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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Health Reform Challenge: Leveraging the Tube

President Obama’s TV blitz amounts to a declaration of all-out media war against the GOP’s efforts to obstruct health care reform with lies and distortions. Katharine Q. Seelye reports in the New York Times on the President’s historic media initiative:

For the first time ever, a president is appearing on five talk shows on a single Sunday, in quick succession — on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Univision. (To be clear: He is taping them Friday night at the White House, not sprinting from set to set on Sunday)… Collectively, those five shows reach almost 12 million people, according to Nielsen…The president is leaving no channel unchurned in his quest to convince Congress to pass a health care overhaul.

Seelye points out that Obama’s blitz “raises the ante” and “suggests he knows he needs to do something dramatic to alter the course of debate.” The risk is that the President will expose himself to tricky “gotcha” questions, which are difficult to anticipate. In addition, Obama’s strongest messaging weapon is the speech, not the television interview, in which his skills are about average among leading Democrats. Still, time is short, and he has few alternatives to using as many major TV programs as he can to help educate voters and persuade undecided Senators and House reps.
Ads, with Obama in particular, provide an edge over interviews in that they can be edited and tweaked for maximum effect. The downside is that they are expensive, while interviews cost nothing but time. Hopefully, the DNC and health reform groups are re-packaging bits of his well-received health care address to congress into TV ads, which also depict the outrageous injustices practiced by health insurance companies. Not doing so would be the equivalent of the DNC’s failure to re-package Al Gore’s excellent acceptance address at the 2000 convention, which soon disappeared unused into the ether, while his campaign ran mediocre ads. We can be certain that the health insurance industry is now preparing an ad blitz of unprecedented scale. If Dems and their supporting organizations get buried by a tidal wave of insurance industry TV ads and respond weakly, we will have only ourselves to blame.
The optimistic scenario is that Obama handles the interviews exceptionally-well, which is certainly possible and Democrats and health reform groups run a great ad blitz that more than offsets the insurance industry effort. If these two challenges are met, it could help make the difference between victory and defeat on health care reform.
It’s probably too much to hope that a good YouTube health care reform video will go viral as did the “Yes We Can” clip, although there are some good ones available. Seelye also reports that a coalition group, Health Care for America now has budgeted $1.2 million to run an ad on nation-wide cable TV and Washington, D.C.-area television (It’s a pretty tough, but very short ad. see it here), as well as print ad in political publications. For those who like longer (about 11 minutes), tougher fare, in this video clip Keith Olbermann gets seriously medieval on specific members of congress who oppose/obstruct health reform while taking big money from the health insurance companies. Also, YouTube has dozens of video clips from Michael Moore’s “Sicko.”
The great advantage of videos and documentaries is that they can show the need for health care reform as opposed to just talking about it. The networks could do a tremendous public service that could save the lives of many simply by showing some of the better videos and documentaries about health care and the need for reform in the days ahead. It’s unlikely that network programming execs will ever have a better opportunity to do something great for their country and its people.

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