For all those Obama-ites confident that they won’t make the same
mistakes pushing health care reform that the Clinton administration
did, might I suggest a trip back home?
Just a few minutes into the Second City comedy troupe’s latest show, America: All Better!,
the usual japes about the Jesus-like hopes projected onto our 44th
president gave way to a quick bit about health care reform. A doctor
was telling a woman that her diagnosis gave her only three months to
live. When she pleaded for help, he told her that the good news was
that Obama’s health reform plan meant she was scheduled for her next
visit just six months from now.
Bad news for Obama — the audience laughed.
Conventional wisdom says that the shopworn distortions and
deceptions that killed health care reform in the past have lost their
sting due to combination of middle-class economic worries and soothing
on-message reassurances. Perhaps. But comedy works only when it
connects with real anxieties. The fact that Second City comics in the
heart of Chicago are successfully playing to GOP-fueled fears of
rationing should raise a bright red warning flag at the White House.
Here’s another warning sign: I was talking with a liberal physician
friend who’s spent his career serving people in the kinds of Chicago
neighborhoods where Obama worked as a community organizer. But my
friend’s instant reaction to my optimism about reform was concern: “I
hope Obama doesn’t just open up the government’s checkbook.” This from
a primary care physician whose patients are overwhelming poorly insured
or have no insurance at all! But he’s also a middle-class guy with
taxes to pay and kids to put through college.
A similar warning sign flashed on the recent ABC News special
featuring questions for the president. Pastor David Hattenfield of
Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cumberland, Maryland rose to address
President Obama . He did not ask about the 46 million without health
insurance or the estimated 20,000 men and women who die every year —
roughly 55 people every single day — as a result. Instead, he was
concerned about government “taking over” health care and his taxes
In answering the good pastor, Obama, no doubt on autopilot, provided
fiscal reassurance, citing his plan to cap itemized deductions for
those making over $250,000 a year. Conspicuous by its absence was any
reference to morality, Christian principles or the common good.
Yes, I know the administration is constantly rolling out stories
featuring average Americans hurting because of inadequate health care.
But are the 85 percent of Americans with health insurance listening?
There is nothing Republican opponents would like better than for the
debate over health care to devolve into a discussion about taxes.
Finally, there is the balancing act of when to roll out specifics.
At some point, supporters of reform like myself need specific
legislative language we can use to debunk the overarching sense of
danger and dread opponents are seeking to instill. Yes, specifics are
supposedly on their way, and yes, the upcoming full-court press by the
administration to sell reform to Congress and the public may indeed
culminate in America, All Better!
But right now, that’s going to take one heck of a second act.
Michael Millenson is a writer, consultant and frequent speaker on healthcare topics. His work appears frequently in these pages and on other blogs, including the Huffington Post, where this post first appeared.