Archive for February, 2010

Losing the Message

February 11, 2010

I assume the White House has professionals working on this, but I’m concerned about the messaging on health reform.   I went to the White House website, and the first thing I saw was this:

If you like your insurance, you can keep it.

No more denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions.

No dropped coverage when you get sick.

OK, it’s accurate, but uninspiring. It seems to me that it would be much more powerful if the President spoke about values rather than specific features of the plan.  How about something like this?

“Health reform will allow people to sleep well at night, with a sense of security that no one can take away their insurance.”

“People will have the freedom to start their own businesses, change jobs, or stay at home to take care of their children without worrying that they will lose their health insurance.”

“Small businesses can do what they do best – innovate, grow and thrive – without being crushed by health care costs.  This is the American dream.

“Never again will we tell a cancer patient or an accident victim, “You’re on your own.”  This is America, and we’re in this together.

I’m not an expert on this, but I’m guessing that the person-in-the-street would respond better to the values pitch.  It’s like advertising for sports cars: you don’t sell the size of the engine, you sell adventure. (Or for Volvo’s: you don’t sell the thickness of the side doors, you sell safety.)  The President is usually so good at this, and I’m surprised that the messaging on health reform has been so clunky.

The stakes are too high for the President, the Democrats and the entire country.  We’re getting killed on this.  Can David Plouffe or someone else crack the whip?  There are plenty of committed advocates and experts who would be happy to offer their time and energy to help the White House get this right.

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I’m Fed Up with This

February 8, 2010

I used to follow the pundits and read the inside stories about the progress of health reform.  During the past year, I’ve avidly read Politico.com and the NY Times, watched Washington Week in Review, and followed #hcr on Twitter to keep up with what’s happening.  But I’m fed up with the way that the Republican spin has become the conventional view of things.

Latest example — in today’s Politico Pulse lead, Chris Frates writes:

President Barack Obama announced Sunday that he will hold yet another meeting on health care reform. But this one comes with two twists – it will be televised and bipartisan. The move seems designed to help counter the public’s distaste for legislation that Democrats crafted behind closed doors and rammed through both chambers with little Republican support. [emphasis mine]

You gotta be kidding.  First, the legislation was not “crafted behind closed doors” any more than most bills in Congress.  On the contrary, the legislation has been available for public scrutiny since the original bills were introduced last spring in the House.  You could even go further back to Sen. Baucus’s white paper in November 2008, which laid out the basic framework for all the bills that followed.  When each subsequent bill was introduced, the Kaiser Family Foundation and many others produced “side-by-side” comparisons so that people could understand the key elements of the bills.  The details (the public option, the insurance exchange, the affordability credits, the excise tax, the Medicare Advantage reductions, the “doughnut hole”, and many more) were agonizingly dissected by the mainstream media, the bloggers, and interest groups.  As Jon Cohn said today,

The idea that Republicans haven’t had a chance to present their ideas on health care reform is a bit mind-boggling. Five separate congressional committees had hearings; each chamber had floor debates. That’s hundreds of hours the GOP had to talk about health care, all of it in public view and televised on C-SPAN.

And the Democrats “rammed it through both chambers”?  Anyone watching the process objectively would say that the Democrats did just about everything they could to accommodate Republican interests and wishes.  First, they wrote a bill that incorporates many Republican ideas in an attempt to get bipartisan support.  It’s built on the existing private insurance and medical care delivery system; it’s not the single-payer plan that many progressives wanted.  It uses market forces to control costs rather than regulation and government price setting.  And it includes pet Republican ideas such as tort reform and allowing people to buy insurance across state lines.  (Ezra Klein has summarized this nicely in a new article.)  Second, the Democrats included the Republicans in almost every step of the process.  The best example was the “Gang of Six” led by Sen. Baucus.  For weeks during the summer and early fall, we watched the Democrats’ attempt to accommodate the wishes of Grassley, Enzi, and Snowe.  But it became clear that the Republicans were only stringing the Democrats along.  They never intended to get on board; they only wanted to drag out the process.  And when the votes were finally taken, it was clear that the Republicans had decided – for purely political reasons – that they would oppose any bill.  For them, defeating the Democrats was more important than reforming health care and saving the lives of the uninsured. Their obstructionist tactics were appalling, and their hypocrisy was sickening.  The basic facts: this is a bipartisan bill that the Republicans chose to oppose, despite the best efforts of Democrats to accommodate them.

But most of the media seem to have been co-opted by the Republican spin machine.  I would have expected better from a so-called independent press.