Deconstructing Frank Luntz’s Obstructionist Health Care Reform Memo

GOP wordsmith Frank Luntz has authored a new messaging memo defining the Republican rhetoric on health care reform (READ FULL MEMO HERE). The memo is titled “The Language of Health Care 2009” and it lays out the argument for “stopping the Washington takeover” of health care.” But if fully implemented it may very well stop health care reform:

This document is based on polling results and Instant Response dial sessions conducted in April 2009. It captures not just what Americans want to see but exactly what they want to hear. The Words That Work boxes that follow are already being used by a few Congressional and Senatorial Republicans. From today forward, they should be used by everyone.

Luntz warns that “if the dynamic becomes ‘President Obama is on the side of reform and Republicans are against it,’ then the battle is lost and every word in this document is useless.’” The trouble is, it already is useless. Because rather than challenging the tenets of American reform proposals, Luntz establishes a straw man argument against a non-existent health plan.

Buried amongst the usual rhetoric about government-run health care is Luntz’s predictable contradiction: he instructs Republicans to “be vocally and passionately on the side of REFORM” but then urges GOP lawmakers to misrepresent and obstruct any real chance of passing comprehensive legislation.


“Humanize your approach,” but argue that health care reform “will result in delayed and potentially even denied treatment, procedures and/or medications.” “Acknowledge the crisis” but ask your constituents “would you rather… ‘pay the costs you pay today for the quality of care you currently receive,’ OR ‘Pay less for your care, but potentially have to wait weeks for tests and months for treatments you need.”

In other words, say there is a crisis but then argue that health care reform would lead to “the government setting standards of care,” government “rationing care,” and would “put the Washington bureaucrats in charge of health care.” “This plays into more favorable Republican territory by protecting individual care while downplays the need for a comprehensive national plan,” the memo states.

Readers are also instructed to conflate Obama’s fairly moderate hybrid approach to reform (i.e. building on the current private/public system of delivering health care) with “denial horror stories from Canada & Co.”

Focus on timeliness — “the plan put forward by the Democrats will deny people treatments they need and make them wait to get the treatments they are allowed to receive” — and argue that Republicans will provide “in a word, more: ‘more access to more treatments and more doctors…with less interference from insurance companies and Washington politicians and special interests.’”

But that’s the major problem with Luntz’s memo: it tries to obstruct health reform by ignoring what Obama is actually offering. Instead, Luntz is attacking an easy extreme — what he wishes the Democrats were proposing — and pretending that the Republicans actually have some kind of health care solution (the memo instructs Republicans to focus on targeting waste, fraud and abuse).


So it’s up to the administration to define health care reform as a way to lower health care costs through competition, expand coverage to all Americans and give everyone a choice of health care providers and health insurers. If the Democrats do this successfully, then Republicans will look like the bureaucratic obstructionists that they warn the public about.