Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Obamacare: Losing the Battles of Communication & Facts

There's a brief post up at Economist's Democracy in America blog commenting on a speaking appearance by Valerie Jarrett, Senior Adviser to the President. When asked what the administration's biggest mistake has been so far, Ms. Jarrett reportedly said it was a failure to communicate the benefits of the administration's policies. "If people voted their self-interest, they would vote for [President Obama]."

The author of the post calls this sort of response "arrogant," and in full said:
I think, goes to the heart of one of the Obama administration's weaknesses, one that certainly cost him the 2010 mid-terms and might cost him the presidency itself in two month's time. It is the idea that if only people were in full command of the facts, they would immediately see that the president was wise and right. It is arrogant, and, when you think about it, fundamentally anti-democratic. And it leads you to push policies that voters don't actually like.
 I have to disagree with the author that this sort of response is arrogant. I think ACA (Obamacare) is a great example of this. When people are polled on the individual elements of the legislation they support many of the pieces, but the administration has lost the battle of communicating the law in totality. Now part of losing that battle is the willful cognitive dissonance of the conservative attack on the legislation, perhaps tippified by this absurdly false and misleading advertisement from the 60 Plus Association, which perpetuates Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan's shameful and repeated attack that the Obamacare cuts $716 billion from Medicare (when it's actually future savings, not diverted funds) when Ryan himself would have included the same cuts in his Medicare plan.

The broader point being, healthcare reform as enacted by Obamacare is incredibly complex. The individual parts, healthcare for dependents up to age 26, no exclusion for pre-existing conditions, insurance plans required to cover birth control, poll incredibly well. The parts that don't poll well, like wringing $716 billion in savings over ten years from Medicare, which helps perpetuate the Medicare program aren't as easy to understand immediately. The point being, it's easier to point at these things, call them flaws, and harp on them at the cost of not telling the whole story.

That's where the administration is suffering. On certain elements they have been drowned out by misleading half-truths on policies that aren't simple to understand. This is all by way of saying that facts aren't what they used to be and if you lose the communication battle it can obscure the positive effects that the facts would seem to indicate, because everybody is getting skewed facts. I don't think it's "arrogant" on the part of Ms. Jarrett to says that's a mistake. I think it reflect the reality of a conservative movement that has systematically created a world of parallel facts designed to discredit ideas not aligned with their ideology.

I'm not sure how we fix it, but it is frightening that beyond trying to get an electorate engaged, we will now constantly debate who's facts to believe.

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