Obama and the Dems Just Sound Too Wonky on Health Care
Continued from previous page
The Culture War is On! You Can’t Ignore it
President Obama wants to unify the country, and he should. It is a noble idea. It is the right idea. And he started out with the right way to do it. Campaign for what you believe – for empathy, social responsibility, making the nation better. Activate the progressive values in the many millions of Americans who have some conservative values and some progressive values.
But also inhibit the radical, harmful conservative ideology in the brains of our countrymen, by directly saying what’s wrong with it. Yes, there are villains. They have a very potent communications system and can organize their troops. Every victory makes them more powerful. They have put together powerful narratives. We need more powerful ones.
And avoid PolicySpeak and PolicyLists.
What should have been done?
It is useful to review what should and should not have been done, because we need to understand the past to avoid future mistakes.
First, it was obvious to the framing community what the right wing would do. Almost every move could have been predicted, and most of them were. There should have been a serious counter effort from right after the election.
Second, an effective communication system should have been built. Not for dictating what to say, but for creating a system of effectively trained spokespeople who can get the basic progressive values out there every day, to compete with the very effective conservative system. It should not work issue by issue, but in addition to the issues of the day, it should promote general values that apply to all issues.
The elements are all in existence. The money is there. Indeed it would be a lot cheaper to build than spending tens of millions of dollars on health care ads. What it would accomplish is laying the groundwork in advance of any particular issue. The work of such a communication system would be to activate ideas already there in the millions of citizens who have progressive as well as conservative worldviews in their brain circuitry. The idea would be to make progressive ideas stronger and conservative ideas weaker, balancing what the conservative communication system is doing now.
It is rather late in the game for the stimulus, cap and trade, and health care, but better late than never. And it would be indispensible for future policy campaigns. Framing a powerful message is a lot easier when the groundwork for it has already been laid. Without the groundwork, it is much harder.
Third, a serious framing education effort with folks who do know the science should have been organized, not just for the communications system, but for the policymakers themselves.
Fourth, the villainizing of real insurance company villains should have begun from the beginning. As it is, the right wing turned the tables. They attributed to government all the disasters of insurance company health care: rationing, long lines, waits for authorizations and visits to specialists, denial of care. The administration is trying to turn that around, but it is harder now, and they are trying it using PolicySpeak, which is the most ineffective of means.
Fifth, the positive policy should have been made in moral terms, with clear and vivid language. The term “public option” is a PolicySpeak loser. The public is the American public, it is all of us, it is America, and it should have been called the American Plan.
Sixth, the administration should have been on the offensive not the defensive all the way. The use of conservative language should never have been used in debunking.