Selling Health Care Reform Obama-Style

Welcome back
Well how did you like the opening episode of Mad Men, Season 3? As usual Matt Weiner had an incredible eye for not only the look and feel of the early 60s [how would I know right?] but he can say more with no dialogue than any other show on television.

As promised I was up early Monday morning to be on the CBC Radio Show, The Current, along with Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay and ex-liberal MP Carolyn Parish. We were exploring why Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and his party are still trailing Stephen Harper and the Conservatives by 2% in the polls.

Check it out to see how we did:


The Selling of Health Care Reform

As with all of you I've been watching how the health care reform legislation is being
'debated' in town halls by Senators, Congressmen and the President himself. Without arguing the actual issue, here are five factors which are working against Mr. Obama:

1. The political zeitgeist has shifted in the past six months - from 'quick throw all the money you can at our problems now and it will help kick-start the economy' to 'hey, who's going to pay for all this?" That's a very different question which an extra trillion dollars added onto the debt doesn't seem to address.[I mentioned this in the above interview.]

2. The key principle of persuasion is 'sell the problem before you sell the solution." It sounds like 70% of the American public are not convinced they have a problem with their health care - at least not enough to embrace the sweep of the proposed changes.

3. In public discourse, heat always cancels out 'light'. Mr. Obama is spending as much time clarifying the distortions and allegations as he is promoting the benefits of change to those who already have insurance. Talk radio and cable news love these angry, heated exchanges - amplifying the noise level so that clear messages aren't getting through.

4. Be careful about changing horses in mid-stream. The Obama Administration is starting to waffle on 'the public option' - signaling that he's ready to throw in the towel on government insurance and replacing it with 'co-operatives'. Hhmm...this could serve to divide supporters and embolden the critics, who now figure, "if we keep hammering away, maybe he'll drop the whole thing."

5. Town halls are the worst of the available vehicles to discuss 'risk' issues
in which emotions are high and facts are cloudy. Other forms of public consultations - such as facilitated meetings, kiosks set up at information nights etc. are more preferable, but the President can't tell Senators how to consult their own people.

6. The well-financed forces are pushing back hard with extensive television advertising. Only now are we seeing the Administration and its supporters fighting back. Is it all too late?

7. From all accounts, it did not develop as a bi-partisan initiative, so there is no vested stakes to support it by Republicans or independents. As well, rather than proceed on a piece-meal basis, he served up the largest change he could possible deliver - risking his political capital in a must-win issue. Change is almost always accepted on a gradual basis, rather than an all-at-once change of these proportions.

The result is, that it's no longer about health care; it's now a heated debate about foundational values, such as 'freedom', 'government control of our lives'. If President Obama is going to regain control of the issue, he is going to have to cool out the rhetoric and calmly focus on how everyday Americans will benefit from this reform initiative.

Hey, whaddya say - maybe President Obama needs to chill in Chilmark? Then he can come back and see how he can move it forward.

If you've seen any of those wild town hall meetings and wondered how you would handle it, here's a great piece by John Baldoni on how to speak to an unruly crowd. Check it out:


Until next time!

P.S. With this posting we say good-bye to our executive assistant, Jessica Jolliffe, who is joining the federal government. We will miss her in her career journey but we wish her good fortune!

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