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This is going to be rather brief.  George Lakoff, who can be somewhat obscure at times, has hit it out of the park with a cogent analysis of how the Obama Administration completely screwed up both the messaging and the substance of Health Care Reform.

Within Fair Use rules I'll quote directly from the essay, but I strongly urge you to read the entire piece here on Truthout.

Follow me over the fold for some big ideas about how this disaster might be saved ...

Most would agree with Lakoff when he leads off with ...

   Barack Obama ran the best-organized and best-framed presidential campaign in history. How is it possible that the same people who did so well in the campaign have done so badly on health care?

First of all, the folks running the WH and legislative strategy (e.g. Rahm Emmanuel, Peter Orszag, etc.) are not the same folks who ran the campaign.  Be that as it may there are still plenty of people who were on the campaign and should have seen this one coming a mile away ...

The answer is simple and unfortunate: The president put both the conceptual framing and the messaging for his health care plan in the hands of policy wonks. This led to twin disasters.

The idea that the messaging a plan to tackle the single largest segment of the American economy ($2.5T / 16% of GDP) and the one thing that impacts 300M Americans (their health) personally would be left in the hands of "policy wonks" is disturbing in the extreme ...

   The Policy-List Disaster

   The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

   Howard Dean was right when he said that you can't get health care reform without a public alternative to the insurance companies. Institutions matter. The list of what needs reform makes sense under one conceptual umbrella. It is a public alternative that unifies the long list of needed reforms: coverage for the uninsured, cost control, no preconditions, no denial of care, keeping care when you change jobs or get sick, equal treatment for women, exorbitant deductibles, no lifetime caps, and on and on. It's a long list. But one idea, properly articulated, takes care of the list: An American Plan guarantees affordable care for all Americans. Simple. But not for policy wonks.

Lakoff has hit the nail on the head with his observation that we can't look at health or health care through lens of reductionism.  The simple idea that the WHOLE IS GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS is at the crux of the issue.  Human health, which is of course connected to community health, which is linked to ecosystem health, which falls within the global bioshpere is only understood as part of a complex system with emergent properties

This is something very hard for legislators, hill staffers, and WH policy wonks to understand ...

In classical logic, Leibniz's Law takes an entity as being just a collection of properties. As if you were no more than eyes, legs, arms, and so on, taken separately. Without a public institution turning a unifying idea into a powerful reality, health care becomes just a collection of reforms to be attacked, undermined and gotten around year after year.

... and leads to an over reliance on the idea that everything can be boiled down (reduced) to a list of policy proposals and facts ...

  Policy Speak is the principle behind the president's new Reality Check web site. To my knowledge, the Reality Check web site, has not had a reality check. That is, the administration has not hired a first-class cognitive psychologist to take subjects who have been convinced by right-wing myths and lies, have them read the Reality Check web site, and see if the Reality Check web site has changed their minds a couple of days or a week later. I have my doubts, but do the test.

Lakoff reinforces just how silly this kind of approach is by making the oft-repeated, but frequently ignored, argument that the view of "human reason and language behind Policy Speak is just false."

So now the question is what to do.  In this Lakoff has some simple prescriptions including a new narrative ... "Insurance company plans have failed to care for our people. They profit from denying care. Americans care about one another. An American plan is both the moral and practical alternative to provide care for our people."  

And here is the money shot, a new name ...

The American Plan.

Health care is a patriotic issue. It is what your countrymen are engaged in because Americans care about each other. The right wing understands this well. It's got conservative veterans at town hall meeting shouting things like, "I fought for this country in Vietnam and I'll fight for it here." Progressives should be stressing the patriotic nature of having our nation guaranteeing care for our people.

He also stresses that we can use some very activating words and ideas ...

A Health Care Emergency.

Doctor-Patient Care.

Coverage Is Not Care.

Insurance Companies Deny You Care.

Insurance Company Profit-Based Plans.

Private Taxation.

Doctors Care; Insurance Companies Don't.

Insurance Company Bureaucrats.

Insurance Companies Ration Care.

Insurance Companies Are Inefficient and Wasteful.

Insurance Companies Govern Your Lives.

Let's hope it not too late for Health Care but we need to learn and use this kind of language as we turn our attention to the looming battles (cap-and-trade, education, etc.) on the horizon.

It's always better late than never.

Originally posted to hegemony57 on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 09:33 AM PDT.


Grade the Obama Administrtation on Messaging Health Care

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30%41 votes

| 134 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  with all the creatives in the party (3+ / 0-)

    I am always amazed that we miss these marks.

  •  Just noticed that TomP published a diary on the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    same topic right here.

    No quarter. No surrender.

    by hegemony57 on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 09:41:46 AM PDT

  •  asdf (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Garrett, hegemony57

    Lakoff also posted the article here on dKos yesterday.

    Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

    by Simplify on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 09:42:37 AM PDT

  •  I found that piece dull and adolescent (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cardinal, polticoscott

    As for language, the term "public option" is boring. Yes, it is public, and yes, it is an option, but it does not get to the moral and inspiring idea. Call it the American Plan, because that's what it really is.

    The American Plan?  Why not the Patriot Plan?  The Wrapped Up In A Great Big Flag Plan?

    It's strange that we blame the underdog for not winning easily a fight that we knew was going to be tough: going up against the insurance industry and their hacks, the dishonest media and wishy-washy Democrats in Congress.

    The "What went wrong?" theme as played by Lakoff, Howard Fineman and William Greider is more than slightly out of tune.

    •  So do you think they are doing a good job (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      communicating with Americans?  And why are they playing around with dropping the public option?  Why was single-payer off the table from the start?

      No quarter. No surrender.

      by hegemony57 on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 09:51:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  B+ (0+ / 0-)

        Single-payer would essentially wipe out an entire industry-- we haven't done that since we did it to the booze industry during Prohibition.  It wasn't part of Obama's campaign, and it's like wishing for the defense budget to be cut from 21% to 10% of the budget.  It just won't happen, not in this America.

        I disagree that they are "playing around with dropping the public option."  I think they want a strong bill to pass that either includes it or something similar to it but Obama knows better than just about anyone the divide between the Executive branch and the Legislative.

        This "they got caught flat-footed" meme or theme is misguided.  I would like one Kossack-- one single brilliant person here-- to say, "I predicted they would be saying Obama is Hitler, he'll have death panels, he'll be forcing people to have sex changes and abortions, and people will be carrying rifles at town halls."

        Who could have prepared for that?  The fact is, Obama and his team are handling the unexpected quite well, which is really what the presidency is about, adjusting to crises and surprises.

        Sorry, I'm just frustrated that, while they hold actual guns at town halls, we turn the proverbial gun on ourselves by going after our own.

        It's not Obama's fault America has a lot of idiots.

        Again, sorry.  Upset.

        •  Wow. I thought the America has a lot of idiots (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          meme was dead and buried.  That's what lost us tons of elections in the past and will be death of good progressive legislation in the future.  I spent the past 2+ years in DC working on progressive campaigns and I can tell you from first hand experience the DC bubble is real and it is POTENT.

          The admin has fallen prey to beltway thinking and powers and needs a real self re-assessment if they want to pass strong progressive legislation in the next 3 years.

          No quarter. No surrender.

          by hegemony57 on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 10:05:54 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's not a good campaign message obviously (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            but it's a good thing to keep in mind when it comes to passing legislation.  Just look at the polls.  You can get a large percentage of the population to believe anything.

            I think liberals are making too much of what an "anonymous senior White House adviser" said.  Some of Obama's "beltway thinking" is just facing the reality that he's dealing with inside the beltway people.  It's a long way from a "Yes We Can!" rally to a behind-closed-doors, arm-twisting, jargon-heavy negotiation battle with a Blue Dog or Max Baucus.

        •  OF COURSE, I expected them to pull (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          this kind of crap.  We all should have anticipated this, and many of us have.

          My only surprise thus far, is that none of the wingnuts (to my knowledge) has claimed that the health care proposal will take away our guns.  But, give them a little more time.

          The administration has no excuse for being surprised by this.  If they swiftboat you once, shame on them.  If they swiftboat you a second time, shame on you

      •  Blue Cross Baucus. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Why was single-payer off the table from the start?

        And now he's deservedly being chased by out-of-state Tubes.

        "We are willing to observe core standards of conduct. Not just when it's easy, but when it's hard." President Barack Hussein Obama

        by platypus60 on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 10:00:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Lakoff is perhaps the smartest person in the room (0+ / 0-)

      But what does he know? He's not in tune with the administration.

      Daring Dems to take to the streets. Big mistake, Pubbies.

      by cskendrick on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 10:14:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Obama is in a bubble (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JuliaAnn, hegemony57, greengemini

    Obama should be reading and re-reading this article by Lakoff.  It's his lifeline but instead the administration seems to be in a bubble.  I mean how could the administration have been caught off guard by the vehemence at which the supporters of Obama think that a public option is absolutely essential to health care reform.

    If you take all of those policy ideas Lakoff mentions it's difficult to see how any of them could be accomplished without an overall 'institutional' framework.

    If it's true that Obama and his administration was caught off guard by the push back on public option, he needs to get out and start listening carefully to his base.  Right now, he's talking to us and trying to somehow manipulate us into supporting any goddam thing Max Baucus and Charles Grassley cook up in their little Health Insurance lobbyist controlled Senate Finance Committee.

    It is not going to work.

  •  Self promotion alert (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bustacap, hegemony57

    I just published a diary about messaging when I saw yours.  Mine is pretty much a rebuttal to Lakoff and the messaging complaints.  Short version is that we don't have a message deficit, but a policy deficit.

    Tipped and Rec'ed.

    •  I'll read your diary ASAP. On the face I (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lib Stone

      don't agree but will comment over there.


      No quarter. No surrender.

      by hegemony57 on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 09:58:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for the comment (0+ / 0-)

        My thinking on this subject started when I saw Arianna Huffington on Countdown who started bemoaning how nature abhors a vaccuum, and that's why the teabaggers were winning.

        But the vacuum she saw was due to a lack of "messaging" to counter the screamers.  I saw it as situational: a recess, slow news month, and organizational hustle were causing our problems more than a crystal clear message.  You don't out-argue screamers.  You either bypass them or out organize them.

        I don't think the WH and the Dems should be blamed for failing to anticipate teabag protests, but they definitely knew something was going to hit them in August.  That's why the mistake was letting Baucus delay the vote, but that's a separate problem from message.

        I agree with you that everyone sees message and policy reinforcing each other.  I think we tend to focus on the message too much when we're up against the wall.

        •  My criticism is that some sort of over the top (0+ / 0-)

          effort on behalf of the Insurace/Pharma/Hosp lobby was a forgone conclusion months ago.

          A little contingency planning and some $$$$ behind an organzing effort would have been $$$$ well spent.  

          I mean you could see August coming from a million miles away (especially given the teabag energy that was ginned up in the fall).  That was clearly a practive run to get people motivated and ready to come out when the $$$$ guys needed them.

          No quarter. No surrender.

          by hegemony57 on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 12:55:08 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  strong message and strong policy (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      hegemony57, Lib Stone

      At other times and places, Lakoff has voiced plain support for both strong message and strong policy. They must reinforce each other.

      I'm pretty sure that's what he has in mind now, actually. I do recognize that yesterday's article could have been clearer about that.

      Ironically, Lakoff has been criticized at times for poorly framing his framing proposals. Though I've learned much from his work that's been useful, I try to acknowledge when that criticism applies. :)

      In any endeavor, if we have a clear vision of what we want, it's easier to develop a coherent strategy to obtain our goals. And if we're clear about our moral basis, it's easier to develop a coherent policy. And if we have a coherent policy, it's easier to develop a strong, coherent message.

      Once I got used to clarifying my own vision, moral values, and goals for myself, it became easier for me to think about stronger messages.

      I'm glad folks are interested enough in the concepts to explore them further.


      Political compass goes 3-D: -9,-8,+10. The view looks different from "up".

      by etbnc on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 10:18:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Lakoff has been extremely helpful (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Dems for years couldn't explain themselves.  They were worse than a junior high composition class.

        The Obama team has always been good at explaining themselves.  I just think their problems at the moment stem more from the institutional hurdles arrayed against them, which is separate from messaging.

  •  wow imagine where we would be if this strategy (0+ / 0-)

    had been adopted from the beginning, sure makes one think about that Greenwald article.

    The song remains the same

    by polticoscott on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 09:55:10 AM PDT

    •  Imagine if real reform had been the objective. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Obama's people know what they are doing. They proved that in the primaries, and resoundingly in the election. If they are messing this up, it's because they don't want a reform bill that makes significant change to the insurance and pharma industries' profit margin. Certainly not one that contains a public option. Too much change, Obama has said, would be "disruptive." I can't think of much about our current healthcare system that doesn't need disrupting, Mr. President.

      We need a "uniquely American" solution, according to our only President. By that he means, one that works for the corporations who have created the problem. We get it.

      Still wondering what kind of reform Obama is willing to work for? How about not much? we know now that the deal has already been struck with Big Insurance and Big Pharma: business as usual.

  •  Rahm is a corporate DLC "Democrat." (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greengemini, Nisi Prius

    Read "Republican" in DLC drag.

    Rahm's DLC-controlled Democratic party managed to lose control of Congress; Rahm's Democrats haplessly conceded the stolen 2000 presidential election, and lost the 2004 election, (against GEORGE BUSH). This flaccid record of loss after loss took place in the years after the corporate-owned Clintons invented "bipartisanship" and "triangulation" to justify a policy of concessions to Republicans; and brought the DLC Trojan Horse into the Democratic party to keep progressives from annoying the corporations.

    Rahm's corporate-friendly primary roster for 2010 will be proudly anti-progressive, as usual.

    All those years of lost elections, must be Rahm's ineptitude, right? So why is he in the White House?

    Rahm was Obama's first appointment. It's possible he's doing his job, working hard for his base, the corporate establishment. If that's the case, and I believe it is, the current White House clusterfuck just looks like ineptitude. It's supposed to. Public Option going down the tubes? Ah, too bad - Rahm got all wonky and messed up again? Depends on your point of view.

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