What if Obamacare HAD been repealed?

Even with Russian investigation news sucking up oxygen during the last half of the week, Republicans have egg on their faces after swinging and missing on so-called “Obamacare repeal.” After seven years of campaigning on health care, the GOP had nothing to offer on health care.

But can you imagine if they had passed a plan? Over at Medium I point out that the now-endless campaign cycle means the histrionics would have started before President Trump had finished signing the new bill. It would have meant an ugly few years of Democrats essentially accusing Republicans of murder. I bet the GOP wasn’t ready for it. They’re probably lucky the bill failed.

The most convince-able President in recent memory

Earlier this week, I posted a piece on LinkedIn discussing how the failed Republican health care push showed how much President Donald Trump is willing to let others handle the details for even his biggest policy goals.

This business in Syria makes that even more obvious.

President Trump’s shift on Syria – from isolationist to hawk – isn’t something typically seen of politicians. But it tracks pretty closely with the way plenty of Americans view the situation. It also fits with his over-arching message of renewing the perception of America’s strength on the international stage, even if the specific policy (military involvement in Syria) runs against what he has previously advocated.

None of this is necessarily a bad thing. Cynics will note – correctly – that such willingness to change course suggests a President who lacks grounding in a set of deeply held core beliefs. We typically long for elected leaders who take bold stands and stick to their guns.

Look at the Senate this past week to see how those qualities don’t always work out as planned.

But there is a positive side to having an opportunistic deal maker in the big chair. It means that if you can make your case for your cause – regardless of party or philosophical lines – you might just win an ally.

First with healthcare, and now with Syria, President Trump is showing he’s more pragmatist than ideologue. Will anyone take advantage?





Dumb politics

Last week the Boston Globe quoted me in their story about young conservative activists (despite the fact that it has been more than a decade since I organized campuses for the Leadership Institute). Reporter Dugan Arnett picked just about the perfect quote to sum up our discussion:

“There are always people who are going to say, ‘This is my ticket; I’m going to make sure my campus burns down, I’m going to be on Fox News a bunch, and that’s going to be my path to the spotlight,’ ” says Jim Eltringham, formerly of the Leadership Institute and currently a Republican campaign consultant. “The problem is: That’s a spotlight that burns out quick.”

Our discussion centered on how some campus activists welcomed controversy for controversy’s sake, provoking outrage on purpose to gain attention with little substance behind the actions. It seems like a lesson some in Washington need to learn, too: In a piece on Medium, I argue that there’s a direct link between this type of superficiality and last week’s Republican failure on health care .

Strategic Negativity (or, Why the “Latte Salute” Fizzled)

Moral outrage is the greatest motivating force in politics, according to my former boss Morton Blackwell. When you can stoke passionate disapproval over something your opponent does, you’re on your way to winning an issue.

The problem is that people don’t get mad as hell over everything, so shooting for moral outrage can make you look silly. Last week served up an excellent example of just that when the White House thought it was a good idea to drop a video of President Barack Obama absent-mindedly saluting Marines without putting his coffee cup down.

Military supporters were understandably upset, and conservative commentators decried the President’s seeming indifference to the troops. Their shrill and immediate protests backfired; Jon Stewart and MSNBC mocked the response to such a trivial matter. The story went away within two days. And if you are part of the majority of America that is not steeped in the tradition and customs of the military, you might also wonder why conservatives’ panties were bunched so.

In this case, moral outrage didn’t catch on with the general public.  But outrage isn’t the only way to score points against an opponent. Ridicule works, too.

Jokes about President Obama having mentally checked out from his second term a couple years early are becoming a staple of late night monologues. Left alone, the Latte Salute would have given them another punchline to the same joke. Instead of wringing hands over the President’s salute being disrespectful, why not make fun of him for looking like a guy whose weekend starts at 2 p.m. on a Friday afternoon?

The foundation for the current disapproval of the President stems from issues which do deserve outrage. For starters, people are losing their health insurance or being forced to pay more for less; policies meant to elevate the poor are perpetuating poverty; and our foreign policy is indecisive and poorly informed. It would be easier to mobilize voter unrest on those issues if people have an image of a detached President. Smart jokes about Obama’s careless, tone-deaf salute could have helped paint that picture.

Great meal. Let’s talk about Obamacare.

The Organizing for America/Obama Campaign folks took some ribbing in the past week for their campaign to get people talking about Obamacare around the Thanksgiving table.  OFA provides you talking points on your way home, and you are supposed to convince your Drunk Uncle that Health Insurance is a good thing.

As silly as the campaign is, here’s the really ridiculous part: There’s no engagement of the actual issues people are talking about.  People are seeing their premiums go up, or losing their plans.  The website is broken, and the government knew it was broken.  There is precious little credibility in even the rosiest talking points OFA offers, and there’s no real guide to handling pushback.

OFA’s effort – in as much as it really is an effort and not just an excuse for periodic communication to keep the email list fresh – will fail because they have no idea how to talk to people who disagree with the concept of Obamacare.  And that population seems to get bigger everyday – without a website full of discussion guides.

More Messaging on Health Care

Following up on a previous post on the semantics of the upcoming health care debate, the good folks at Pocket Full of Liberty make a strong point about the best levers to move the issue:

This law is a disaster. And we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. There is this huge opportunity out there for Republicans to once again, show the public how the government tried to do something and failed at it. They can do that a lot better by telling the stories about people who have had to search for new doctors and different healthcare plan…

The case for Obamacare (just like the case for previous attempts to socialize the health care system) was made with highly individual personal stories.  Despite people being satisfied with their own insurance, the weepy tales of a working Mom who couldn’t get insurance for her kids because of a pre-existing condition were fairly convincing.  Hey, if it doesn’t affect my insurance and I can help someone else, why wouldn’t I, right?

Now, the American people are getting less insurance, not more.  They are paying more, not less.  Getting insurance is harder, not easier.  And the supporting facts for these statements are out there – in the form of the people who are getting letters that their insurance policies are being cancelled, or who are waiting in long virtual lines to access a website to buy insurance.

The path to health care reform starts with those stories.

Add this phrase to your arsenal: “Health Care Reform”

…or “Healthcare reform.” Either way, it’s time for center-right voices to stop talking about “Obamacare Repeal” and start talking about “Healthcare Reform.”

The website might as well have been cobbled together on Geocities.  Premiums are going up, and current plans are being cancelled.  Jobs are being downgraded and lost.  The flashpoint of the recent government shutdown was Obamacare, which has many on the conservative side locking and loading for 2014 and 2016 with the hope of repealing the law with a more favorable Senate and White House.

There’s a reason a President was able to get elected and re-elected based on the idea of improving the country’s health care system (even if the actual policy won’t do that): people were generally dissatisfied with the health care system.   They were  very satisfied with their own coverage, but unsatisfied with the system overall (kind of like the old “I hate Congress but love my Congressman” mentality).

So talking about going back to 2008 isn’t going to move voters, no matter how horrible the law is.  It also doesn’t help the GOP emerge from the “Party of No” boulder they keeping getting stuck  behind.

Republicans can win on health care by ditching the talk about “repeal” and carrying the mantle of “reform.”  Costs are high, the program is mismanaged, and people are being forced into inefficient, one-size-fits-all coverage plans.  In other words, health care now is just as ripe for reform as it was in 2008, but the Democrats have had their shot – and it failed.  The Republicans have the opportunity to fix it.

The vision of a better tomorrow resonates a lot better than the image of a slightly better yesterday.

Media bias exposed!

Playing the Julian Assange to Fox News’ Western Civilization, Media Matters intercepted emails that showed media bias at Fox News:

At the height of the health care reform debate last fall, Bill Sammon, Fox News’ controversial Washington managing editor, sent a memo directing his network’s journalists not to use the phrase “public option.”

Instead, Sammon wrote, Fox’s reporters should use “government option” and similar phrases — wording that a top Republican pollster had recommended in order to turn public opinion against the Democrats’ reform efforts.

Sammon suggested various terms, which stressed that the public option would be government-run health insurance – when in reality, the public option would in fact be run by… well, the government.

But the intrepid bias-hunters at Media Matters have a point – words make a difference.  Media Matters’ counterpart on the right, Newsbusters, has taken this on by pointing out that maintaining current tax rates is not an increase in government spending – a misnomer used by CNN and other media outlets.  (As an aside, Republicans have failed miserably in defining the expiration of the “Bush Tax Cuts” as a de facto tax increase.)

While factually accurate, describing the public option as “government health care” does convey a negative connotation.  But maybe the question isn’t in the word choice among Fox News correspondents.  A better question, perhaps, might be posed to the Administration and the President: Why hide the government health care program behind euphemisms?

Now America loves health care reform

In a reversal not seen since Springfield decided they loved the Burlesque House, poll numbers on the health care bill have just about flipped since its passage, with a small edge favoring the bill.

Those numbers will likely go up in the next few months.  Americans are overwhelmingly satisfied with their own health care, and most of the provisions of the health care legislation will roll out slowly over the next decade.   President Obama’s oh-so-Presidential taunts about health care overhaul – calling on Republicans to “look around” in “two months, six months” – are backed up by the fact that very little will happen in that time.

More evidence that “repeal the deal” would be a loser as a political slogan this November.  But what if the slogan was “finish the job”?

Buried in the bill (and this story on CNN) are limitations on Flex Spending Accounts – personal savings accounts people can use to save money for their own health care.  Along with silly items like taxes on tanning beds and regulations on the McDonald’s dollar menu, there are plenty of gaps in the program administered by our new health overlords.  Why not attack those in the name of making people healthier?

Framing real health reform this way is a winner – after all, as the polls show, America loves to back the winning horse.

Diluting the tea

Claims of racial epithets and gay-bashing have diffused the impact of the crowds that descended on the Capitol last weekend.  The images on TV of citizens rallying by the thousands were amazing; the allegations that some of those citizens used ugly, personal, and unintelligent attacks.

Democrats have used the alleged incidents to criticize tea partiers – and it certainly gives them a convenient way to shift the debate away from the massive amounts of people who showed up to oppose a government-mandated reorganization of the health care system.

Far be it from me to say that Democrats are trying to use race to scare people out of siding with their opposition.  But it wouldn’t be the first time.

The real problem here isn’t what racial epithets may or may not have been used.  Anyone who has worked in legitimate Republican and conservative circles knows that racists tend to be booted out as soon as they are discovered.  The racial arsonists of the left start enough fires on their own, they don’t need any kerosene.