By now, most who have a voice — meaning journalists, broadcast rabble rousers, pundits, lobbyists, think tanks, and public officials both elected and unelected — have turned the current attempt to address shortcomings in our health-care system into a Clintonesque quagmire. What ought to be a simple, focused discussion–Everyone must have health insurance as a matter of national well-being. That insurance must not bankrupt anyone. How do we do that?–has become a mash of impenetrable rhetoric and hysterical charges. It’s amusing that the right has even taken to trying to make the problem of the uninsured go away by manipulating numbers. Zap those uncovered folks with a calculator, and they go away!
George Lakoff of the University of California, Berkeley, is a pioneer in the field of cognitive linguistics and an authority on the workings of framing in public debates. His well-publicized take in The Huffington Post is that the president and his people have blown it by making the health-care debate a pure policy discussion. He urges the administration to reframe its health care program “as An American Plan” that “guarantees affordable care for all Americans.” He then proceeds to lay out a messaging strategy to communicate that simple idea. The HuffPost piece is also worth reading for its critique on what Obama’s chief advisors do and don’t get about communicating with the public. If you think Lakoff’s argument is a little lofty and disconnected from reality, bear in mind that in February 2008, long before the issue was decided, he was predicting Obama would win the Democratic nomination and presidency, in large part because of the deftness with which he framed his candidacy. The guy’s got some cred.
Yes, the details of covering all the uninsured and making coverage affordable for everyone are complicated. But making that goal clear and repeating it at every opportunity is probably the only way to overcome the fear-mongering of those who would like to kill the plan and cripple Obama’s presidency.