Saturday, August 22, 2009

"Obama's healthcare messages are backfiring, strategists say/The president's range of abstract arguments for reform are leaving people confused"

That's the headline atop Pete Nicholas' analysis piece in the LA Times this morning. The piece is worth delving into, because it indicates so much about how the whole debate over health care, on both sides, has gone so wrong.

Let's start by taking a look at that LAT headline again:

"Obama's healthcare messages are backfiring, strategists say/The president's range of abstract arguments for reform are leaving people confused, some Democrats contend."

Note the phrase highlighted above, range of abstract arguments. No kidding! This point became blindingly obvious on August 8, when the Washington Post's Michael D. Shear noted that President Obama had shifted his rhetorical focus from "health-insurance reform," rather than "health-care reform." In other words, Obama went from an abstraction, "health-care reform," to an even greater abstraction, "health-insurance reform."

Which is not to say that health-insurance reform" is not a legitimate issue. But it's just not that engaging to people. When most people thinking about "health," we think, first, of life and death. We think of health and disease, and what's bothering us, and what afflicts our loved ones and friends. And then we might take time to worry about the course of, say, swine flu, or some other epidemic--from HIV to Alzheimer's to obesity--that might threaten large numbers of people. Those are the sorts of health issues that affect us where we live.

The LAT story notes the multiple explanations that Obama has put forward:

For example, Obama has argued that a new healthcare system is necessary to spur an economic recovery. He also has offered up healthcare as an antidote to rising deficits. Earlier this week in a conference call with religious leaders, Obama laid out a "moral" imperative for revamping the nation's healthcare system.

At other points, Obama has portrayed "meddling" insurers as a reason for scrapping the existing system.

"One of the difficulties has been that the explanation has changed," said Howard Paster, a legislative liaison in the Clinton administration. "Originally it was keyed very much to the economy. More recently, emphasis has been placed on issues of fairness and equity. We need to have a consistent set of reasons for doing this."

Note what's missing from this litany: Any sense that the purpose of medicine is cures. The mechanisms of health care delivery are of interest to some, but the question of health cure delivery is of interest to everyone.

The LAT observes that the Republicans, in the opposition, have it easier:

Conservative opponents of the overhaul increasingly use a simple, understandable message: Government-forced cost reductions will restrict treatments, imperiling the ill and elderly.

Note that the conservatives/Republicans aren't really talking talking about cures, either. Or course, at this white-hot political moment, the right might think that it is sufficient, and necessary, to simply beat back Obamacare. And so only down the road somewhere will we find out if the Republicans are really interested in cures, aka Serious Medicine, or if they are simply interested in blocking Obama. If the Republicans make that mistake--if they simply mirror the lefty-nerdy abstractions of the Democrats with righty-nerdy abstractions of their own--they will pay a huge political price, too. So the GOP doesn't have to worry about any of that for now, because Republicans are not in power.

But in the meantime, Obama, who does have power, seems determined to push his own bloodless version of "reform." On Friday, the White House issued a statement, following a meeting with Tom Daschle, affirming the President's determination to press ahead with "health insurance reform." The entire statement appears below:

The President invited Senator Daschle to the White House for a quick check-in on the health insurance reform process and to exchange views on the process moving forward. Senator Daschle is one of the foremost experts on health care and on the legislative process, and has been a friend and sounding-board for the President for several years. The two agreed that substantive reform that lowers costs, reforms the insurance industry, and expands coverage is too important to wait another year or another administration, and they agreed to stay in touch over the coming weeks and months as this critical effort moves forward.

Note the words that are used: "health insurance reform process," "legislative process," etc. So while it might seem obvious that Obama needs to do something different, it looks like he came away from his session with Daschle with a renewed determination to do... more of the same. What's that cliched definition of insanity--doing the same thing, over and over again, despite failure that should be obvious?

And we might further note the words not used: "medicine," "research," "cures." Aren't those the kind of words that move the needle of ordinary Americans?

As Lloyd Green observed here at SMS, the American people are coming to think that what the Democrats have in mind is not so much a health program, as it is an income transfer program. The American people want the expansion of health, not the redistribution of health.

To borrow a phrase from Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, "It's the health, stupid!"


  1. James, I think the reaction of the American people is much simpler, although it is influenced somewhat by the abstract nature of most (but not all) of the actual bill's verbiage (H.R. 3200 -- people know this is what the Dem leadership wants).

    People are reading the bill. Blogs and think tanks and political entities all over the web have broken down, page, section and line number, the finer points of the bill.

    When Obama says, "If you like your insurance, you can keep it," and "This is not a government takeover of health care," people are actually reading for themselves page 19, section 102(c) which prohibits the sale of private individual health insurance policies beginning in 2013.

    They can see for themselves that their private insurance policies will not be able to change coverage, so they will not get that new cancer treatment if they need it unless they go through the government exchange, then they likely won't get it anyway unless they're in their 20s or 30s because of rationing down the road.

    They can see for themselves that the government will control the content of every "policy" in the exchange they'll be forced to buy insurance through after 2013 if they want to keep up with technology.

    They can see they will be taxed 2.5% of their annual income from the get go if the government doesn't approve the insurance they like so much and want to keep.

    They don't want government bureaucrats having access to their bank account to auto-debit all health care and insurance payments to the government (page 59, section 1173A, lines 21-24).

    They know that Obama is lying about what's in the bill, and the he's admitted he hasn't read any of them. They know the Democrats are lying about what's in the bill and arrogant legislators have said they haven't read it either. Some of it is very clear in the bill and the vagueness of the rest is enough to scare the bejeezus out of them.

    Most of us are pretty attached to our parents and grandparents and don't want them in isolated moments going through death counseling, if at all. We don't want them being refused a pacemaker because of their age. We don't want health care rationing, and when Obama and the Democrats tell us that there won't be any, we look at Canada and England and KNOW they're lying.

    We don't want them throwing out the best health care system in the world for 8-10 million uninsured and don't trust them because they say we have to throw it out to fix it.

    This isn't that difficult to figure out.

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  3. I don't know about everyone else in the country, but for me the question of what bureaucracy will make what decisions or which payment method will be cheaper or more expensive or what treatment will or won't be provided or forbidden to whom if quite irrelevant. It also doesn't really matter to me much whether the Democrats are lying either (though they absolutely obviously are).

    All of those questions gloss over what I see as the key prior issue which is who owns me and who gets to make the most important decisions in my life. I own myself and no government or anyone else does. That issue is not even open to debate. No amount of assurances that I would be better off if I was owned by the government or proofs of sincerity on the part of those who propose to be my masters will change that. What is at risk is the question of who owns my body, who owns my wealth, who owns my actions, my work, and in sum, my life as a whole. This particular proposal is just a step along that road and not the final one to be sure, but it is one that will exact a terrible toll on our freedom and it is one that we will ultimately be incredibly costly to reverse once taken.

    Muggers used to make a stereotypical demand of their victims "Your money or your life?". The government asked that too in the 20th century and unfortunately the answer by the public was "Go ahead and take our money then." In the 21st century the government's demand is the only thing that a thug can ask considering the the prior affirmative answer: "Your money and your life." We need to make sure that the answer to that one is a loud and clear "NO!" if there is any hope of retaining our liberty or reversing the current violations of it in place.

  4. Brian, I hear ya and agree wholeheartedly. If everyone else did, we wouldn't be at this juncture. I stand with you in voicing that "NO!!!"

    I do, however, disagree with "just a step along that road" as this "particular proposal," should it be shoved through this fall, will be near impossible to undo through political means. It will have, at minimum, three years under Obama to take root. For once, Gibbs was telling the truth when he said Obama was willing to be a one-termer over this.

    By design our government schools have turned out wave upon wave of people who don't even know what liberty is, much less how you go about keeping it. I would wager most in America today think freedom and liberty are getting to do what you want to do when you want to do it. Sigh.

    In this instance, I think, this power grab (for it is not, by any means, a health care reform or insurance reform bill) will only be defeated by proving that the Democrats are lying--free health care isn't free. It's rationed. It's expensive. It'll lower YOUR quality of life. Something will be taken away from YOU.

    I realize how pathetic those statements are, but I'm facing fact. For all the reasons you listed above, those who value freedom cannot afford to lose to the Princelings control over who lives or dies in America.

  5. The bottom line.... if the consequences of Obamacare are so "dire" it would politically benefit the Republicans. People vote!! The idea that something can't be undone or repealed is nonsense. If I was a Republican I would "secretly" hope it does pass!! The reality is that the GOP fears Obamacare is a political winner and the "dire" consequences turns out to be nothing more then fear mongering. Obamacare will take root. The Republicans fought Social Security and Medicare but dont call for repeal. Why? Could it be that alot of Republicans like the "socialism" of Social Security and Medicare??. You betya... Will Obamacare do to the Democrats what the Iraq adventure did to the Bush Administration???. The GOP sure acts like they dont think so.

  6. Ray, unlike Democrats, CONSERVATIVES don't play that sort of crass game with the future of this country. You must not have been paying much attention re Social Security and Medicare. And you made my point: these two loser programs can not be undone because the people cling to the crumbs from the table of government largesse when they could have much better options from the private sector. But they can't be undone politically because of people like you who settle for much less and tell people they're only worth the crumbs the government can take from someone else, extract it's large cut, then give to them.

    Obamacare is going to SINK the Dems. 2010 can't get here fast enough!! WHOOO HOOO!!!

  7. Connie, what are you so worried about!!! Anything can be repealed even Social Security and Medicare. If enough conservatives vote and take control they can take away from "me" or drastically reduce Social Security benefits or Medicare. Why not run on this as a campaign promise???. The greater "good" is served by citizens agreeing to have their benefits cut or reduced in order to reduce the national debt so it does not "burden" your grandchildren?? The nation will prosper!!! Ah, yes- at the peak of his presidental power Bush spent political capital to "privatize" Social Security with the push of the GOP House and Senate. I guess there were not enough conservative GOPers in the Senate and House. Its fortunate that the plan was dumped by the GOP!! Can you imagine the number of people who would have been duped into going "private" and being wiped out in the private market with the 08 market meltdown. I assume you will never use Medicare benefits or collect Social Security benefits. You should refuse the benefits to help reduce the national debt.

  8. I already explained that to you. There are too many useful idiots, as the communists call them, not unlike you! who will settle for whatever crumbs the government will throw, because they don't know who they are. They have let the government demean them into believing that the Almighty Statists have to provide for them or they'd have nothing.

    Wiped out? You really think there's a Social Security Fund? You really think there's any money left for Medicare? ROTFLMAO!! You ARE a useful idiot. Enjoy your poverty. Out.

  9. MILLIONS FACE SHRINKING SOCIAL SECURITY PAYMENTS (OOPS!!, guess that happens when Dems force banks to loan money to folks who can't afford a house note and the whole economy crashes!!)

    Millions face shrinking Social Security payments
    Aug 23 08:22 AM US/Eastern
    Associated Press Writer
    Comments (3) Email to a friend Share on Facebook Tweet this Bookmark and Share
    WASHINGTON (AP) - Millions of older people face shrinking Social Security checks next year, the first time in a generation that payments would not rise.

    The trustees who oversee Social Security are projecting there won't be a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for the next two years. That hasn't happened since automatic increases were adopted in 1975.

    By law, Social Security benefits cannot go down. Nevertheless, monthly payments would drop for millions of people the Medicare prescription drug program because the premiums, which often are deducted from Social Security payments, are scheduled to go up slightly.

    "I will promise you, they count on that COLA," said Barbara Kennelly, a former Democratic congresswoman from Connecticut who now heads the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. "To some people, it might not be a big deal. But to seniors, especially with their health care costs, it is a big deal."

    Cost of living adjustments are pegged to inflation, which has been negative this year, largely because energy prices are below 2008 levels.

  10. Oh Connie, Oh Connie... I am sure you will be very happy to collect all your "crumbs" of Social Security checks signed by FDR and all your Medicare "crumbs" signed by LBJ. Oh least I forget all the "crumbs" of disability payments should you become disabled. Has a Social Security check ever bounced? Did Bernie Maddoff grow his investments so wonderfully for his faithful investors? Is there a Social Security trust fund? Sure.. thanks to Ronald Reagan who raised taxes to fund it in 1983. I realize you can't admit this but did the Bush Administration ( Cheney/Rumsfeld) pay for the Iraq fiasco or was it added to the debt for your grandchildren? Did the Bush Adm pay for the Medicare Part D drug benefit? Ah yes the party of fiscal conservatism I guess lost its way.