The UWIRE Forum

Two rhetorical shifts in the health care battle
August 25, 2009, 1:19 am
Filed under: Uncategorized
Chris Burks

Chris Burks

America is in the midst of one of the greatest public policy battles in years and, perhaps lost among the beautiful wreckage of public comments at the town hall forums so necessary to sustaining our Republic, two telling rhetorical developments happened this week.

First, in direct response to losing control of the media narrative over a public option and other rhetorical catchphrases that often have a nebulous connection to the actual public policy up for debate, the White House, through several named and unnamed Senior administration officials signaled it may work to pass a health care bill with only the support of the Democratic majority.

Such a strategic reminder to Congressional Republicans, of the Democrats’ power to pass legislation, was more of an attempt to mollify the liberal-activist left.  However, senior administration officials went on to be quoted as saying that they wanted the focus of the health care discussion to not be on the public option, but instead on all the other great access enabling mechanisms that this health care reform package will provide.  A senior administration official stated that the “left of the left” had made the debate over the public option their “Waterloo.”

This fight over the public option may not ultimately be as decisive as Waterloo, but it will rage as intense for a few more news cycles.  In truth, the better battle analogy is to Manassas and the Civil War skirmish between the North and South right outside of Washington D.C.  Internecine fights, such as the current debate over the public option within the Democratic majority, are always more peculiar than fighting against an unknown foe.  These fights amongst former friends foster the anonymous snipping evidenced by the background quotes from the White House.

Ultimately, Napoleon may have lost when the British and French tussled at Waterloo, but the Obama Presidency will not be lost over this debate.  What is at stake is the direction of the Democratic Party.  The Obama Administration is misreading the political winds when it says the public option banner belongs only to the “left of the left.”  A clear majority of the center left of this country wants a public option and if ostensible fiscal conservatives, rudderless moderates, and special interest centrists win out over healthcare compromises, volunteer rates and funding amongst the center left will start to dry up for Congressional Democrats writ large.  The debate over the public option is perilously close to increasing the enthusiasm gap between conservatives and progressives and may further depress Democrats chances at sustaining a large majority.

The second major rhetorical development of the week was found buried in the near constant barrage of emails coming from the Obama political shop.  This wording shift was so small you might have missed it, but the language shifted from “health care reform” to “health insurance reform.”  Such a shift was written in after poll numbers showing support for “health insurance reform” were much better because of the unpopularity of insurance companies.  Unlike the previous shift on the public option, the Obama Administration nailed this shift perfectly and must continue to conjure up unpopular industry practices if reform is to pass.

You may ask why these two small rhetorical shifts matter?  Aren’t hard numbers like polling data and whip counts, the numbers for commitments to vote on legislation, more important?

Not at all, and the Millennial generation must continue to recognize the power of language to conquer fear, in this, our moment for real policy change.  You may think it hyperbole, but the health, welfare, and solvency of our society is at stake in this large public policy battle.

The battle is raging, and our words and deeds are the ammunition by which America’s future will be won and lost.

The Millennial generation really needed no call to arms, as they are already in the movement whose massive effort on behalf of Obama will stand the test of time as a generational shift.  Many of this generation’s best and brightest worked on the Obama campaign and a CNN poll from last week reinforced the consensus point that young Americans want progressive health care reform, including a public option.

It is now time again to stand and sell our parents and grandparents on the need for health care reform. Numbers, like the 40 million plus uninsured Americans, may hold sway, but words and stories will sell the policy and this generation must do more than summon the Holy Ghost to the battlefield.

We have to talk to and persuade our parents and grandparents on what is at stake: our future.


1 Comment so far
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Burks, I ran across your comments while I was writing a paper today; your comments about persuading our parents and grandparents are correct, we have to save them from this short-sided attempt at health care/insurance reform. While we may wish to have some reform the real change in health care will not happen until we address heath maintenance and prevention, none of which the Obama leadership has attempted. I do hope there is health care change in our future, I’m just not sure they have it right yet.

Comment by Carson

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