October 2, 2009
The GOP and its ConfusionBy Steve Hines
Here we go again. We've seen this scenario many times before:
1. Politicians propose legislation sure to cost the productive classes billions more of their money;
2. Seeing little benefit from the proposal, citizens show their anger in opposition to it;
3. With help from the legacy media, controversy and confusion ensue among the public;
4. Politicians create focus groups and polls to identify opportunities for "clarification" of the plan;
5. Highlighting obscure details as solutions to real problems and vilifying those who oppose them, supporters spin their message through every available media outlet;
6. The public grows weary of the discord and resigns itself to the eventual passage of the legislation;
7. With polls showing sudden "support" for the proposal, opponents find themselves powerless to stop it;
8. The proposal becomes law with great fanfare and is absorbed into the ever-expanding government infrastructure.
On the matter of healthcare reform, America currently is in the fifth stage of this process. While opponents of the Democrats' plan have voiced their loud disapproval from coast-to-coast, the outlook for their side is actually grim. The progression of proposals like McCain-Feingold (campaign finance), Lieberman-Warner (climate change), and McCain-Kennedy (immigration) suggests that the demise of bad legislation is never certain or permanent. Of these three bills, the first was passed after years of tweaking campaign laws. The other two were not voted on in the whole Senate, but similar bills are sure to return for more debate and eventual passage. In the federal government, proponents of bad laws always live to fight another day, which brings us back to healthcare (Remember Hillary Care?).
History should tell opponents of the Democrats' healthcare plan that it is too early to celebrate its defeat. And the reason is clear. As is often the case with fractious groups, they lack a leader to unify their messages and present an alternate plan. Fox News and conservative talk shows notwithstanding, they are left to speak with a multitude of voices. This allows the media to manipulate their fragmented messages. Cowed by their own credibility problems, Republicans apparently have declined to speak for the opposition. If this is their strategy to win next year, then it is a bad one. As a recent poll by The Wall Street Journal and NBC indicates, the bull's-eye has been drawn on the GOP again.
After our silver-tongued president botched his bid for healthcare reform, the legacy media dutifully got busy with damage control to save his bacon. A recent Associated Press headline proved their efforts were in full swing: WSJ/NBC News Poll: GOP to Blame if Health Care Bill Fails. In another poll by the same group, "A clear majority, 65%, said they disapprove of how congressional Republicans are handling the issue of health care overhaul, while just 21% said they approve." Say what?! Note to the Republicans: Here's your reward for staying quiet.
Lacking power in Congress to influence health reform, Republicans nevertheless are being called the party of no. By submitting to the terms of the Democrats, they have allowed their opponents to define them. Until they accept that the legacy media are a key part of the Democrats' infrastructure and find ways to circumvent them, they will stay in the minority.
Mind you, I am not saying that Republicans should ignore the so-called mainstream media, as if that were even possible. Instead, they should take their message -- when they get one -- to the emerging alternative media. This includes local and national conservative radio programs, the Internet and podcasts, advertising to new audiences, and most importantly, grassroots groups to counteract the leftist community organizations entrenched in areas the GOP wrote off long ago. When these channels are filled with clear, conservative proposals, Republicans will see that they too can control their message.
When it comes to the art of redefining their messages, the Democrats have the upper hand with an army of sympathetic agents in the media. They are the tools President Obama has used to transform his health reform goals from covering all Americans with a single plan (rejected as socialism), to controlling costs (not believable), to fostering competition. The latest one appears to be getting traction with the public despite Obama's unwillingness to allow health insurance to be marketed across state lines. Whether the president sticks with this message or sees a need to adopt another one, it is just a matter of time before the public becomes worn down by the squabbling in Washington.
Amid the strife and confusion, failing to seize every opportunity to describe their own health reform objectives does not serve Republicans well. Last week, Obama advisor David Axelrod appeared on the Morning Joe program to answer the usual softball questions with the latest poll-tested spin. When a member of this administration feels the need to appear on MSNBC, it is safe to assume that the president has not closed the deal with his base. With disapproval for Obama's plan now exceeding 50%, the GOP appears to have no message to leverage this opportunity.
Fifteen years after their Contract with America, Republicans are unable to get out a simple, cohesive message to define what they propose. With Mr. Axelrod sitting in-studio with hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the best the GOP could get was a remote, live interview with the genial Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI).
When asked by Scarborough what the Republicans support, Ryan replied, "The majority has to be willing to collaborate with the minority, but that has not happened." Oh, boo-hoo! Spare me! Why was Joe Scarborough the first to mention that the Obama administration has not explained why insurance should not be sold across state lines? And what about the valid case for tort reform, which would surely put liberal Democrats on the defensive? Instead of a rapid-fire rundown of a Republican proposal in the few minutes allowed him, Mr. Ryan gave a mealy-mouthed reply to why he thought Charlie Rangel (D-NY) was still running the House Ways and Means Committee.