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Obama’s health care messaging disaster

Obama’s health care messaging disaster
By Eric Black (but really by George Lakoff)

George Lakoff, every liberal’s favorite linguist, has just published on Truthout.com his analysis of what he calls Pres. Obama’s “policy-speak disaster” in the health care debate.

Couple of key phrases from the Truthout piece for those who don’t click through to read the whole thing, which is a thorough analysis of the framing issues relating to health care, plus a basic review of the concept of framing, as spelled out by Lakoff in his best known 2004 book “Don’t Think of an Elephant!”:

“Barack Obama ran the best-organized and best-framed presidential campaign in history. How is it possible that the same people who did so well in the campaign have done so badly on health care?…

“The president put both the conceptual framing and the messaging for his health care plan in the hands of policy wonks. This led to twin disasters…”

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“The list of what needs reform makes sense under one conceptual umbrella. It is a public alternative that unifies the long list of needed reforms: coverage for the uninsured, cost control, no preconditions, no denial of care, keeping care when you change jobs or get sick, equal treatment for women, exorbitant deductibles, no lifetime caps, and on and on. It’s a long list. But one idea, properly articulated, takes care of the list: An American Plan guarantees affordable care for all Americans. Simple. But not for policy wonks…”

“The policymakers focus on the list, not the unifying idea. So, Obama’s and Axelrod’s statements last Sunday were just the lists without the unifying institution. And without a powerful institution, the insurance companies will just whittle away at enforcement of any such list, and a future Republican administration will just get rid of the regulators, reassigning them or eliminating their jobs…

“To many liberals, Policy Speak sounds like the high road: a rational, public discussion in the best tradition of liberal democracy. Convince the populace rationally on the objective policy merits. Give the facts and figures. Assume self-interest as the motivator of rational choice. Convince people by the logic of the policymakers that the policy is in their interest.

But to a cognitive scientist or neuroscientist, this sounds nuts. The view of human reason and language behind Policy Speak is just false. Certainly reason should be used. It’s just that you should use real reason, the way people really think. Certainly the truth should be told. It’s just that it should be told so it makes sense to people, resonates with them and inspires them to act. Certainly new media should be used. It’s just that a system of communications should be constructed and used effectively…”

“A clear and powerful narrative is still available and true, and some powerful, memorable and accurate language should be substituted for Policy Speak, or at least added and repeated by spokespeople nationwide. The narrative is simple:

Insurance company plans have failed to care for our people. They profit from denying care. Americans care about one another. An American plan is both the moral and practical alternative to provide care for our people.

The insurance companies are doing their worst, spreading lies in an attempt to maintain their profits and keep Americans from getting the care they so desperately need. You, our citizens, must be the heroes. Stand up, and speak up, for an American plan.”