The great health care debacle: Is the message poorly framed or is the policy itself flawed?

The debate of health care reform is shaping up to be the defining issue for both political parties in the U.S. and certainly for the Obama Administration. Spirited resistance to reform as defined by the Democrats has caused many to question the authenticity of the supposedly “grass-roots” opposition voiced at town hall meetings across the country. But these questions miss the salient point — and a politician who cut his teeth at the beginning of his career as a community organizer, President Obama knows better than to dismiss the back-talk of crowds that have been egged on by organizers.

The real question is whether the idea of health care reform is failing to win support because it has been badly messaged or if the idea of big government-run health care is fundamentally antithetical to a majority of Americans.

The answer, as usual, depends on who you ask. Clearly, progressive supporters of health care reform as envisioned by the majority party in Congress and by the Administration need to do a far better job of selling the plan on the merits. This isn’t just a matter of shouting louder than the supposedly nefarious opponents of the plan. They need to make a cogent case that folks outside the Beltway can understand and trust. When key details in the plan are left obscure — written in governmentese or simply vague — the public senses that they are being scammed, that the details will be filled in later in a manner that will create a monster bureaucracy that they never would support if it had been spelled out all along. Maybe that is exactly what the policy makers have in mind.

But health care reformers would be wise to avoid taking the arrogant path – as baldly articulated by Bill Maher this week on the Tonight Show to a flabbergasted Conan Obrien, that the “stupid” American public doesn’t know what’s best for it and needs to be forcedly led to accept what smart progressives deem good and proper.

(Obama) just needs to drag them to it. Like I just said, they’re stupid. Just drag them to this. Get health care done, you know, with or without them. Make the Gang of Six an offer they can’t refuse. This Max Baucus guy? He needs to wake up tomorrow with an intern’s head in his bed.

In other words, ‘We got elected. You have your opinions. Fine. That’s what Twitter is for. But, I’m gonna do what I have to do.’

That doesn’t sound like Democracy in action and Democrats should know better than to pursue such a course.

- Jon Harmon

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