Health care reform and messaging

Richard Cohen writes a piece in today’s Washington Post that, intentionally or not, gets to the crux of the problem our side of the health care reform debate is having when it comes to ginning up public support for reform.

As far as I could figure out, the president turned over health-care reform to about 24 committees of the House and about eight committees of the Senate, and they have all come up with plans that simultaneously sell out to the private sector and yet somehow socialize medicine . . . as we know it. They are also partisan, nonpartisan, bipartisan (don’t ask, don’t tell) and in the out years — and at the end of the day — mind-numbingly boring. I am thinking outside the box here.

For me, health-care reform is Missiles Redux — specifically the Reagan-era disputes over SS-20s and such, not to mention throw-weight, which is measured in kilograms or metric tons, whatever they are. I was expected to know something about such matters, being a Washington columnist and all, but I could never keep the damn terms and numbers straight. I would bone up, talk to the experts, read the stupefying reports, write the requisite column — and promptly forget it all. The Soviet Union collapsed anyway.

Joe and I keep asking each other, what’s the message? What’s the talking point? What one thing is President Obama pushing for in this debate? What one thing about health care in America do Obama and the Democrats want to fix? It’s just not terribly clear. The White House abdicated its role in health care reform at the beginning (whether because, like with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and DOMA, the president doesn’t believe he should get involved in legislative battles, or whether simply because it’s easier to claim victory when you’ve never fully picked one side or the other). That’s changed now, to a degree, but the messaging around this issue is still terrible, and terribly confusing (snails).

And I don’t buy for a minute the argument that health care reform IS confusing, that it’s such a big issue there’s no way to condense it into a talking point. That’s bs. Everything can be condensed, everything. When I was in grad school, we had to summarize in one page the cause, current status, and a proposed solution to the Middle East crisis and the Cold War, among other intractable problems at the time (each problem got one page). I remember fellow classmates from Europe complaining that the exercise was ridiculous, and minimized the complexity of each issue. Good luck, some of us told them, when you have to explain this issue to your boss or the voting public. We need more people working on these issues who can explain themselves in a talking point, rather than a thesis.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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