Relax…this will not be more about the Health Care Bills now in Congress, which have been sliced, diced, vetted, digested, regurgitated, and pretty much beaten to death. Well, maybe not “death” as they lurch toward a final showdown. This is an attempt to understand why Americans – according to a variety of polls – now oppose health care reform, even as many dislike their present medical insurance, or more importantly, lack thereof.
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Right off, I can guarantee you that their opposition is absolutely, positively not because they object to what is in the Senate and/or House bills now struggling through Congress. How can I make such a guarantee? Easy. First literally no one who is against these bills has ever even read them. Further, there really is no “bill” to be against, at least as this is written. So, opposing a bill that does not exist, and has not been read leads me to other conclusions as to why Americans are so adamant about seeing health care as long discussed, defeated. Here are some reasons.
The Republican/Lobbying machine
Having been in the advertising/public relations business for 45 years, I have observed that the Republicans have become masters at political-speak and PR techniques. They are united to the point of being scary. No one departs from message without warning. They stay on message, when they are in front of cameras, their message(s) are repeated almost verbatim; and they repeat the message with frequency. But in this debate, they have teamed with a powerful ally: the pharma/medical insurance lobby. This team has bombarded the public with a systematic series of messages wrapped with dire warnings and messages of doom. While the Republicans hold down the media fortress in Washington, the lobbyists have broadcast that message through insidious techniques ranging from major media (especially the right wing talking heads)…to the internet…to town hall meetings and demonstrations. The bottom line is – they have scared the hell out of the American public. Given that, who would not oppose the bills now in process?
Opposing is easier than proposing
Opposing anything in any arena is always much easier than proposing or defending. Why? Because usually you can “oppose” with some simple single messages. Proposing ideas and defending them may have many moving parts. It is more complicated, harder to explain, takes longer than most folks’ patience. Today’s TV 10-second sound bites exacerbate that issue (i.e. “this bill is a train wreck”). Moreover, there is a maxim in PR that states, when you defend an attack, you are ultimately forced to repeat the accusation – thus giving it a subsequent exposure. Consequently, those who oppose health care reform are on the high ground of the battlefield (though it is likely the moral low ground). Worse yet, for those who are attempting reform, the details and working parts are extraordinarily complex (about 2000 pages of complexity, in fact). And, they are always back on their heels defending, rather than using their time for the positive messages. Additionally, those who oppose reform can use that complexity as a weapon, and they have. They do it by making outrageous statements – many untrue – about what is in the bill(s). Who is going to prove them wrong? The weak voices of those who actually know they are wrong (possibly dishonest in their allegations) are no match for the strident obfuscation of the opposers. Big advantage.
Harry Reid and the Democrats
Harry Reid has done an incredibly masterful job at cobbling together a bill that melds the desires of 60 ego-centric Senators into something that actually got passed (so far). Having said that he is one of the worst speakers I have ever seen in a position of Senate Leader. Dull, halting, tired (I can see why), uninspiring, and … well you get the point. Unfortunately, he is the point person, the spokesperson, the media front for those drafting health care reform. Moreover, the Dems have lost their more articulate spokesperson: Ted Kennedy, while Obama has stayed largely on the sidelines. And who is Reid leading? The Democrats: an unruly, mixed message, independent-minded, rabble of men and women with a huge range of agendas, and a political spectrum from very conservative (Ben Nelson) to near Socialist (Independent, Bernie Sanders). No wonder the public is confused. As Will Rogers said: “I belong to no organized political party, I am a Democrat”. Clever and true, but not easy to manage or sell, when you are trying to introduce legislation that is the most massive and complex since Social Security or Medicare.
While I deny the polls on health care reform are legitimate, I do believe the polls showing Americans’ dislike and distrust of Congress are true and accurate. Why not? There is frequent evidence of corruption. There is the undue influence of the lobbyists, previously noted. There is the ego-centrism that often leads those elected to care more about re-election than serving the people. There is the obscene use of the filibuster, contrary to anything intended in the Constitution, essentially freezing the Senate. Then there is the disingenuousness among the members; I have seen enough crocodile tears shed in the past month or so to fill the Nile. And even though the Republicans are part of the problem and equally culpable in their egregious behavior, they still can use the dislike and distrust of Congress to their advantage. Thus, they can tell the American people “do not trust these people to reshape your medical future, they will screw you”! Or, as Pogo once so famously said: “We have met the enemy…and it us”!
So…is it true?
Do Americans really oppose health care reform as it is being written into the current Senate and/or House bills now before Congress? Are the polls an accurate reflection of American opinions on the reforms proposed? I don’t think so — what they oppose is what they have heard is contained in those bills. What they oppose are the fears engendered by those who are trying to kill the bills, with wild claims about various government control … destruction of Medicare … Death Panels … pulling the plug on grandma (heck even I oppose that since I am a grandfather) … and the other stuff and junk that so easily riles them up or scares them. One thing I have learned in 45 years of advertising: perception is often stronger than reality – and those who oppose health care reform have used that maxim to the fullest. On balance, like Social Security and Medicare, if there ever is true health care reform in America, I trust it will be embraced with the same fervor that those two embedded programs now enjoy – and that will be the ultimate poll.