A T-Shirt History of the Health Care Debate

If you want a visual guide to how the right's anger over Obamacare has evolved over time, you need to look at T-shirts.

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If you want a visual guide to how the right's anger over Obamacare has evolved over time, you need to look at T-shirts. Photos of Tea Party protesters, by definition, don't change much over time, because they're all dressed up like 18th-century men in powdered wigs. But what was most infuriating about Obamacare was not, as Republicans were saying Friday after the Supreme Court ruled the law constitutional, always that it was a big fat tax. Looking through the mostly anonymous T-shirt designs at Zazzle is like looking at a highlight reel of the last three years. Come, relive it with us how we got from death panels to "John Roberts: Coward."

Summer 2009: Way back in Sarah Palin's glory days, at the very beginning of the bill, we have death panels. Remember death panels? They were supposed to be a bureaucratic body that would decide whether an old person who needed care would lie or die based on a cost/benefit analysis. These shirts were all made in the summer of 2009 -- "czar" in June, "killed grandma" in July, and "to die for" and "death panel chairman" in August. Note: in the reviews for the "Obamacare killed my grandma" shirt, it's  "Most recommended for: Birthdays."

September 2009: Obama made a special address to a joint session of Congress, and when he said his health care bill wouldn't cover illegal immigrants, South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson screamed, "You lie!" This slogan fits quite nicely on a shirt, like this one, made September 22, 2009.

Early Fall 2009: The Tea Party grows and people heckle members of Congress who try to sell the bill at town halls in their home districts. This "angry mob" shirt was made in mid-August, this town hall one in October.

Late Fall 2009: The beginnings of the Obama-as-Joker meme.

Spring 2010: People begin to focus on the excruciatingly slow legislative process, and all the special deals that went into getting the law passed. The first shirt says "Why don't we record [then-House Majority Whip Steny] Hoyer saying 'We don't have the votes yet on Obamacare', and re-broadcast it every few weeks, to save him all that trouble?" The second is a reference to then-Rep. Bart Stupak, the pro-life Democrat who wouldn't vote for the bill without restrictions on abortion coverage. The compromise executive order left anti-abortion activists feeling betrayed. Both were made in March.

March 23, 2010: As Obama walks out to give a speech on signing the bill into law, Vice President Joe Biden whispers "This is a big fucking deal." The whisper was caught by the microphone. This BFD moment was immediately seized on by both the left and the right.

Fall 2010: Midterm elections.

Spring 2011: House Republicans vote on defunding the law and say they'll replace it with their alternative. The Republican presidential primaries begin. Obamacare facination cools, except when other candidates harass Mitt Romney about inventing it.

Mid-2011 to early-2012: Republicans voters realize Romney invented Obamacare with Romneycare. There are a ton of shirts like this.

Thursday: The Supreme Court declares Obamacare constitutional, thanks to the vote of conservative Chief Justice John Roberts. Conservatives feel betrayed. Glenn Beck started selling these "coward" shirts, as Think Progress pointed out. Tank tops calling for Roberts' impeachment went up on CafePress.

Friday: Conservatives realize that Roberts gave them a gift -- declaring the mandate is a tax. They run with it.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.