I know a lot of progressive bloggers focus the majority of their posts on good policy and I think that is a good thing. I however tend to focus on good messaging. The reason being that in this day and age where most politicians are more concerned with being reelected than what is good for the country, the best messaging usually wins. By wins I mean it shifts public opinion and therefore it can shift votes on any piece of legislation.
The biggest problem in my estimation that the Obama administration has had since inauguration day is terrible messaging. As the Democratic President presiding over a Democratic Congress with big majorities, the messaging needs to roll down hill. President Obama should be leading the charge and what he says should filter down to leadership in Congress and from them to the rank and file so they all speak for the most part with one voice. And that voice has to be strong and forceful and not just defensive but also offensive in many situations. But since last year the Democratic messaging, particularly health care reform, has been terrible.
It was amazing to me that Frank Luntz could release to the public a blueprint of how Republicans would frame the debate as a "government takeover" of health care and still the Democrats couldn't muster up a suitable pushback on that talking point. To be honest its the reason in my opinion that the Obama administration was so reluctant to back a public option as the public option was the one provision that Republicans tied most closely to their "government takeover" rhetoric.
Now the reason for this post is simple. Tomorrow President Obama will hold his televised bipartisan health care summit to try to drag the health care reform bill across the finish line. The stakes are going to be tremendously high and how the public perceives the summit will likely shift votes in Congress. For that reason Democratic messaging HAS to be almost perfect tomorrow. If they rely on winning on policy the truth is they will lose. Many average Americans don't have the attention span to really follow the policy, but a good talking point will resonate.
I personally have my own ideas about how the Republicans will try to attack the bill and keep pushing to "reset" everything and start from scratch but I'm not into giving them any help. However I think Democrats would be wise to be ready for talking points on abortion, taxes, backroom deals, and cost of the bill.
One new talking point just cropped up though and I felt like it was a harbinger of things to come. Eric Cantor was on MSNBC just a little while ago and while he isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer on policy, he is pretty good with talking points when there is no one there to debate him. And he gave a talking point that I consider to be damn near genius and I bet you donuts to a dollar you will hear the issue framed this way by Republicans tomorrow.
So what exactly did he say.
Well you remember how President Obama and Senate Leadership (read Harry Reid) decided to include Republican ideas into the health care reform bill in an effort to peel of some Republican votes (which ultimately failed miserably)? Well NOW instead of allowing those provisions to be framed as concessions or compromises meant to appease Republicans, Cantor framed them as "the things we all agree on".
Now if you are a progressive and you have been following this debate for any length of time I'm sure your face is scrunched up right now like "WTF?!"
But if you are average joe citizen who hasn't been following that closely, this slight of hand could be VERY persuasive.
Think about it. Out of all of the stuff in the health care bill, only the Republican compromise parts could be sold as something both sides remotely agree on. So if Republicans say "hey lets start over and make those provisions the core of the bill" well the Americans who haven't been paying attention but for some reason are still pining for "bipartisanship" that would make a lot of sense.
Doesn't matter to them that those provisions generally are the worst provisions in the bill. Doesn't matter to them that those provisions generally won't help the deficit at all. Doesn't Nope, those provisions, without any context, really do seem like the areas where both sides can agree. And unless Democrats are prepared for pushback against that talking point, I can see Republicans successfully selling that steaming pile to the American people.
Like I said, its genius when you think about it. Make the minor compromises in the bill THE bill and then all of a sudden you have the American people calling for a Republican health care reform bill that doesn't do much to help them.
Obviously I can think of ways to push back on that talking point but I am not exactly getting paid for this. All I'm saying is that folks need to be prepared and go on the offensive instead of playing defense tomorrow. Before Eric Cantor or John Boehner can get to that talking point perhaps a Democrat can ask THEM what they object to about specific provisions of the bill. And when they can't come up with a good reason check that off as a provision that stays. That would be my general approach anyway.
Play offense, not defense. That's my best advice.
If not you are going to see even more skittish Democrats running for the hills by the end of the summit.