Democrats are forever telling us they will get better at messaging. But it’s like telling your kids to clean up their mess and when they don’t, you pick it up for them. There’s no consequence. Banish the free talkers to obscure committees and you might get more discipline. But maybe it’s that Democrats think they all are the smartest people in the room, and that they can sell ice to Eskimos. Or maybe they think that if only voters knew all the details of their policies and procedures, they’d all vote Democratic. So I’m not optimistic that Sen Chuck Schumer’s latest effort will be more successful. But let’s hope he starts by scrapping the Democratic National Committee’s talking points on repeal of healthcare reform. Here’s how they start:
Instead of working to find bipartisan solutions to create jobs, grow the economy, and make America more competitive, Republicans in Congress are spending all of their time re-fighting the political wars of the last two years by trying to repeal health reform and give control over your health care back to insurance companies.
The Affordable Care Act provides Americans with more freedom and control in their health care choices.
o It gives families the freedom from worrying about losing their insurance, or having it capped unexpectedly if someone is in an accident or becomes sick.
o It frees Americans from the fear of insurance companies raising premiums by double digits with no recourse or accountability.
o It frees Americans from discrimination when insurance companies deny women health insurance because they are pregnant, or refuse to provide coverage to children who are born with disabilities.
The bullet points go on…and on. Unless they plan to buy a five-minute infomercial, no spokesperson will ever get to the end of the list. The problem with a long list is that it gives every Democrat a choice of what he or she wants to highlight. In other words, no message discipline. Without discipline, it’s difficult for the media to pick up on key points to include in stories. And in fact, some of the points at the bottom of the list should be near the top. For example:
o Republicans will allow insurance companies to once again DENY coverage to children with existing conditions, CANCEL coverage when people get sick, and LIMIT the amount of care you can get − even if you need it.
o When the insurance companies are free to pursue their profits without any accountability, people have fewer choices, fewer options, and little recourse.
· And, by rolling back the Affordable Care Act, Republicans are adding a TRILLION dollars to the deficit.
o They would give back to insurance companies subsidies of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. And they would cut back on efforts in the law to stop waste, fraud, and abuse in government spending. We can NOT afford to add another trillion dollars in debt that our children and grandchildren will have to pay – especially when it goes to wasteful spending and outrageous subsides for insurance companies.
They need editing, but you can’t lose by attacking insurance companies. Put them near the top of the list.
But the bigger problem with the list is that…it’s a list. Democrats continue to believe that voters consider policy minutiae when making decisions. Sure, when polled, people say they like individual parts of the reform bill, and there’s no reason Dems shouldn’t mention some of them. But they need to lead with the overall framing.
The DNC statement actually starts out good: let voters know that Republicans aren’t addressing the jobs issue, but then pivot to the Dems positive framing:
Instead of working on creating jobs, Republicans in Congress are working for insurance companies. Democrats believe that children and their parents should not be turned away when they are sick. They should be able to afford to see a doctor. That’s what the healthcare reform bill does. To Republicans, if you get sick, you’re on your own.
We believe, as did the founding fathers, that we should “promote the general welfare.” That’s the first sentence in the Constitution. Developing a healthcare system that is efficient, affordable and available to everyone is what we accomplished. We won’t let Republicans and insurance companies take it away.
That’s a little over 30 seconds. If that’s all you get to say in a cable show interview, that’s good enough. If a print reporter takes just one of the paragraphs, Dems have made their point. (Note: There’s much more ground to gain than many Democrats think by appealing to a responsible social norm. I’ll have more on that in a few days after finishing a book on behavioral economics that has some lessons for politicians.)
As far as the list goes, it needs to be condescend:
Our health reform bill means you can’t lose your insurance if you become sick, pregnant or your child has disabilities…or you change jobs. Your children can be on your policy until they are 26. It lowers drug costs for seniors and protects Medicare. And it prevents insurance companies from jacking up prices to pay their CEOs huge salaries. And bottom line: It lowers the deficit.
Those three short paragraphs have all the points Dems need to push back—and most important—to resell their healthcare reform. They can expand any point, hopefully with some anecdotes, which tend to personalize the problem and allow people to see themselves in similar circumstances. They can point out the hypocrisies in the GOP actions, who won’t give up their own extravagant healthcare insurance they get with their jobs and how repeal increases the deficit. Maybe with the elections now behind them, they will take some pride in what they accomplished.