Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I'm wondering about the rhetoric that Republicans are using against health care reform. I think "government takeover" is a good attack; it's consistent with conservative ideas, and while it may not be exactly true on the merits in the sense that the government won't actually own and operate either health care delivery or insurance (other than what the government already does -- VA, Medicare, Medicaid), it is true in the sense of the Democrats establishing health care as a right that government is responsible for maintaining.

I'm much less impressed with the procedural complaints: that Members should read the bill, that the bill is too long, that the Democrats are moving too fast. I'm sure these things test well; they certainly seem to transmit successfully, since they were echoed back by Town Hall attendees, for example. I just don't see them as preaching to anyone but the converted. Today's battle cry -- screw plain English, we want lawyer-speak -- was sort of the extreme version of that. It seems to me, and granted this is speculative, that these are the sorts of things that work fine only as long as there's no counterargument. Read the bill carefully vs. don't read the bill is a winner in focus groups -- but delay vs. action is not going to be a winner, and that's the obvious reframing Democrats will make.

One thing I wonder is whether the ruthless efficiency of how information is transmitted from elites to masses on the Republican side has made them just plain lazy. When you know that whatever talking points you use will move automatically from your keyboard to Fox News commentators, radio talk show hosts, and bloggers, and from there to viewers, listeners, and readers who are eager and ready to echo them...well, it doesn't much matter what you say, as long as you say something, right? You need to keep the intermediaries happy, of course; it's not clear that Rush and Hannity would swallow accommodationist tactics even if GOP pols wanted to go there. But the actual substance probably doesn't matter a whole lot, as long as your just talking to your (self-) captive audience.

The bigger question here is about whether the type of party the Republicans have built, especially on the communications side, is actually a good idea or not. But that's a very big and difficult question, so I'll leave it aside for now.

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