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Friday, July 17, 2009

The Health Care P.R. Debacle

The president is finishing up a news conference that crystallizes in my mind the problem the Democrats have been facing regarding health care reform. He has a very sharp and clear message in this news conference. He has laid out what health care reform means: lower costs, universal coverage, a health care exchanges, and preventative care. Had this been the message for the last two to three months, it's very likely that the public would embrace health care reform in a much robust way than it currently is. That, however, is NOT what happened.

There is a great scene from the Godfather in which Sonny challenges his father in front of a business associate. After the meeting is done, Vito chastise Sonny famously saying "never take sides against the family". In politics, it's not a bad thing to have inter party debates. It is, however, politically damaging to have those debates played out publicly. That the Democrats are having internal debates is natural and healthy. That they allow these debates to play out publicly is a massive political liability.

Both the House and Senate were having trouble making a consensus and then earlier this week the House introduced their health care bill. The leadership was on board but the Blue Dogs were not. As such, Blue Dog Democrats are all over television for the last three days all in unison saying categorically that they can not support the health care bill in its current form.

A similar thing happened when Max Baucas held a news conference to say that the president was being "unhelpful". At issue was the idea of paying for health care reform by taxing employer funded health insurance. Baucus wants them and the president doesn't. Had this been resolved privately much earlier, this private display of combativeness wouldn't have happened.

Then, we had Nancy Pelosi proclaiming that we may have enough savings that we won't need to pay for health care with tax hikes. Then, she proclaimed that we could use the tax revenue to pay down the deficit. This bizarre dichotomy became the subject of endless media speculation and analysis. Of course, things weren't helped when the CBO came out and proclaimed that this plan would raise costs not lower them, though that isn't a matter of Dem's P.R.

The problem is that the Democrats have not had one consistent message to get behind. The president had a good and consistent message today. The Democrats, however, have had no consistent message. One Democrat wants to tax the wealthy. Another wants to tax employer health care. Anothe one says we don't need to tax anyone. Publicly they're all fighting with each other. What's lost is any consistent message about what health care reform will mean and how it will help Americans.


lanelseymour said...

This may be a PR problem for the Democrats but it is not a problem for the country. Fast-passed legislation which has been "debate proofed" via back room dealing is what you do when you know deep down in your political "gut" that the citizenry wouldn't approve your plan if it had a full and fair public airing ahead of time. Fortunately, the "airing" has escaped the leadership's attempts at containment--and the public ain't buy'n the plan!

Anonymous said...

Once again, Baucus is just mad that he's been told so many times that any attempt to craft a bill with Republican support would lose more Democrats votes than gain Republicans.

This debate amongst the Democrats in public could be a good thing. It effectively changes the definition of "bipartisan" to mean between liberal and blue dog democrats. The Republicans and their ideas have essentially been rendered irrelevant and illegitimate.

Anonymous said...

Obama my have improved the message, but it still does not reflect what is actually in the legislation.

Sometimes politics is more than speeches and PR. Sometimes it is substance. The future of health care in this country should be a substantive debate, not a public relations battle.

None of my Democrat friends want government-run health care. Obama can say that it's not, but when it obviously is, the PR stops being PR and starts being a lie.