Let's start off with a sample of the Obama quotes making the rounds:
"If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period," Obama said in a speech to the American Medical Association on June 15, 2009. "If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what."http://abcnews.go.com/...
In selling the Affordable Care Act to the American public, the president often repeated the same refrain: "If you like your plan, you can keep your plan," he said in St. Charles, Mo., March 10, 2010.Until a few hours ago, such quotes hadn't really fazed me, for I'd taken them to be truthful untruths rather than cunning lies. Hence I'd posted comments such as this:
"If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor," he said five days later in Strongsville, Ohio.
I'm not really concerned about his statement in itself (there's plenty of other shit to be concerned about), for I suspect it was an unfortunate untruth that he sincerely believed, not a lie. A truthful untruth is a false claim uttered with sincere belief in its veracity. Even some right-wing pundits don't think he'd be stupid enough to lie so boldly.And this:
However, it's disheartening that people would defend a lie on the basis of "what's good for the goose is good for the gander." I hope I'm not being some Kantian freak show when I say that words and the truth still mean something to a vast number of Americans.
For starters, it won't wash with the people who knew what they were paying for and had first-hand experience of approved claims with nice deductibles.And this:
Besides, it's no better for Obama's image if the defense is that he was talking about "real" insurance when he said you could keep your existing insurance. This amounts to saying he was speaking as a politician, and that won't sit well with the public either.
Not all untruths are lies, however, and I don't think Obama lied. A president has many responsibilities, and the specialized wonks in any administration no doubt know more about the nuts and bolts of particular policies than the president does. It's an embarrassing untruth, not a lie, but it still needs to be handled fast.
As I mentioned elsewhere, I don't think it was either a cunning lie or something completely non-problematic.Now I check the news and see that some PR genius has decided the best strategy is to engage in revisionist history. The ABC News headline from the link above reads "Obama Tweaking 'If You Like Your Plan, You Can Keep Your Plan'" -- "tweaking" is putting it generously:
It was an embarrassing untruth, but I have a feeling Obama legitimately believed it at the time.
There's no getting around the untruth with the kinds of acrobatics that we know damn well don't fly when the right tries them.
Obama explained that if you have or had a substandard plan before the Affordable Care Act became law and "you really liked that plan, what we said was you could keep it, if it hasn't changed since the law passed."In other words, the messaging machine has decided to insist on a semantic equivalence between, e.g., this:
"If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what."And this:
"If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period (if it hasn't changed since the law passed). No one will take it away, no matter what (if it hasn't changed since the law passed)."Look, I had no good ideas on the messaging front for what I still believe was an unfortunate untruth, not a cunning lie. But strategies such as this spin job are worse than nothing.
The good news is that the untruth, even with the addition of the inane messaging, probably won't have any negative repercussions IF Obamacare is a smash hit with Americans. This is largely thanks to self-interest -- nobody force-handed a million bucks in a suitcase would, out of principle, complain if the benefactor failed on a promise to deliver a thousand bucks in a paper bag.
Even with the technical glitches, Obamacare still pretty much has a clean slate in whether it's going to be a smash hit with Americans. I see two main areas of concern for Obamacare supporters:
1. The mandate. Will Americans, especially many young Americans, who don't want health insurance and would rather spend their money on basic necessities or even luxury items, be thrilled about having Obamacare/penalties forced on them? It doesn't take a marketing wizard to see the problem of a "great deal" with a penalty attached.
2. Cases of higher premiums, higher co-pays, higher deductibles, and unwanted coverage. Once the dust of the technical glitches settles, I think there are going to be many cases of people unhappy about higher premiums, higher co-pays, higher deductibles, and unwanted coverage. We'll see sober analyses of the financial facts, and aggressively attacking people as liars or incompetents will prove to be an outdated strategy. At this point, the "junk insurance" defense will bear the brunt, and it remains to be seen how many people that defense is going to placate. It's going to be especially difficult to use that defense against people who knew exactly what they were paying for and had a history of approved claims and acceptable prices.
Interesting times ahead.