Can Obama Find A Persuasive Message On Healthcare Reform?

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Can Obama Find A Persuasive Message On Healthcare Reform?

August 21, 2009 Persuasion Politics 5

Well, the healthcare debate is now in full swing.


To my right, crazies continue hurling invective, disrupting public meetings, and generally demonstrating the bad behavior which they  only hold in check when they get their way.  Reminds me of the kind of petulant and delinquent kids my Mom warned me away from.   While it can be said that because of them, more people are now thinking about this issue, it seems to me they’ve added more noise than signal.  Net influence so far:  Extreme and Negative.

To my left, an often unruly mob of people wanting a system to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves, regardless of expense or consequence.  And while they are fractured and fractious by nature, perhaps they are capable, eventually, of realizing that letting the perfect be the enemy of the good is a loser’s game that plays into the hands of the crazies to the right. Net influence so far:  Weak and Negative.

Meanwhile, most Americans (including myself) want something (meaningful and significant change) to be done.  The cost is ridiculous for the level of service we get.  Statistically, it just doesn’t add up that we have the ‘best system in the world.’  And realistically, the best we can say about it is you get the disease care you can afford.  In this economy, that means more people going without, which raises the overall cost to society.  (Sick people lose earning power, and can become a drain on limited resources.) Businesses want reform.  The people want reform.  Indeed, the people demand reform.  Yet the people keep getting the same old run-around from the same old special interests.

I have my own ideas about meaningful reform, and just as real prevention isn’t just about doing more tests for early detection, real reform is not just about insurance reform.  We have too many procedures that don’t measure up, not enough emphasis on health restoration and health maintenance through diet and natural medicine, and inadequate incentives to keep young people interested in the medical professions.  Yet I’m not attached to what I want to see, because getting a good start on reform matters more to me than getting everything I want.  And it should matter to you too.  This system is too expensive and exclusive for our own good.  Getting a handle on its costs, I think,  is the right place to start.

What should be a no-brainer in policy making has become yet another political football, a chance for the Republican Party to strengthen it’s destructive yet weakened position in modern society and for the Democratic Party to use it’s position to give away the store to those in the best position to profit from the confusion.

What we need right now is real leadership.  Yet  what we’re getting is a muddle of poor message management.  And in part , I think, it’s because the President has been playing a losing game of his own: Trying to please all the people all the time.

But now, at last, at seems he has come to that moment in time when he simply is ready and willing to tell the truth.  And the truth, for him, is that it is a moral outrage that in a country like ours, we have a healthcare and insurance system that has built in discrimination that actually violates the Hippocratic Oath that doctors take, and causes serious harm to those who can’t afford the cost of their need.

I read today that he did a conference call with religious leaders, and made it clear that the lies and invective are evidence of how some wish to ‘bear false witness.’  I felt moved by this, as he is taking the language of morality to shape this conversation.   I wish I could offer him a word of advice.  Broaden that appeal.  This isn’t just an issue that plays off the morality of the religious.  Indeed, the religious communities of America have been remarkably silent for years about anything other than right makes might and abortion.  This is an issue that effects us all, and that calls into question our morality as a people.

I wish I could help move the dialog along.   Because having seen the cost to my family during the last months of my mother’s care, and the expense involved in my own treatment for a cat bite and my wife’s knee injury, it is evident to me that those who are less fortunate than us have no chance in the current system to get their needs met, and the rest of us are being over-procedured (look, I made up a word!) and overmedicated and at the same time under-cared for.

How would I frame the issue?   It’s simple.  Using my motivational model, I see where each of the defined motivations comes into play. While the opponents of reform wish to make it about fear vs hope, the most basic motivational ploy, what’s needed is to be brief yet explicit about all the ways that we stand to gain or lose from how this turns out.  Obama has the ability to do this. He has yet to do it.  Perhaps now he will.

The system is breaking down.  Let’s break the message down.

Our motivation to enact a meaningful reform of the healthcare system is multifaceted.  This is a values issue above all, about right and wrong, about basic fairness for people that suffer adversity in the course of living.  (That can be any of us!)

The rewards we stand to gain by proper reform and the losses we must endure if nothing is done or the wrong thing is done should be highlighted.

Doing reform properly can strengthen or weaken us as a nation is the esteem piece.

There clearly is a challenge before us, and reform is going to succeed or fail depending on who stands up to be counted, who steps up on behalf of their constituents, and who wimps out in order to protect the status quo.

And this is also a purpose issue, because how we deal with it says much about how we see our place in the world (a light unto the nations), who we are as a people (United we stand, divided we fall) and how we measure ourselves against the mandate to create a more perfect union (We the people.)

When all is said and done, something needs to be done, and in the realm of persuasion, not enough has been said.  Americans owe it to themselves to either learn the facts of the matter, or trust those who represent them to deal with the matter with courage and insight instead of politics and polarization.  Anyone who finds their purpose in standing against will, I’m guessing, be swept away in the next election.

Obama can lead on this and should.  If he fails in something so essential to our future, his standing as President will be weakened in the hearts and minds of American citizens.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

Be well,



5 Responses

  1. rita says:

    the American Health Care System Reform is a challenge, not only for your President Obama, but also for all American people.
    Right now, 45 Billion U.S. people are not covered by an insurance, is what our TV reporters say. If your country goes for a similar System as our country works with for the past 60 years, it´d mean that everyone will be covered, some will pay and won´t need service (for many years, hopefuly on one side) while others pay the same fee/amount and will need the service more often. So cost for each should be the same then but using the service will make a difference. Maybe those who are covered by now, will pay less than now.
    IF this is the direction were your country is heading to, then everyone has to think: “united we stand”. Period. No discussion.
    I keep my fingers crossed that America gets to an united aim.
    –> Falling also means for the future: standing up again!


    • Thanks for the comment, Rita! This issue is going forward in spite of the noise. What’s needed is a strong mandate in the public at large for meaningful change. I think the President has to move the center of gravity away from the media and into the public arena, with a consistent message delivered repeatedly, and a debunking of and inoculating against the specious fear mongering charges of those who oppose change.

      Best wishes,

  2. Jimmy May says:

    Dr. K, it strikes me that you’ve significantly misread the groundswell of objections to the proposed reforms. If POTUS Obama’s & Congress’s proposals were sound, or sane, they’d be better received. I, too, would like reform–but not just any reform, but sensible & fair reform. Affordable health care, portability, catastrophic coverage, & liberating insurance companies to sell across state lines in ways they can’t now would benefit everyone. Yet the deprivation of liberty concomitant with the costs of any program currently proposed to those who work for a living as well as to future generations makes them by definition un-American. Indeed, on this basis Obama’s efforts to sell current proposals as moral imperatives are hypocritiical. Burdening current & future generations such as is being attempted now is in fact immoral.

    Let’s reform health care in this country, but not with a cure that worse than the disease.

  3. Dr. K says:

    Thanks Jimmy for your comment, glad to have you onboard. What I like about your comment is that it has a reasonable tone, making it easy for me to consider the points you make. I think that the intense, in your face, name calling and hyperbolic reaction to the still developing reform package has undermined the legitimate concerns with it.

    The problem is twofold, I think, in coming up with a good solution.
    1st, for some people, anything this President wants to do invites their opposition, thus making noise instead of resolution the intended result. And 2nd, Congress almost never comes up with a solution that isn’t loaded with more problems. Meanwhile, the healthcare challenge faced by business and uninsured individuals, as well as those who have insurance like myself, is that it is already too expensive to sustain. That’s why I’m interested in a reasoned discussion of the issue. Thanks for your comment, and do come again!

  4. Dr. K says:

    I read an article in the LA TIMES this morning that gets the problem Obama is having with healthcare reform exactly right.,0,3787348.story

    The president’s inconsistent message, which includes several arguments for reform from ‘economic recovery’ to ‘ stopping the rising deficits’ to ‘moral imperative’ are leaving people confused and costing him support.

    Meanwhile, opponents have a simple and easy to understand message, as usual. ‘ Government-forced cost reductions will restrict treatments, imperiling the ill and elderly.’

    In persuasion, consistency counts. It’s not an indictment of the thoughtfulness of people, just a fact of life in the realm of communication. People are tired and overwhelmed, and the noise and complexity is offputting and alienating.

    For me the big surprise is that the POTUS has a persuasive gift designed for his bully pulpit, and I’m not sure why he’s not doing a better job of using it. Maybe he’s just had too much on his plate, because no one can argue that he didn’t walk into a complete and utter mess left by his predecessor.

    I won’t be surprised if he comes back from vacation at the end of August with a c0herent and consistent message. Once the American people are back on board, he’s more likely to have the leverage he needs to round up an unruly Congress and make something that’s a legacy instead of an albatross.

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