Passage of healthcare security bill gives momentum to bipartisan climate and energy security bill

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"Passage of healthcare security bill gives momentum to bipartisan climate and energy security bill"

If only progressives had a clue about messaging!

The success of health reform creates momentum for Democrats that is almost certain to help advocates of climate change legislation.

So begins the EnergyGuardian story (subs. req’d) by reporter and Fox News contributor Jeffrey Birnbaum.  Similarly, BusinessGreen reports:

The chances of US climate change legislation passing this year received a major boost after President Obama secured victory in his historic battle to pass healthcare reforms late last night.

Certainly, failure on the healthcare security bill would have been bad news for Obama’s entire agenda.  And if progressives can pass a mono-partisan health security bill that isn’t popular with the public, passing a bipartisan job-creating climate and energy security bill that is quite popular with the public should be a no-brainer.  Should be.

I know what you’re thinking — what the heck is this “healthcare security bill”?  Everybody else calls it “healthcare reform.”  And that’s the problem — another example of dreadful progressive messaging, which I touched on back in September [see “Can Obama deliver health and energy security with a half (assed) message?“].

Having sat through the House debate on CSPAN on the healthcare security bill yesterday — where Democrats repeated the phrase “healthcare reform” dozens and dozens of times, thereby missing a real messaging opportunity —  let me revise and extend my remarks from September.

No serious messaging strategy can possibly be built around the phrase “healthcare reform.”  Why?  First, “reform” is a process, not an outcome.  No one serious about moving public opinion talks about process over and over again.  They talk about the benefits that reform brings, outcomes the public cares about.  Second, most of the public likes their healthcare, so the phrase “healthcare reform” is not intrinsically positive and, in fact, is probably negative for much of the public given the more effective conservative messaging.

If you spend half your scarce messaging time talking about “healthcare reform,” while your opponent spends all of their time messaging on negative outcomes that the public worries about, you are fighting with one hand tied behind your back.

Here a quiz:

1)  What’s worse from a messaging perspective, “the public option” or “cap-and-trade”?  Hint:  Both are process.

2)  Tell me in one sentence what team Obama says is the benefit of passing a health care reform bill.

3)  Tell me in one sentence what team Obama says happens if we fail to pass the climate and clean energy bill.

On health care, no simple, repeated core message exists, so the whole effort is a muddle.

Like the 99% of people who aren’t expert on health care reform, only very recently — 12 months too late — have I begun to develop a clear idea of what this plan is or what it would actually do.  The problem is, many if not most people could probably care less about the uninsured “” they just don’t want to join that group “” and while people may say they want cost containment, in fact they don’t want their own costs “contained,” they only want their premiums lower.  They do want security about their healthcare.

Again, the single phrase that the Democrats repeat most often is “healthcare reform” whereas the single phrase that Republicans repeat most often is “government takeover.”  Is it any surprise the polling on this bill is so bad?

As Frank Luntz “” the bane of climate progressives (see Bush climate speech follows Luntz playbook: “Technology, technology, blah, blah, blah.“) but an undeniably astute conservative messaging guru “” has said:

There’s a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again and again, and about the time that you’re absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time.

Duh.

A vote for this bill is a vote for healthcare security.  You get to keep your healthcare coverage if you like what you have — and they can’t throw you off of it if you get some expensive disease or get fired.  And you get access to health care coverage if you don’t have it, and they can’t keep it away from you if you have a pre-existing condition.  And this bill keeps whatever healthcare you have or get affordable, so you don’t have to compromise your health to pay for other necessities.

Healthcare security. Healthcare security. Healthcare security.

On climate, at least we have the simple positive message:  clean energy jobs, jobs, jobs.  Plus energy independence/security.  That is a key reason public support has held firm even in the face of a multimillion dollar campaign of fraud and disinformation by the fossil-fuel-funded right wing:

Normally, however, a winning campaign has four messages, as I discussed in this 2008 post, “Can Obama win with half a messaging strategy?

Let me repeat what I consider to be Messaging 101, which apparently has been lost again by team Obama and progressive leaders.

As psychologist and Political Brain author Drew Westen explained in Huffington Post during the 2008 campaign:

There is a simple fact about elections that has eluded Democrats in every presidential campaign they have lost in the last 40 years: that as a candidate, you have to focus first and foremost not on a litany of “issues” but on four stories: the story you tell about yourself, the story your opponent is telling about himself, the story your opponent is telling about you, and the story you are telling about your opponent. Candidates who offer compelling stories in all four quadrants of this “message grid” win, and those who leave any of them to chance generally lose.

I’d actually put it a little differently. You need a story about yourself and a story about your opponent. And you need a counterpunch to your opponent’s stories about himself and about you. Ideally, the stories can be boiled down to a catchy slogan (“it’s the economy, stupid”) or one or two words (“compassionate conservative”) that make use of the memorable figures of speech from the 25-century-old art of persuasion aka rhetoric (see “Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Part 1“). Same for the counterpunch (“He was for it before he was against it.”).

The word “story” here is roughly equivalent to two other popular terms “” “frame” (as George Lakoff uses the term) or “narrative.”  It is also equivalent to rhetoric’s “extended metaphor,” which I argue is the most important figure of speech in my not-yet-bestselling unpublished manuscript, Politics, Religion, and the English Language (see “How Lincoln framed his picture-perfect Gettysburg Address, 4: Extended metaphor“).

Good candidates will pound away with a strong positive extended metaphor of why you should vote for them and with an equally strong negative extended metaphor of why you should not vote for their opponents. Winning two-term candidates, like President George W. Bush with the help of Karl Rove, will have a counter-punch to their opponent’s positive and negative extended metaphors. The counterpunches always use the same figure of speech “” dramatic irony, wherein someone’s words unintentionally mean something quite different from (and often opposite to) what they intended (see “How to be as persuasive as Abe Lincoln, Part 2: Use irony, the twist we can’t resist“).

The goal is to find a powerful dramatic irony in their opponents’ words or deeds that blow up the opposition’s own extended metaphor. That always makes a great story, since it is satisfying sport for people to be hoist with their own petard or for people to be uncovered as a hypocrite.

Think Michael Dukakis in an army tank, or President Bush on the aircraft carrier with the “Mission Accomplished” banner in the background, or the Swift Boat ads run against John Kerry. Dramatic irony is the key to understanding both popular culture and politics “” but that is another post.

What conservatives have figured out is that since the media doesn’t really police the truth in a meaningful fashion, you can pretty much take whatever your opponent says out of context and turn that into a defining dramatic irony. Or just make stuff up entirely.

The other point of having the four stories or frames or extended metaphors is that it makes responding to attacks very easy. If you know your messages, then whenever the other side launches a phony attack, you just frame the response with one of your narratives.

Of course, if your opponent has no positive plan, which is true in both the health care debate and climate change (and mostly true on energy), then your messaging job should be easier “” but only if you are willing to be very blunt about what happens if we do nothing.  In the case of global warming, of course, many people on our side have been duped by dubious polling and focus groups and dial groups into polling their punches on the climate science message (see “Messaging 101b: EcoAmerica’s phrase ‘our deteriorating atmosphere’ isn’t going to replace ‘global warming’ “” and that’s a good thing” and Mark Mellman must read on climate messaging: “A strong public consensus has emerged on the reality and severity of global warming, as well as on the need for federal action” “” ecoAmerica “could hardly be more wrong”).

Ironically, many progressives don’t even know how strong the polling remains for the clean air, clean energy jobs bill that increases energy independence while preserving a livable climate.

But the healthcare debate does show that even half-assed messaging — with conviction — coupled with an intense political effort can deliver legislation when progressives have large majorities.  Now Obama needs devote as much effort to climate and clean energy as he has to healthcare.  If he can’t pass a more popular bill that already has bipartisan support — and which is more important to the health and well-being of future Americans — then his tremendous healthcare success will not save his presidency from being judged a failure.

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25 Responses to Passage of healthcare security bill gives momentum to bipartisan climate and energy security bill

  1. charlie says:

    Joe, I want to disagree with you on the messaging. I want to say “framing” is so 2005. I want to say the problem is our national political press are basically idiots who can’t say anything useful outside of a horse race. I want to say, as you point you, that expanding insurance coverage to the uninsured is not popular. And I want to say that that concerns about fiscal responsibility are widespread.

    But in the end, I have to agree with you. Some very basic messaging a year ago would have been very helpful.

    On energy-jobs, there are some disconnects.

    1) People’s fears about the economy are profound, but getting people jobs isn’t maybe the biggest thing out there.

    2) When a lot of people hear “energy-jobs” they think of Van Jones and think it just another excuse to employ black people — and they don’t like it.

    3) Americans understand efficiency. We need to lay down another 100 years of cheap cleaner energy. On oil, which is what people know best, people know that the money they spend at the pump goes right to terrorists. We have a choice: we can tax ourselves, or we can give the money to a bunch of arabs. Our choice.

  2. darth says:

    If by dramatic irony you mean Inhofe’s igloo stunt on the mall recently, perhaps a good counter would have been to have Al Gore (or someone similar) speak from the Winter Olympics venue when it was raining, show lots of video of the snow being trucked and helicoptered in, etc. I never saw any of that on the media, and that would have been a great opportunity which is now gone. Of course weather does not equal climate, but the other side uses the visual irony and our side seems afraid to because its not scientifically accurate. Do you think we should?

  3. B Amer says:

    Well, this is one of the most depressing things I’ve read lately:

    “The problem is, most people could care less about the uninsured — they just don’t want to join that group”

    Really? Are the majority in this country really that cold hearted? Maybe so, but it’s a sad state of affairs if true.

  4. Mike M says:

    What the hell, progressives’ lies have stuck a knife into the most advanced health care industry in the world, (which is WHY it is so expensive but also why more medical students try to come HERE to study medicine than anywhere else in the world giving us the LOWEST patient care waiting times in the ‘free’ world), so why not a two-fer and kill energy at the same time and stamp out capitalism completely? You know, like Stalin did?

  5. catman306 says:

    Maybe in a few years, when the time comes to tweak healthcare reform to a single payer system it will be called Healthcare Security. They’ve been saving the brand until it’s needed.

  6. Mike M says:

    charlie: “On oil, which is what people know best, people know that the money they spend at the pump goes right to terrorists. We have a choice: we can tax ourselves, or we can give the money to a bunch of arabs. Our choice.”

    What a load of horse dung. The government had absolutely NOTHING to do with the switch-over to using natural gas and products from crude oil. Free enterprise in an environment of ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY, (why people ~used to~ come to the USA), gave us all the advanced technology we see today, (ok, I admit you have to include WW2 in there). But no government agency FORCED Standard Oil to develop gasoline, no government bureaucrats gave tax breaks to people who bought the first automobiles, no one in Congress would have dared to say that they had some sort of ‘mandate’ to curtail the sale of horses.

    Charlie the ‘choices’ you present are a LIE because you do not include DRILL BABY DRILL – we have enough domestic fossil fuel discovered within our borders to swear off ME oil FOREVER! But liberals block domestic production at every turn. Now even the Russians are coming to Cuba to slant drill away crude reserves off the coast of Florida that we should have tapped decades ago.

    And by the way Charlie, perhaps you didn’t know this, only SEVENTEEN PERCENT of our crude comes from the Middle East. So it wouldn’t take very much more domestic production to make that up but why stop there – go all the way and get off ALL foreign sources. (It’ll create jobs too!)

  7. Leif says:

    Mark M, # 4: .. “stamp out capitalism completely?” Good idea, however, Not like Stalin, as you suggest, but like rational people. There is no rational reason that capitalism and corporations should be at cross purposes with the long term survivability of humanity. Last year alone corporations spent over 150 million dollars to convince you and others like you that the very same science that you trust with your life on a daily basses, with cars, planes, bridges, medicine, and more, is somehow out to get you with respect to alerting you to the perils of green house gasses. Why would they spend that kind of money massaging your thinking as opposed to giving you less expensive products? Most folks I would not have to tell the answer to but you?… To make more MONEY off the likes of YOU. Pure greed at the expense of humanity.

    Capitalism and corporations must be charged with the long term sustainability and survivability of humanity and earth’s life support systems first and foremost and share holder and CEO profits secondary.

  8. Fire Mountain says:

    Mann – “we have enough domestic fossil fuel discovered within our borders to swear off ME oil FOREVER!”

    “Non-OPEC Oil Production Hits the Wall”
    http://www.aspousa.org/index.php/2010/03/non-opec-oil-production-hits-the-wall/

    “But no government agency FORCED Standard Oil to develop gasoline, no government bureaucrats gave tax breaks to people who bought the first automobiles, no one in Congress would have dared to say that they had some sort of ‘mandate’ to curtail the sale of horses.”

    Government only built the road system that made mass automobility possible. Plus the origin of mass trucking is in early adoption of trucks by World War I armies, due to their greater flexibility over trains. Plus tens of billions of dollars in tax subsidies go to the oil industry.

  9. climate undergrad says:

    “The clean air, clean energy jobs bill that increases energy independence while preserving a livable climate.”

    Why isn’t Obama on CP?

  10. Jade in San Francisco says:

    Joe I don’t think we should expect a climate change/clean energy jobs bill this year. The democrats do not have the 60 votes in the senate to bypass a republican filibuster, so any meaningful legislation, with any real teeth in it, will have to be passed via reconciliation. Just as health care reform legislation was. Since the price of a cap and trade scheme (the corner stone of any climate change legislation) was not included in the 2010 budget, the democrats cannot pass clean energy reform via reconciliation this year. The only way they can get it passed in the Senate this year is if they go fishing for republican votes. That will inevitably water down the bill even more so than it already is. I think Democrats should wait until 2011 to pass a good, strong, meaningful peace of legislation, via reconciliation. We don’t need republican votes to get the job done.

    Courting republicans like Linsay Graham and “independents” like Joseph Lieberman is akin to playing with fire. Tread lightly Mr. Romm.

    [JR: Never gonna get in the budget in 2011. Don’t have the votes for it. Didn’t have them last year, and there’re gonna be a lot fewer Dems in 2011. No bill this year means no bill through at last 2012.]

  11. _Flin_ says:

    @Mike M: The percentage of oil imports from the middle east is actually not true.
    When I look at this http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/oil_gas/petroleum/data_publications/company_level_imports/current/import.html I come to 9,4% from the Middle East.

    The top countries where imports are from are Canada, Mexico, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Algeria, Iraq, Angola, Brazil, Colombia, Russia, Kuwait, Azerbaijan, Congo and Ecuador.

    Of these, only Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Russia are stable democracies (Russia being a bit more stable than democratic). Ecuador and Colombia are democratic but not so stable (looking at the last 10 years). Venezuela calls itself socialist democratic and doesn’t like the USA very much. Algeria, Nigeria, Kuwait and Azerbaijan are rather stable but not very democratic. Saudi Arabia is an authocratic monarchy and appears to be stable, but next to Pakistan the biggest center for islamistic fundamentalism. Iraq and Congo are two of the most dangerously unstable states on this planet.

    Great shopping mall, really. That’s a mix of partners where you can definitely rely on… nothing at all.

    And “most advanced health care industry in the world”… that’s probably the reason for Sarah Palin to go to Canada for treatment. I prefer to judge health care systems by the health of people. American health system is expensive above all, more than twice the OECD average. Life excpectancy, however, is below average. So are the number of practicing physicians per 1000 people or the number of hospital beds per 1000 people. But absolutely leading are the US in avoidable admissions with asthma or diabetes complications. So I don’t about the industry, but the system is really really bad.

  12. Mark Shapiro says:

    Clean energy will make us healthier, wealthier, safer, and more secure.

    How’s that for one sentience?

    Clean energy will make us healthier, wealthier, safer, and more secure.

  13. Jade in San Francisco says:

    Joe said: “Never gonna get in the budget in 2011. Don’t have the votes for it. Didn’t have them last year, and there’re gonna be a lot fewer Dems in 2011. No bill this year means no bill through at last 2012.”

    With all due respect Joe I seriously doubt that the Democrats are going to lose 10 Senate seats this November. The House of Representatives on the other hand is a completely different story. If the President doesn’t go out and campaign hard for House members then they might lose big. However you need to keep in mind that the House has already passed their clean energy/climate change legislation. Now it’s just languishing in the Senate. I would rather let it sit in Senate purgatory until 2011, and pass a strong, meaningful bill that has not been watered down, via reconciliation, as opposed to going fishing for Republican votes and ramming a crap sandwich through this year. Patience is a virtue.

    We don’t need Republicans to get the job done.

  14. Wit's End says:

    We won’t have to wait much longer for that WWII Pearl Harbor wake-up attack: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100322/ap_on_re_as/as_china_sandstorm

  15. catman306 says:

    No single extreme weather event, no matter how severe, can be the wake-up. Only the increasing frequency of these extreme events can signal climate change.

    The instantaneous disintegration of the Greenland Ice Cap would be a Pearl Harbor type event. It would make good TV and everyone would see the videos. But it’ll be too late to do much about global warming.

  16. Wit's End says:

    Awwww…! Catman! Don’t rain on my parade!

  17. charlie says:

    Dear MikeM:

    You are a terrorist supporter and un-American. How’s that for messaging?

    We have plenty of oil in the US. I suggest we save it for when it gets expensive. People like you are just fronts for Saudi and Iranian interests. Or Hugo Chavez. I get confused about that.

  18. Greg says:

    “A vote for this bill is a vote for healthcare security. You get to keep your healthcare coverage if you like what you have — and they can’t throw you off of it if you get some expensive disease or get fired. And you get access to health care coverage if you don’t have it, and they can’t keep it away from you if you have a pre-existing condition. And this bill keeps whatever healthcare you have or get affordable, so you don’t have to compromise your health to pay for other necessities.”

    I’m skeptical that you can get all of the above, with no compromises in terms of choice and access. Right now, if you have a good (generous) group insurance plan, there are few restraints on how much will be spent to keep you alive. That is a good deal if you can get into and stay in one of those plans. That is also why the cost of such plans is skyrocketing. Modern medicine provides ample opportunity to spend huge sums of money to extend life, if even for a short time. (Think cancer drugs that cost $40,000 per month, and extend survival by 2 or 3 months). Extend that kind of generous plan to everyone, and costs will continue to explode. So to keep the overall cost low, there will eventually have to be limits on how much can be spent per patient, for various kinds of illness, and in various scenarios. What we can’t see right now is what kind of limits will eventually be imposed. They will hopefully be based on rational and fair considerations. But I think it is unwise to promise that people who currently have one of those generous full feature plans are not eventually going to see changes.

    To draw this back to climate change: I see the same kind of “only upside” messaging being employed too often, e.g., these carbon restrictions will save the planet, create jobs, lead to a new green revolution, no pain, only gain… I just don’t believe it. I think it will be a difficult, painful transition, and will lead to a more limited, restrictive way of life for all of us. Perhaps it is necessary and preferred to the alternative reality of a much hotter planet. But expect a strong backlash when the painful side of this becomes more apparent.

  19. Mike#22 says:

    “The goal is to find a powerful dramatic irony in their opponents’ words or deeds that blow up the opposition’s own extended metaphor. That always makes a great story, since it is satisfying sport for people to be hoist with their own petard or for people to be uncovered as a hypocrite.”

    Despair and hope. I despair that this country’s national political process grinds along at this level.

    Hope also. If any group of people is poised to step on a landmine of their own making, it is the uber creepy denialists masquerading as good citizens. Time to sharpen our wits, and out these zombies.

  20. EMTguy says:

    Immigration “reform” is next on Obama’s plate, followed by a push for a “value added tax” to pay for everything else he has heaped on us. Not much time for the climate.

  21. Mike#22 says:

    EMT, may I remind you that it the Republican President Reagan who tripled the national debt and grew the federal government? Followed by President Bush who raised taxes?

    And that President Clinton brought this country to prosperity and balanced budgets?

    And that the second President Bush steeply increased our national debt again and committed this country to AT LEAST 3 trillion in debt over the Iraq war of choice? Not to mention 40,000+ disabled vets?

    Digest that, and then see if you have any faith in what others have told you about President Obama’s policies.

  22. fj2 says:

    http://www.nytimes.com//2010/03/23/opinion/23herbert.html

    Op-Ed Columnist
    An Absence of Class

    by Bob Herbert
    Published: March 22, 2010

  23. adrian says:

    The following observations may seem off-topic, but they’re not:

    1. The Republicans have done a great job of obfuscating just who comprises the American public. Every time Baucus or Cantor announces “the American people don’t…” and the media picks it up, more people (and the media) seem to think these people know what they’re talking about. You notice Republican leaders don’t say “some of the American people,” or the more honest “Our Republican constituents…” Nope, somehow we’re all lumped in together as who they represent, true or not.

    2. I for one am not so sure “the American public” is really so skeptical of healthcare security ;-) as the powers that be (media, political, etc.) seem to think. Perhaps the PTB have been persuaded by the messaging from a noisy minority? And polls don’t give a clear picture either, really. In the middle class, everyone knows someone who can’t get insurance. And almost by definition, if you’re over fifty you have some sort of “pre-existing condition” (life happens), so if you lose your job you’re sunk, and it’s a long time before medicare kicks in.

    2. Scientists should partner with humanists, and also with people that look and sound like “regular folks” to get the climate change message out. The scientific community should also partner, if it doesn’t object, with religious leaders. That group of Catholic nuns coming out in favor of the health care bill was very powerful for some Catholics I know.

    In my experience there really is an anti-“privileged-over-educated-folks- telling-us-our-business” sentiment out there. Even in my own extended family, I’m sorry to say. This can serve as a pointer to the right messaging approach, as Joe keeps pointing out. Some folks won’t respond to science, but they will respond to a moral and/or religious message. “Care of creation is an important Christian value,” and “Creating clean energy jobs and achieving energy independence is a moral imperative. All right-thinking Americans should support this bill.” Republicans, right-wingers (religious or not), and deniers do not own morality.

    3. As I read posts and comments here, I notice from their names that the majority of guest bloggers and comment posters seem to be male. Is this a reflection of readership or is it that men are more likely to post comments? Therefore I ask, what is wrong with the messaging in this blog? It seems to be missing half the people who care just as deeply about climate change issues. What sorts of posts would you have to put up to more deeply engage women? How would you frame them?

  24. another alum says:

    baucus is not a republican.

    he is one of the people who got health care reform passed.

    Obama, to get health care passed, not only partnered with moderate Dems in the Senate, but with the AMA, with big Pharma, and, for a time, even with the insurance cos.

    Thats how cap and trade will pass – with a coalition that includes lots of folks “progressives” dont like

  25. adrian says:

    another alum

    Sorry, meant Boehner, of course. Thanks for the correction.