On the Affordable Care Act, the media, and crying wolf


A night or two ago CBS Evening News did what news reports always seem to do: in order to capsulize the latest crisis, they had short interviews with two women in Virginia after Tuesdays election. The unsuccessful candidate for Governor had made Obamacare the prime issue, and while he lost, the margin was less than predicted.

It was a referendum on Obamacare, so went the story.

One of the women hadn’t voted for Obama and didn’t like Obamacare, but had changed her mind when she found out how much she’d benefit by getting into the program. She was a working woman with a small day care business, best I recall.

The other woman was a businesswoman, apparently more prosperous, who was upset that Obamacare would cost her more in premium than the plan she carried.

I’m not sure what the CBS news team was asking me and others to conclude…. For me it made sense: we are an individualistic society, marking wins and losses from our personal perspective.

Yesterday, all the rage was President Obama himself apologizing for something he had said at the time the program was rolled out that was (depending on the report) a lie, dishonest, a mistake only in that the people who had to give up their insurance had substandard policies.)

Of course, then the apology was critiqued. It is all so very American. We lurch from one news report to the next. In perhaps a minute or at the most two we are given the definitive answer to complex problems. And usually we get the news from only the news source that verifies our own bias. I always like the after-report digest of Just Above Sunset, and last nights issue was pretty interesting. You can read Apologies of the Day here.

It is no wonder that we wander around confused about things.

By accident more than design I spent much of my work career as an organizer of people. Since President Obama has been labeled by the hate words “community organizer”, I feel somewhat in company with him.

I did what he did (and you don’t get over ‘organizing’ – it becomes engrained).

Over many years, often by trial and error, I came to understand certain common sense principles about organizing around an issue.

A couple of these come to mind specifically, especially around “Obamacare” (I prefer Obamacares):

1. As I understand the situation, the final deadline for people to enroll under the Affordable Care Act is March 1, 2014. This is about four months in the future. For most of us, that is Light Years away. Adding to this the fact that people tend to procrastinate for all sorts of reasons, the temporary bonanza of the computer botched rollout of the insurance plan will be hard to leverage for political advantage four months from now. (I’ll grant that serious mistakes were made in the testing, etc., of a gigantic new system, but blaming Obama personally, or Sebelius, only goes so far. It was, best I know, a private company that was the subcontractor….)

2. The other principle that comes to mind with this issue is one of the absolute rules of organizing: “don’t peak too soon!” (or “too late”). If you had the perfect organizing plan but you peaked two weeks before the election, you risked losing. You wanted to peak at the last moment before the election, not three days before, or the day after. Of course, there are infinite variables in this business of “peaking”, but the wise strategist tries to factor in these variables. In this case, the “peak” will be in the 2014 election, a year from now. Many, many light years away. And don’t even ask about 2016. And remember Obama won’t be running for reelection then.

There are many other similar organizing principles that could be identified. Those two are enough for now.

But on we will continue to go. For the news media, “peaking” means in time for their main news program…every day.

But is hard to stay peaked for very long – we all know this from our own personal experience. And remember the “cry wolf” parable. It applies.