Paul Begala has released a point-by-point debunk of Frank Luntz’s now infamous health care memo, in which the GOP wordsmith instructed Republicans to attack the president’s health reform efforts by criticizing the deficiencies in foreign health care systems.
The top quote is key: “The only people who give any credence to Republican Senators’ rhetoric is Democratic Senators,” Begala quotes George Mitchell as saying. In other words, the public agrees with progressive health care priorities and in this health care debate, Americans start out on our side. Begala:
That fact is this: the overwhelming majority of American support health care reform. In fact, Dr. Luntz himself notes that voters trust Democrats over Republicans by a whopping 20 percent on health care . If health care reform were unpopular, Republicans would not resort to misleading rhetoric to mask their opposition. The striking thing about Luntz’s memo is how the rhetoric he advocates apes our message.
So the problem is not in convincing the American people that we need reform; they’ve heard that message before and they overwhelmingly agree with it. The real goal, this time, is to do a better job in mobilizing that public support into action for change. As Chris Jennings often argues, “when it comes to health reform, fear beats hope. In the past, this has meant that nothing gets done.”
Progressives need to answer conservative attacks by defending progressive proposals on their merits — as Begala does– rather than resorting to the comfortable/familiar rhetoric of “affordable health care for all” or “shared responsibility.” Such buzz language has doomed past reform efforts. As Haynes Johnson and David Broder argue in their analysis of President Clinton’s failed health care reform effort, by relying on hollow buzz words, rather than policy specifics, the Clintons allowed the opposition to ascribe meaning to reform rhetoric. Let’s hope we doesn’t make that same mistake again.