Lots of people have tried and failed, so let’s start right off acknowledging how difficult reforming the health care system in America is – either from the Left or the Right. But in this particular case, it’s worth looking at what’s bogging it down. While there are many issues, as a media blogger, I’ve been looking closely at how it’s been pitched in the media and here are my thoughts from a strategy & perception perspective. Pay attention, because this might help the next time you have to pitch a big project:
1. I agree with Democratic strategists who are saying that President Obama’s abstract arguments are a big problem. As the Los Angeles Times reported, his explanations keep changing, so people simply have trouble trusting what he says. On the other side, conservative columnist Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week that “Every big idea that works is marked by simplicity, by clarity.” In pitching a major project in the media, it has to be simple to understand. People understand Social Security, Medicare, and Welfare. But they don’t get words like “public option,” “single-payer system,” or “insurance marketplace exchange.” Make it something people can comprehend.
2. The White House and Congress have drawn unnecessary battle lines. Nancy Pelosi called concerned citizens at Town Hall Meetings “un-American.” (What’s more American than disagreement?) Others called protesters “Nazis” or “puppets of the insurance industry,” and even the President himself has shown a rather condescending tone when describing those who don’t agree with his position. Health Care reform is a concern for everyone, and is a challenge for all Americans. In cases like this, demonizing the opposition only builds support for the other side. Especially when poll numbers are against you (as they are right now), you shouldn’t be calling the other side (the majority right now) names. Years ago, the religious right was often guilty of this, but I think they’re finally learning.
3. A poor defense. White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod accused people from the Town Hall meetings of “Spreading lies and distortions.” But have you noticed the number of Town Hall meetings where the citizens had actually read the proposed legislation and the politician sent to defend it hadn’t? Even President Obama has had a few miscues in this public speeches. Before you try defending something in public, get the facts straight.
4. Don’t forget the power of perception. Remember the firstname.lastname@example.org email address? Supposedly it was to report inaccurate information about the health care plan. Maybe. But far too many saw it as a Orwellian tool to report on our neighbors we don’t agree with. In a media-driven culture, perception matters.
5. “Rushing things through” makes people nervous. The plan to rush it may have sounded like a good strategy on Capitol Hill, but to the public, it looks like you’re pulling one over on people.
This particular issue isn’t about Left or Right. It’s about the strategy behind making this plan happen. If you respond to this post, please respond about good or bad strategy, not get into arguments either for or against the plan. I’d love to know your ideas – could it have been presented better? What do you think?