Tuesday, October 22, 2013

IT’S THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT: NOT “OBAMACARE”



CALLING THIS LANDMARK LEGISLATION BY SUCH A

DERISIVE TERM ONLY CLOUDS THE ISSUE


TAGS: AFFORDABLE CARE ACT 2009, ACA UPHELD BY SUPREME COURT,

MESSAGE DISCIPLINE, DEFINING THE DEBATE, PRESIDENT OBAMA’S

SIGNATURE LEGISLATIVE ACT, GOP OPPONENTS MUDDY THE WATERS,

“OBAMACARE” IS A DERISIVE, DISMISSIVE LABEL








(Tuesday October 22, 2013 Washington, DC)  For all the swanky techno sophistication the candidate Obama employed during his first run for office you would think he would be better at utilizing two of the tools that propelled him from the obscurity of a freshman senator from Illinois with no national name recognition, through a brutal primary against the once towering Clinton Machine and ultimately into the White House; messaging and marketing.  With a legion of computer geeks and nerdy volunteers the Obama campaign in 2008 capitalized on the growing array of “social networking” and Internet based social media to construct a formidable grassroots “ground game” and a broad coalition comprised of various demographics. 

Given his success as a persuasive candidate able to attract followers with lofty often hyperbolic rhetoric as well as by rigid adherence to a handful of proposed policy initiatives developed by his “Chicago Operatives”, it has been more than disappointing to see how he has been unable to govern with any real effectiveness despite two landslide victories.  Some argue that he has proven to be unsuited for his current office; others say his cool, aloof demeanor and reputation represents a deeper disdain for retail politicking and cajoling Congress; two essential duties of any president operating with a divided government.

Designating himself as an agent of change in 2008 he has now become, just a year into his second term, a president uninterested in the nuts and bolts of the legislative process, turned off by the “business as usual” attitude in an extremely partisan time with no appetite for the mechanics of the two party system that has allowed our government to at least run with some modicum of consistency for 236 years.  Sure, the ride has often been rough, the roads traveled rutted and pitted but still the trips were completed and life went on.  For most of the most divisive debates in Congress it has appeared that the president has not even wanted to get in the car let alone take the wheel.  Quite the contrary.  He still has three more years to right some of his wrongs and recalibrate his internal compass. 

MARKETING AND MESSAGE

It is a well-known axiom in public relations that he who defines the debate will usually win it.  Since our electoral politics have morphed into a hybrid form of PR and marketing this axiom is even more relevant. One of the most damaging errors the Obama administration has made may seem trivial to some but, from a messaging perspective, it was a huge blunder.  The presiden and his staff should never have allowed the term “Obamacare” to become the label assigned to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by the Republicans, right wing zealots, Tea Partiers, and the conservative establishment.  It is one matter when your opponents utilize demeaning, misleading and trivializing terminology for a piece of legislation or an initiative; it is a completely different matter when proponents use it as well.

Back when Ronald Reagan was running for president in 1980, he had a tough primary with George H.W. Bush also known now as Bush I.  Bush I repeatedly used the terms “Voodoo Economics”, “Reaganomics” and “Trickle-down Economics” to disparage what he saw as unsound positions posited by his opponent.  Bush I hammered Reagan with these terms and journalists and pundits alike came to use these derisive terms regularly.  One thing that did not happen was that Ronald Reagan himself nor did any of his advisors, operatives or inner circle ever utter any one of those phrases in public.  To have done so would have been to lower his campaign and his economic message (no matter how unsound it actually was and proved to be) to nothing more than some bickering over slogans.  George H.W. Bush went on to serve as President Reagan’s Vice President from 1980 thru 1988.  Some close to Reagan have written that Reagan never fully forgave Bush for calling his economic plan Voodoo or Trickle-down economics or Reaganomics.  Reagan’s campaign was so tautly disciplined and well run that it ushered in the new era of politicking that we have seen so negatively affect our electoral process.  Some point to the Republican operative Lee Atwater as the founder of the “slash and burn” tactics used so flagrantly in campaigns today.  The use of sophisticated polling, focus groups and other quantifying metrics are as much a vital component of modern campaigns that candidates who cannot afford the services of “professionals” in public relations, advertising, polling, marketing, crisis management, media consultants and a host of other sub-specialties do not stand a chance especially if they are hoping to unseat an incumbent or break out of the pack of a Party primary.

Bill Clinton used many of the strategies and tactics first employed by the GOP, et al and was infamous for his dependence on and faith in polling.  As his personal campaign pollster, Dick Morris has oft said, Bill Clinton would commission polls at the drop of a hat; there was no issue or topic that Clinton did not first want to be poll tested.  His successor, George W. Bush and his campaign refined all the previously utilized methods in his campaigns.

Political professionals are almost as abundant in Washington DC today that their numbers are topped only by the legions of lobbyists, political action committees (PACs) and special interest consultants, advisers and lawyers.  Campaigning today on the national level most particularly, but also in Congressional and Governors races is an industry.  It is a dirty filthy industry fueled by outright lies, deception and all manner of sleight of hand tricks.  That is why message discipline, staying “on point”, as they say is so important.  President Obama should have never even once referred to his single most ambitious, defining piece of legislation by his enemies’ term.  Now, “Obamacare” is so embedded in our public discourse that it has reduced the scale and scope of the ACA to the status of a cheap bumper sticker mockery of its true value as a signature legislative victory for this President.

THE DANGERS OF REDUCTIONISM

When we allow vitally important matters of broad public interest to be reduced to just so many clich├ęs’ and sophomoric slogans we are playing in to the hands of the politicos and their operatives who count on a “dumb” electorate.  As one of the oldest Democratic Republics on earth, the United States of America has come in to the 21st century complacent, cynical, and distrusting of all politicians.  As well we should.  However, as fewer and fewer among us take it as a responsibility to become informed voters with some deeper familiarity with the issues of the day aside from the crap we are exposed to on the extreme ends of the political spectrum in the partisan infotainment media, we will see our needs and interests fade further into the quagmire of Washington DC.  We have already become disengaged from our Congressional delegations and we have allowed enormous wealth of a few individuals hold huge sway over electoral politics as well as actual governance.  This is a distinctly unhealthy state of affairs and to have the American people re-engage with the important issues will be a difficult undertaking. 

We seem to think in very black and white terms when it comes to our politics as Americans.  This is clearly reflected in the divided gridlocked condition of Congress.  So rabidly partisan has the process become that those elected to the highest offices in the land no longer even pretend to have our best interest in mind; they no longer make the most timid efforts to conceal their disregard not only for the Constitution but also their constituents.  Voters have been reduced to hardcore blocs on the far Left and far Right with those who identify as moderates or centrists basically an extinct breed. 

Sadly we have become a nation divided, divided by radical ideology on both sides of the aisle that prohibits accommodation and compromise each of which are requisites for effective governance.    As at no other time in our history have the decks of power been so stacked; our representative government has devolved into nothing more than the white collar equivalent of professional wrestling.  The only difference between the antics of spandex clad buffoons in contrived wrestling matches and politicians is that politicians wear expensive suits. 

IT’S THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT, STUPID

During Bill Clinton’s first presidential run his campaign was famous for having an operational “War Room”.  The mission of the war room was to counterpunch every attack, negative ad or embarrassing revelation that came their way.  They were also famous for strict adherence to a simple message that was coined by the Democratic serpent-like looking campaign guru James Carville.  The war room was plastered with signs that read, “It’s the economy, stupid”.  This was intended to constantly remind everyone involved that no matter what his primary opponents or his ultimate rival, the incumbent President Bush I threw at them, their most effective rejoinder was to always deftly tact away from the superficial issues, innuendo and rumors by turning to “focus like a laser beam on the economy”. That message discipline allowed a very flawed and damaged Arkansas governor to unseat and incumbent president who just months before the election had a whopping 97% approval rating due in large part for the success of the first Gulf War. Had the Clinton campaign not defined the real issue, he would most likely have been soundly defeated.

The Obama Administration, their allies and proxies, should completely abandon the use of the term “Obamacare” and always call it by its real name, the Affordable Care Act. In a time when media and message are everything the President needs to be far more disciplined in his message and far less aloof in talking it up. The ACA passed in 2009, was brutally attacked and ridiculed during the 2012 campaign as “socialized medicine”, “government run health care” and as an Act of government that would undermine the profitability of “small businesses” and saddle people with a severe tax penalty if they failed to purchase some form of health care insurance which was easily labeled as “the individual mandate”. The US Supreme Court upheld some of the most hotly contested components of the ACA and still the rancorous partisan gutter fighting continues.  Since message is everything the debate that began when the ACA was winding a serpentine route through Congress every misrepresentation of it and its specific clauses should have been corrected by the Administration.

RHETORIC AND REALITY
  
At the end of the debate when all the tired arguments have proven to be gross misconceptions promulgated by the GOP and her bombastic media machine in the form of Rush Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly and the rest of FOX “News”,there will be a system up and running that will allow some people who have lived for years without access to health care to have that reality profoundly altered.  The Democratic Party has on again, off again, since the post-depression days of FDR tried to provide some form of government regulated health care.  Republicans, on the other hand, have fought each and every such initiative savagely often appealing to the basest instincts of their Party’s members.  They speak incessantly now of working to “repeal” the ACA when they must also realize deep inside that to promote such an appeal is a bogus argument.  To repeal a law it requires a 60% vote from Congress as well as a signature from the President to make it official.  Anyone who believes President Obama would actually repeal his own signature accomplishment probably needs quality mental health care urgently.  Its health care, the ACA, stupid. 






















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