Friday, August 21, 2009

A Brilliant Obama Strategy

By Dennis Matanda
Belmont, Massachusetts

The health care reform debate taking place this American summer is such fascinating stuff that I could not and still cannot help but become an ardent and addicted follower!

I was right there when President Obama threw his gauntlet down and gave the Congress a deadline to pass something before the Senate and House went into their respective August recesses – a deadline that fell apart with those Blue Dog days and three Committee Bills. I went awestruck at the audacity of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and her ‘Death Panels’ message on Facebook – going into further shock that many Americans actually believed that the government was out to kill her down syndrome infant son! But then who can blame the poor Americans yet they literally take everything they hear their politicians say as gospel truth; and even worse, what the cable news and radio talk show hosts have to opine?

Out of interest, have you watched the Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck or even Bill O’reilly shows on the Fox News Channel? If you do not out of principle, I fully understand. I, on the other hand, have to admit that I am totally obsessed with these three men’s opinions; they who have the most popular television shows in America. I marvel at how they think and rub my hands in gleeful anticipation of what sacrilegiousness will come next from the tube!

Glenn Beck, for instance, said he thought Obama was a racist and hated white people.

And Mr. O’reilly of The Factor believes that Obama is losing popularity because Americans do not want government run healthcare.

Lastly, to this day, it is obvious that Sean Hannity does not know the definition of ‘socialism,’ ‘communism’ and if you sat down to discuss ‘Marxism,’ you’d completely lose him.

So; why am I bringing up these three gentlemen and then throwing in the oxymoron that is a brilliant Obama health care reform strategy? I will tell you this: First, each of these men do not do is tell their viewers that the people who oppose health care reform have been sold a series of incomplete stories and utter lies. These utter lies are reminiscent of the 1960s where opponents of health reform, including former President Ronald Reagan, made ordinary Americans think that their days of freedom were about to end because the government was going to stand in the way of their personal relationship with their own doctor. It has, according to different reports, become obvious that Obama's push to overhaul health care sparked [an] uprising; but the movement's real fuel is the conservative recoil from his overall agenda - one that is viewed as wholly radical and different from what they know. You should not be surprised to hear things like: " ... We're all aghast at what's happening to our constitution, our government, our deficits, our freedom ... "

Combined with stories like their premiums being increased, rationing and then their beloved grandmothers being euthanized prematurely, one cannot blame conservative and gullible audiences for coming out foaming at the mouth. And FOAM they have! At the town halls and in the streets with their signs depicting Obama as a neo Nazi and of course, demanding to take their country back. What these poor people seemingly miss is the irony that in claiming their country back, they may sentence their own families to healthcare costs that drive them into bankruptcy and backwardness!

Although some people have been wrongly termed as ‘un American’ and ‘crazies,’ there is no doubt that these three men have contributed to bringing out the mob mentality from various nooks and crannies to oppose the common sense health care reform. For his part, President Obama has been able, in his own swinging and meandering way, to start the process of showing people what health care reform is not – in essence, effectively dispelling rumors.

Sometime at the end of the 2009 spring, groups like Conservatives for Patients Rights [CPR] started slamming government run health care. They did such an amazing job in getting Americans to call or write their congressmen that they managed to scare the Mighty Democrats themselves into smithereens – and hence, the Blue Dog Democrats from fiscally conservative districts went up in against their own party because the Congressional Budget Office had, in their banal assessment, calculated that Healthcare reform would dump another trillion dollars to the deficit over the next ten years – a deficit that, including the stimulus packages of the past 10 months, was already spinning into free fall. Again, with egging from the three aforementioned gentlemen, America ginned up for the town hall meetings – to give their congressmen and women a piece of their ‘collective’ mind.

It’s important to note that although we are coming to end of August, things are very fluid and fast. News coming out of Washington or even the different town halls makes the news cycle and seems to make policy; further clouding an already really crowded Democratic government message board. It also seems to depict the Republicans as clear in their thought processes and in their overall strategy to become America’s next government. But underneath all this is a series of waves working out in the Democrats’ favor and part of my overall thesis that this is a brilliant Obama strategy.

For instance, CPR’s adverts featuring British women dishing about the inefficiencies of the National Health Service [NHS] turned out to be false. Kate Spall and Katie Brickell – two women who were supposedly giving their testimony about the NHS misdemeanors – came out recently to say that they was duped into believing that they were being filmed for a documentary and did not think that the British system of health delivery was inefficient.

Then there was the Professor Steve Hawking debacle where an editorial claimed that if British Professor, who has had the motor neurone disease all his life, had been living in the United Kingdom, NHS delivery of healthcare would have killed him dead! In its outright lie, the article lackadaisically ignored the fact that the man who wrote A Brief History of Time was born and bred in the UK and had had to endure the 'torture' of the the health system there!

For the record, CPR and other conservative groups have started to take their fight from the adverts on television to a series of conservative and Republican spokespeople making their rounds in the media – following a script that basically dispels the evils of government run health care. Combined with strategically placed memos to enthusiastic grassroots and Internet based videos, these watertight strategies are being employed to very effective lengths and they do have some excellent points.

For instance, the NHS has major weaknesses in terms of their contributing to the British deficit and there are delays in the delivery of health services to some patients that need medical attention. However, people are not dying in swathes while they wait in life for medical care. And in the matter of rationing vs. the people, because Britain has a single payor system, there is a chance that some snooty British bureaucrats make decisions on who gets what service and when. If American insurers are not as snooty as their British counterparts when they deny medical coverage due to pre - existing conditions or drop someone in the next billing cycle because they are not a bankable investment, then there is a chance that the world is a much better place than we originally expected it to be!

On the other [more serious] side, although the President has not fully deployed it, his bully pulpit is also taking the fight right to the opponents by using his town hall meetings to address rumors like the ‘pull the plug on grandma’ one and explaining how the entire health care reform would be deficit neutral. If he had not had these boogey men out there [pun unintended], he would have had nothing to say or apply his oratorical process to such deadly effect.

Now, while he may still have a long, long way to go in winning the battle for American hearts and minds, it seems as though the good fortune that brought Mr. Obama into power may carry him through this healthcare debate. And although she did not mean it to work this way, Peggy Noonan in her most recent Wall Street Journal column put it much better than I could ever do. She said: ‘Health care as a subject is extraordinarily sticky, messy and confusing. It's inherently complicated, and it's personal. There are land mines all over the place.’

Then she, almost allegorically, spoke of the Obama healthcare mantra which is: ’Don't make the mistake the Clintons made and create a plan that gets picked apart, shot down … Instead, push it off on Congress. Let them come up with a dozen plans … It will allow them to vent, and perhaps even exhaust, their animal spirits … Various items and elements within each bill will get picked off by the public. Fine, that's to be expected. The bills may in fact yield a target-rich environment…’

So far, Peggy was spot on. And then she nailed it by stating: ‘Maybe health care's foes will get lost in the din and run out of ammo. Maybe they'll exhaust their animal spirits, too. Summer will pass, the fight confined to the public versus Congress. And at the end, in the fall, the beauty part: The president swoops in and saves the day, forcing together an ultimate and more moderate plan that doesn't contain the more controversial elements but does constitute a successful first step toward universal health care. In my calculation, although Ms. Noonan basically says that this is not what is going to happen, I think that the President is getting his way in more ways than he could have bargained for.

But perhaps an unintentional Obama victory came from an ally. Betsy McCaughey, PhD was probably the Angel of Death of Hillarycare in 1993. In 2009, she coined the ‘death panel’ statement earlier in the healthcare debate. Then she went and got completely outmatched on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show on the night of August 17, 2009 [I saw it on August 20]. Jon, in his gentle way, ripped her a new one – making me feel sorry for her as she tried to find the page that talked about the death panels in the first half of the House Bill she had managed to lug into the studio. She probably thought she’d convince the comedian that she was right – and instead, lost her position on an influential healthcare board – meaning that America’s most trusted newsman triumphed.

Another unintentional victory was when Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts basically taught the other healthcare proponents how to deal with crazy people at their town hall meetings and lastly, the President took his fight to the religious groups – talking about how it was a moral obligation to provide insurance for the over 46 million Americans without health insurance.

Even Bill O’reilly, with the most popular television show on cable television could not argue with that. His Talking Points memo of August 20, 2009 basically had one argument: that because of the rumored trillion dollar investment by the Congressional Budget Office, the all giving Americans were skeptical. Then he went on to give statistics of how Americans did not support the health care reform and unfortunately, a miserable nun managed to tell him that if Jesus had been in the United States, he would have sided with government healthcare.

Sean Hannity replayed a show from the past on the night of August 21, 2009 – an irrelevant show since some of the rumors of Canada’s ineffective healthcare system had been debunked - and Glen Beck did not even have the courtesy to say he’d not do his show on August 20.

Something is happening in America. The Healthcare Reform Debate tide is turning. Of course I have not even mentioned the Big Guns like El Rush Limbaugh or Jay Severin of Boston’s WTKK. Against them, the President guarantees that this reform will pass; and although one is justified in worrying about the things happening internally in the Democratic Party and even the different rallies and tea parties, there is no doubt that after September 15, 2009, Americans will wake up to a new country – one with a government health insurance option or not.

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