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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Can MSM, Progressive Activists Bring Health Security to America?

The Republicans have opened a full-scale attack against Democratic health care reform proposals, even though there is no single bill yet. Conservatives hope to weaken reform legislation before the bill is shaped and put Dems on the defensive, so media coverage will provide more ink and broadcast time to possible problems with health reforms than to the improvements in health care reforms could produce.
The lynch-pin of conservative strategy to discredit the Democratic health care reform package, in whatever shape it emerges, is to spread two key memes:
1. Democratic reforms will be funded by tax hikes on everyday working people.
2. Democratic reforms will adversely affect the health care coverage of those who like their insurance.
They are also pushing sub-memes, like Democratic reforms=Socialism, or the Democrats will set up “death boards” to deny senior citizens needed care (as if Insurance companies didn’t have faceless bureaucrats who make life and death coverage decisions) among others. But these scare tactics are designed to influence “low-information” voters, not those who care enough to do their own thinking, a much larger group, one hopes. Dems should refute these charges, but focus more on challenging the GOP’s two lead memes. That’s the battlefield that matters most.
The GOP echo chamber is already roaring at full tilt, with Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, Beck, Scarborough, right-wing radio, print and web commentators all on board with the shrill message du jour, which usually features scare-mongering memes. Lacking any credible solutions, they are reduced to knee-jerk bashing of progressive reforms, with the unspoken subtext, “What we got now may not be so great, but the Democratic reforms will make it worse.”
Are Democrats ready for the attacks? In today’s L.A. Times, Peter Wallsten’s “Obama’s grass-roots network is put to the test” provides an update on the activities of Organizing for America. Wallsten explains:

With public skepticism rising over Obama’s plan, which is still being worked out with Congress, Democrats were hoping that the August recess would provide a chance to explain the complex and, in some cases, fear-inducing legislation to a nervous public. But Republicans, talk radio and conservative advocacy groups have seized the moment, drowning out that opportunity through a campaign to disrupt Democratic town hall meetings.

Wallsten points out that the Conservative disinformation campaign is not the only problem:

Beyond the healthcare debate, the network’s troubles suggest that even a well-tuned campaign operation — with its stable of trained organizers, precinct captains and neighborhood coordinators — is not easily transformed into a policymaking force that Obama might rely on to deliver on other issues, such as global warming and immigration legislation.

On the positive side, however, Wallsten adds:

….Organizing for America, which was known as Obama for America during the presidential campaign, is quietly and deliberately building a system of professional field organizers and trained volunteers that has already inspired thousands of community events and reached millions of people…Staffers have been hired so far in 42 states, said the group’s deputy director, Jeremy Bird, and he expects to have paid workers in every state in a matter of weeks.
“We’ve been methodical, dogged and focused,” Bird said. “It’s like in the early days of the campaign, people said we needed to be louder, to have more signs. But we focused on the conversations between people and neighbors, and that’s what worked.”
Organizing for America’s website displays hundreds of upcoming events, ranging from tiny house parties to solicitations to match the conservative presence at town hall meetings. With new online tools, supporters can tell their own healthcare stories to be distributed to lawmakers, and network members can monitor their colleagues’ calls to Capitol Hill…A Democratic National Convention spokesman, Hari Sevugan, argued that the Obama network ultimately would prove more effective than the GOP approach because “grass-roots efforts are won at the doors, with neighbors talking to neighbors, not in front of news cameras with folks screaming at members of a community.”

The big TV networks have a moral obligation to provide more thoughtful coverage about America’s health care crisis and challenge the conservative disinformation/fear mongering campaign designed to discredit pro-Democratic reforms. We know Fox won’t accept the responsibility. But CNN, NBC, CBS and ABC ought to rise to the challlenge. If they don’t step up in the month ahead, it will be very difficult to educate the voters needed to get the attention of undecided members of congress. The TV networks need to hear from the health care reform movement in a big way.
It’s up to reform supporters, however, to come up with the creative ideas and actions that can compell greater media attention. In his August 5 TDS post, James Vega called for mobilizing an impressive turnout of the sick, people with disabilities and those who have had their financial assets decimated by health care costs to attend the health care meetings and sit up front. That’s a fine idea, and more such focused brainstorming is needed.
If we don’t get it a strong health care bill this time, a mass demo definitely should be considered for the next mobilization. A million plus “March on Washington for Health Security,” spotlighting the constituencies noted by Vega, for example, might help shake the rafters in congress.
Progressive philanthropists should spring for a nationwide broadcast of Michael Moore’s “Sicko,” Robert Greenwald’s “Diagnosis: Now!” and any other good documentaries about health care reform. Reform supporters should press local TV networks and stations to show health reform documentaries, and they should also arrange showings in community venues.
Most importantly of all, Democrats must not get hustled into a purely defensive posture. If there was ever a time for Dems to attack the industry and politicians who have obstructed comprehensive, universal health security for America, it has surely arrived.

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