Quote-of-the-day mailing list
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Subject: qotd: Kip Sullivan on "If you like your plan…"
Date: Fri, 22 Nov 2013 07:30:12 -0800
From: Don McCanne <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Quote-of-the-Day <email@example.com>
Columbia Journalism Review
October 31, 2013
Too little, too late on "You can keep it."
By Trudy Lieberman
I have a question for all the reporters busy asking whether Obama misled
Americans with his oft-repeated line that "if you like your health plan,
you can keep it": Where have you been? You should have challenged this
claim well before now. You should have been reporting that some people
in the individual insurance market might receive cancellation letters …
well before it started happening to them….
The origins of, "If you like your health insurance you can keep it":
November 1, 2013
By Richard Kirsch
There are good reasons why President Obama's leading message on health
care during the 2008 campaign … was "if you like your health insurance,
you can keep it." That message was created to overcome the
fear-mongering that had blocked legislative efforts to make health care
a government-guaranteed right in the United States for a century....
As one of the people who engaged early on in building the effort that
led to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, I am keenly aware of this
As we predicted, the opponents of reform used fear-mongering … to try to
kill the Affordable Care Act....
The opponents of reform have used reckless, baseless charges to try to
kill reform. I'm glad that President Obama used a slight exaggeration to
finally provide secure health coverage for all Americans.
Comment by Kip Sullivan:
As Trudy Lieberman noted in her article for Columbia Journalism Review,
and as some noted as early as 2008 (1), it has been known for a long
time that millions of Americans would not be able to keep their health
insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Yet President Obama and many
other proponents of the ACA claimed this would not happen. They said
people who liked their health insurance could keep it.
If Obama et al. had made this claim once or twice in the heat of a
debate, few would be questioning their integrity now. But they made this
claim repeatedly, both before and after the ACA was enacted. The
chickens are coming home to roost. Obama and other Democrats are taking
a terrible beating for having made a promise they knew or should have
known they couldn't keep.
What explains such irrational behavior?
In his essay for the Huffington Post, Richard Kirsch takes a stab at an
answer. Kirsch is in an ideal position to give us one. He was present at
the creation of the marketing strategy that was supposed to neutralize
the inevitable attacks on the ACA from the right. Kirsch was the
chairman of the "health policy refinement committee" of the Herndon
Alliance, a coalition formed in 2005 to promote whatever it was the
Democrats decided to put forward in the name of "health care reform,"
and he later became the campaign director for Health Care for America
Now, the leading organization in the fight to enact whatever it was the
Democrats decided they could get through Congress.
Kirsch tells us the mantra was invented to "overcome … fear-mongering"
that he and the entire rest of the world predicted conservatives would
use to stop the ACA. But this argument merely begs another question: Why
would the public be reassured by an argument that was so easily
rebutted, at first by commonsense and eventually by reality as well? Why
wasn't it obvious to Kirsch et al. that inaccurate statements would come
back to haunt the makers of those statements?
The answer can be found in the "framing" and "messaging" craze that
erupted late in 2004 after John Kerry lost to George Bush.(2) George
Lakoff and other "framing" gurus claimed that conservatives were winning
elections liberals should have won because conservatives were
"messaging" better than liberals. More specifically, the argument was
that voters respond to emotions, not "facts," and if voters and
conservatives don't care about facts, liberals shouldn't either.
Instead, liberals should convene focus groups and conduct polls to
determine what buzzwords and claims "resonate" with voters' emotions –
their "frames" – and use those buzzwords and make those claims.
In this comment I don't propose to take sides on whether Lakoff and
other "framing" proponents were promoting science or pseudoscience. I do
argue that "framing" theology was easily interpreted as an excuse to say
anything regardless of the evidence, regardless of whether a proposal or
legislation actually existed, and, after legislation had been
introduced, regardless of the actual language in that legislation. I
argue that that's what happened to Kirsch, the Herndon Alliance, and
other advocates of the ACA.
Consider this memo published by the Herndon Alliance and others in June
2008.(3) The memo urged advocates of "health care reform" to claim that
"reform" ("reform" was not explained) would:
• guarantee "choice among plans,"
• guarantee that Americans could "keep our current doctor,"
• "make insurance companies compete to keep costs down and quality up,"
• stop insurance companies from "overriding doctors' decisions about
what their patients need,"
• keep "deductibles low," and
• save "billions by cutting administrative waste and moving to
electronic medical records."
The memo made no attempt to document the truthfulness of these claims.
That is not surprising, because not one of these claims was accurate
then, and not one is accurate now.
So how did the Herndon Alliance et al. justify urging advocates to make
these claims? They cited "framing" theology. They said these claims had
been "market-tested" on focus groups and "online dial groups" of "swing
voters" to determine what "frames" lurked in the minds of the
participants and what "messages" were consistent with those "frames." In
short, the Herndon Alliance et al. convinced themselves that
misrepresentation is moral and effective if the misrepresentation has
been shown to elicit positive responses in focus groups and surveys.
Several factors contributed to the widespread acceptance of this flimsy
rationale for inaccuracy among the leaders of the pro-ACA movement. One
was the failure of the media to question the buzzwords and claims
concocted by the Herndon Alliance and promoted by HCAN and eventually
Obama and members of Congress. Trudy Lieberman criticized the media for
this failure even before the ACA was enacted. In a 2009 article she
called the Herndon Alliance's buzzwords "hollow as straw" and
"Orwellian" and recommended that reporters "avoid quoting someone who
uses those words unless they have something more significant to say."(4)
But the media did not do that, and the Herndon Alliance's claims quickly
mutated into conventional groupthink among leaders of the pro-ACA
movement. To those leaders and members of Congress who could have warned
Democrats not to repeat "if you like your health insurance etc." and now
lament the fallout from the constant repetition of that canard, I repeat
Ms. Lieberman's question: Where have you been?