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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Luntz Noodles on GOP Health Care Strategy

Frank Luntz has resurfaced, after a long deep whale-dive into relative political obscurity. Luntz didn’t really disappear. He’s just been in a low-visibility mode since the election. He remains one of the more thoughtful GOP rhetorical strategists. So when he pops off, it’s worth a listen.
In a Luntz memo obtained by and published in Politico, he outlines a GOP battle plan for killing Obama’s health care reform goals. From the Politico report:

You simply MUST be vocally and passionately on the side of REFORM,” Luntz advises in a confidential 26-page report obtained from Capitol Hill Republicans. “The status quo is no longer acceptable. If the dynamic becomes ‘President Obama is on the side of reform and Republicans are against it,’ then the battle is lost and every word in this document is useless.

Starts out lucidly enough. But then he heads south, as Politico reveals:

Instead, Luntz says Republicans should warn against a “Washington takeover” of health care, and insist that patients would have to “stand in line” with “Washington bureaucrats in charge of healthcare.”

Then with the fear-mongering cliches:

And he suggests they steer constituents toward keep the “current arrangement by asking at “every healthcare town hall forum”: “Would you rather … ‘Pay the costs you pay today for the quality of care you currently receive,’ OR ‘Pay less for your care, but potentially have to wait weeks for tests and months for treatments you need.’”


—“It could lead to the government setting standards of care, instead of doctors who really know what’s best.”
—“It could lead to the government rationing care, making people stand in line and denying treatment like they do in other countries with national healthcare.”
-“President Obama wants to put the Washington bureaucrats in charge of healthcare. I want to put the medical professionals in charge, and I want patients as an equal partner.”

Luntz’s memo is not all the same, tired palaver, voters turned their backs on a long time ago. He’s got some interesting tips on verbiage:

…Humanize your approach. Abandon and exile ALL references to the “healthcare system.” From now on, healthcare is about people. Before you speak, think of the three components of tone that matter most: Individualize. Personalize. Humanize.

And diabolically-clever:

Acknowledge the “crisis” or suffer the consequences. If you say there is no healthcare crisis, you give your listener permission to ignore everything else you say. It is a credibility killer for most Americans. A better approach is to define the crisis in your terms. “If you’re one of the millions who can’t afford healthcare, it is a crisis.” Better yet, “If some bureaucrat puts himself between you and your doctor, denying you exactly what you need, that’s a crisis.” And the best: “If you have to wait weeks for tests and months for treatment, that’s a healthcare crisis.”
…Nothing else turns people against the government takeover of healthcare than the realistic expectation that it will result in delayed and potentially even denied treatment, procedures and/or medications. “Waiting to buy a car or even a house won’t kill you. But waiting for the healthcare you need – could. Delayed care is denied care.”

Fear-mongering can be an art form, I guess. Then there is the inevitable blanket government-bashing:

…WASTE, FRAUD, and ABUSE are your best targets for how to bring down costs. Make no mistake: the high cost of healthcare is still public enemy number one on this issue – and why so many Americans (including Republicans and conservatives) think the Democrats can handle healthcare better than the GOP. You can’t blame it on the lack of a private market; in case you missed it, capitalism isn’t exactly in vogue these days. But you can and should blame it on the waste, fraud, and abuse that is rampant in anything and everything the government controls.

Not sure that dog will hunt like in the good ole days, back when Newt ruled. And for the finale, what passes for the health care “vision thing” in GOP circles:

It’s not enough to just say what you’re against. You have to tell them what you’re for. It’s okay (and even necessary) for your campaign to center around why this healthcare plan is bad for America. But if you offer no vision for what’s better for America, you’ll be relegated to insignificance at best and labeled obstructionist at worst. What Americans are looking for in healthcare that your “solution” will provide is, in a word, more: “more access to more treatments and more doctors…with less interference from insurance companies and Washington politicians and special interests.”

As much as this stuff strains credulity, it’s about the best ammo they have. For better or worse, Luntz is the GOP’s master wordsmith, if Huckabee is the go-to quipster. Dems would do well to take note of Luntz’s recommendations and be ready with sharp responses when his verbiage starts to appear in the GOP echo chamber, as it surely will.

One comment on “Luntz Noodles on GOP Health Care Strategy

  1. Barry Clark on

    Democrats have the ultimate trump card in communicating their side on reform: choice and freedom.
    The public option offers citizens a choice between what they have now, and something else. How many of them would oppose having a new choice, one that doesn’t replace an existing choice?
    This is really about freedom. And it’s also about fair competition. Should the insurance companies get a free ride, or should the be forced to compete to give the best to Americans?
    The structure of this reform as an add-on to the system, not a wholesale replacement, made all this great framing possible.


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