As we’ve discussed in the past, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com has proven himself to be a political prognosticator of extraordinary skills since his debut on the scene. This may only come in second to his abilities in scoring major league baseball. Of course, when he wanders off into other areas, such as global warming, his platform as an analyst can go a bit pear shaped, but we shouldn’t hold that against him. That’s why I was looking forward to reading his analysis of how Democrats have been flunking the health care sales pitch.
I’d like to take a look at this article with you today mostly because of the amazing approach it takes to this contentious subject. Nate lays out a five point plan which seems to not be designed to explain why the Democrat’s so called “public option” plan is good, but rather ways to trick people into ignoring all the flaws and backing it anyway. This incredible scheme is pretty much the same as trying to sell a used car which you know is a lemon, but rather than fixing the car up so somebody might actually want it, you figure out a better way to write up your classified ad to find a sucker.
Nate begins by noting that, despite optimistic efforts at cheerleading in various places, including right here at TMV, a solid majority of Americans now oppose the expected direction of the Democrats’ plan for health care reform, while supporters hover in the low 40’s. He then moves on to the specifics of his five point sales plan.
1. Voters need to hear clearly what changes health care reform will bring. Never losing health insurance when you lose a job or get sick, power shifted from insurance companies to people, reduced costs for you and your family, business and country.
I don’t understand this particular complaint, because it seems as if I’ve heard nothing but the trumpeting of how all these wonderful changes will come to pass. What’s been lacking is a lucid explanation of exactly who is going to pay for it, how that will be accomplished, and what the long term effects on the economy and various industries will be.
2. Build a narrative around taking power away from the insurance companies and giving it to people.
There’s been some of this from rank-and-file Democrats, but very little from Obama, who seems strangely resistant to populist rhetoric. I’d thought, frankly, this was one of the real advantages that Democrats had going into the legislative process: big business is very unpopular because of the economic collapse, and there might even have been some way to parlay negative sentiments about AIG — an insurance company — into skepticism about the motivations of insurers in general.
My hat is off to Nate on that one, if only for the blatant honesty. If you want to sell a destructive plan like this which a majority of Americans have already caught on to, you need to employ “populist rhetoric” and “build a narrative” which will get people angry at one of the few profitable, successful industries we have left and convince voters to want to punish them. That’s a heck of a plan.
3. The president and reform advocates have to explain concretely the changes that will mean lower costs.
There’s been a lot of assertion of this, but then, there’s that key modifier, “concretely”. And the Democrats don’t seem to be winning this argument. I know the Rasmussen polls have been pretty bearish on health care reform (and most other Democratic initiatives) in general, but their numbers on cost control are especially poor — only 23 percent expect the cost of health care to go down under the Democratic proposals, versus 53 percent who expect it to go up.
And I wonder why a majority of people feel that way? Maybe because experts in the industry have repeatedly told us that it will eventually lead to higher costs and reduced availability of care? That will be a good trick selling that one, Nate.
4. Show all voters and seniors that there are benefits for them, including prescription drugs.
This probably has to count as another failure. Plans for health care reform are not very popular with seniors. Obama has talked in passing about closing the Medicare Part D “donut hole”, but it hasn’t been a central focus of the debate, nor is it clear if this will be addressed in whatever bill ultimately comes out of Congress. Having some kind of “prize” to show to seniors could be a big help.
Translation: For God’s sake, stop the plebes from wondering what this is all going to cost and dangle something shiny in front of the seniors who vote in the highest per capita bracket. If we festoon the tree with some sparkly items, they may still go for it.
5. All of these points should be made with the dominant framework that continuing the status quo is unacceptable and unsustainable.
This is the argument we’ve heard most frequently from Democrats and one that they’re probably winning. Indeed, all the Republican talk about the need for “bipartisan” reform somewhat reinforces this point: there are very few people will to go on record describing the status quo as acceptable.
This is one point where Nate hits it out of the park, while probably not intending to do so. He mentions that there is a very solid majority who want something done, but that the Republicans have failed to craft complete legislation in a responsible fashion to counter the Democrats’ self-immolating march to the sea. I’ve complained about that here myself in the past. Enough information is being provided right now to get a substantial number of Americans very concerned about the economy crushing plans currently being pushed by the Democrats, but if you want to win the long battle, you have to offer them something better.
All in all, I would suggest that people who are concerned about our current trajectory towards a very high cliff under the Democratic majority’s leadership on domestic issues read Nate’s article and keep your ears open. This sounds like exactly the approach which will be taken to try to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes on this important issue. And remember… it doesn’t matter who wins big in the 2010 elections. Once the money is gone, it’s gone. And no waving of wands or stuffing rabbits back into hats will make it return. And further, once a government entitlement program is summoned into existence, it never, ever goes away. January of 2011 will be too late to start looking for paddles in the middle of crap creek.