Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Daily Strike-8/19/09-The Most Important Numbers

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Thanks for hanging tough through my absence yesterday, and to the Big Picture, Picturette, and friends who gave us an interesting dialogue on Whole Foods. Time for some more August recess musings.

NBC NEWS/WALL STREET JOURNAL POLL: A poll yesterday released by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal tell, I think, the complete story as to why the fight over health care reform has become increasingly difficult during the dog days of summer. First, the basics. Approval for the President's overall job performance is down to its lowest point, with 51 percent approving and 40 percent disapproving. His approval on health care is even lower, with only 41 percent approving of the job he's doing on health care, with 47 percent disapproving. 36 percent of respondents thought the plan is a good idea, while 42 percent think it's a bad idea. What's most interesting though is the huge effect misinformation is playing in cutting the plan's popularity. Amazingly, 55 percent of people believe the plan will cover illegal immigrants (it doesn't), 54 percent think it will lead to government-run health care (it won't), 50 percent believe it will cover women's abortions (it probably won't) and perhaps most shockingly, 45 percent think that the government is going to make decisions as to when to stop care for the elderly (patently false). A new, frankly shocking, PPP poll today said that 39 percent of Americans want to "keep the government out of Medicare." Disgusting.

The silver lining in all of this is that if you actually describe what the bill is, it gets the support of a small majority, 53%. Not great, and down slightly from last month, but still solid. So the bottom line is that there is an almost 20 point discrepancy when you ask if people support the "Obama" health plan, and when you actually describe what's in the plan. That signifies two things: a massive failure in messaging from the Obama team, and successful right-wing misinformation campaign. Crazy theories like "death panels" somehow have been portrayed by most of the mainstream media as a legitimate debate point, and a nihilistic Republican party, so interested in bringing down this President, will not repudiate these wild assertions. Exhibit A today was RNC chairman Michael Steele who wouldn't refute the death panel rumors.

It's clear that to close this discrepancy, we need to seriously revamp our campaign strategy. I have a few recommendations. A lot of these recommendations we've discussed before, but they bear repeated.

1. Commit to single set of policy proposals. The White House has spent enough time deferring to Congress and letting them fill in the details. The more ambiguous the plan is, the more likely it is to be demagogued. As much as I am against, in principal, boiling a complicated issue into bullet points, I think it would really help the White House in this case. Our pal Mr. Ezra Klein suggests this piece of work from Families USA.

2. Make the appeal emotional. When one side is talking about death panels, and the other is talking about bending the cost curve, it's pretty obvious who's gonna win the debate. He needs to make it personal. This is one thing Obama has not yet mastered. He seemed headed on the right track today when he spoke to liberal faith leaders on a conference call. He talked about the importance of health reform as a "moral imperative."

3. Give a prime time address from the Oval Office. The problem with town hall meetings and press conferences is that it's tough to get past the filter of media. An address from the oval office is a way to make the appeal serious, Presidential, if you will. When Presidents make announcements on impending wars, they make them from the oval office, because you can look right in the eye of the American people from some of the most hallowed ground in the country. Doing this will also give him 20 minutes of uninterrupted airtime, and won't leave him vulnerable to off-topic questions. He can keep the message as focused as possible. This would be a great thing to do when the Congress comes back from its August recess.

4. Bring out the big guns. Who are the two most well-liked, trusted voices in the Democratic party? Bill and Hillary Clinton. I don't care if Hillary's the Secretary of State, we need her to help in this effort. We need these two heavyweights to get out there and take some of the pressure off Obama.

You need to combine these tactics with a revised strategy with Congress. It should be obvious now, but Republicans need to be cut from all negotiations. Chuck Grassley, the chief negotiator of health care reform, has not only fed the fire of this death panel garbage, but says he wouldn't support a perfect bill if it didn't get more than a few Republican votes. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) says that Republicans won't support the co-op alternative to the public option. When we make a concession on health reform, it gains us no Republican support. Republicans have awful ratings on health reform, but they couldn't care less. As Ezra notes, a kamikaze mission is successful if you bring down the target. The key negotiations will be between conservative and liberal Democrats. We've had our problems with conservative Democrats, but at least they have incentive to see the bill succeed (even if sometimes they don't realize it).

These steps may seem obvious, and they are. This is a major test for Obama. All of us have the temptation to stubbornly continue the same strategy, even if it's failing. Bush did so for years in Iraq. Obama has the intellectual capability to realize that his tactics are not working. I hope he uses it.

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