Finding The Target
As I said in the last post, astroturf groups are going to be out in force in August, creating mini-Brooks Brothers riots all over the country, harassing members of Congress, doing whatever they can to be the squeakiest wheel in the hopes of drowning out support for health care reform. So how will Democrats respond?
With polls suggesting that public support is sagging for President Obama's push to overhaul health care, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the party will use the August break to make a strong sales pitch to middle-class voters.
"We're going to be on the air. We're going to be in the neighborhoods," said Hoyer, D-Md. "Our members are going to now have the opportunity to go home ... and say to their constituents, 'Look, this is what we're doing. This is why it's good for you and your family.' " [...]
A House Democratic memo obtained by USA TODAY shows the steps the party is taking to coordinate its message over the break. Lawmakers are encouraged to hold town-hall-style meetings, post videos on the Internet and find small-business owners "whose testimony can provide a powerful narrative," the memo states.
And it looks like Democrats have settled on a message, one that I guess works as well as any other - bash the hell out of insurance companies.
"Remove them from between you and your doctor. No discrimination for pre-existing conditions. No dropping your coverage because you get sick. No more job or life decisions made based on loss of coverage. No need to change doctors or plans. No co-pays for preventive care. No excessive out-of-pocket expenses, deductibles, or co-pays. No yearly or lifetime cost caps on what insurance companies cover."
According to the memo, they've coordinated this strategy with the Obama administration and a number of sympathetic groups. "The Leadership is working in close coordination with the White House and outside groups (including but not limited to HCAN, Families USA, AFSCME, SEIU, AARP, etc.) to ensure complementary efforts during August."
Those groups have literally hundreds if not thousands of events planned in August, and they're digging in against opponents of reform, Republican or Democrats. You already hear the fruits of this rhetorical shift, from health care reform to health insurance reform. Nancy Pelosi called insurance companies "the villains" in this debate. The President has also shifted the debate toward insurers versus consumers, a "people versus the powerful" maneuver.
President Obama has framed the health-care debate in Washington as a campaign against insurance companies whose irresponsible actions, he repeatedly says, must be reined in to control costs and improve patient care. In North Carolina this week, he told an audience that the existing system "works well for the insurance industry, but it doesn't always work well for you."
The message is no accident, as the president's chief pollster made clear in a rare public speech last month. Joel Benenson told the Economic Club of Canada that extensive polling revealed to the White House what many there had guessed: People hate insurance companies.
"Take the public plan, for example," Benenson said. "Initial reaction to it wasn't as positive as it is now. . . . But we figured out that people like the idea of competition versus the insurance company, and that's why you get a number like 72 percent supporting it."
Hitting insurance companies must poll off the charts. And it's certainly better than having to discuss the intracacies of the employer deduction or MedPAC. Obama said in his interview with Karen Tumulty that he's struggled with relating the urgency of reform to the public in clear, simple terms. He's decided to go with a battle with the insurance industry, something that appeals to both the base and has resonance for most people. It's probably the right choice, even if it is shorthand. Scaling back and targeting the rhetoric can actually move forward the policy.
Obviously we have to keep this up for the next month.