1, President Obama's health-care law remains, well, not that popular.

According to last week's NBC/WSJ poll, just 34 percent of Americans see it as good idea, while 47 percent see it as a bad idea. And majorities of key swing demographic groups (like seniors, white women, and Midwest residents) oppose the law.

And as the implementation of health-care law has turned into another political fight -- fair or not -- that unpopularity is a dangerous place for the Obama administration.

Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who co-conducted the NBC/WSJ survey, has called these numbers “a huge flashing red light” for the administration.

Peter Hart, McInturff's Democratic partner, adds, “This poll underscores that unless [Obama] has the willingness to sell it, it remains a political challenge for congressional Democrats.”

But Hart argues that the health-care law can outlive its unpopularity. Case in point: The decision in the 1970s to hand over control of the Panama Canal. Hart, the longtime pollster, says the Panama Canal was just as controversial as the health-care law is today. Now? Almost no one cares that the United States no longer controls the Panama Canal zone.

For aficionados of popular culture from the 1980s, there's another example. Call it the Duckie Principle -- after actor Jon Cryer's character in the 1986 film "Pretty in Pink."

Remember Duckie? The poofed-up hair. The loud jacket. The bolo tie. The desire to be loved back.

Like Obamacare, the nerdy Duckie was well-meaning but not well-liked; like Obamacare, Duckie wasn't easy on the eyes, especially when it came to his presentation; and like Obamacare, Duckie resented the fact that his peers -- including the woman he loved -- didn't love him back, despite his virtues.

He was, well, unpopular.

(The one thing that Duckie had going for him compared with the health-care law: His detractors didn't try to repeal and replace him from the movie.)

Yet at the end of the movie, Duckie gets the attention of a pretty girl. And over time, Duckie's character endures -- maybe more so than Andrew McCarthy's more popular Blane (see this survey from 2012.) 

So that's the White House's and Democratic Party's hope: Despite Obamacare's initial unpopularity, it endures. Indeed, as many readers know all too well, the very awkward and unpopular 17-year-old can grow into a law-abiding, tax-paying, child-inspiring adult.

Then again, another unpopular -- but more unsympathetic -- teenager from cinema history offers a more cautionary tale: the late Sal Mineo's character from "Rebel Without a Cause."

At the end of that film, Mineo's troubled Plato is shot dead by the police.

And that's the question: Does the law endure? Or does it come to a rocky end?