Senior White House aides expressed utter bewilderment and a bit of frustration on Monday with criticism of their health care agenda from conservative figures -- particularly former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.
"I don't even know where to begin," said one top-ranking official, when asked about Palin's remarks that the president was creating a "death panel" that would determine whether to euthanize the sick. "I mean. I re-read the House bill this weekend. I don't even know what she is talking about."
In a sit down with online reporters on Monday, the three Obama aides, who spoke only on condition that they not be identified by name, stressed that they were still committed to crafting health care with Republican input and would continue to work with conservative media outlets despite the harsh reception they have received.
While some angst was directed toward the opposition of Republican lawmakers who, the administration claims, have distorted the president's position -- particularly on end of life consultations -- the majority of their ire was directed at the conservative commentariat.
"The so-called Obama health care logo? What is the Obama health care logo?" one aide asked, with some incredulity. "We don't have [one] but Rush Limbaugh thinks it looks like a Swastika... These are the sort of things we are dealing with."
"I don't know where they are making this stuff up," the aide added. "The bill, I was just looking at the House bill... [T]he part of this that covers insurance market reforms and the things to extend coverage and the exchange and public plan is actually pretty spare. And yet they have managed to make that into a vast government bureaucracy and really tried to scare people about the whole thing, which is disappointing."
On Monday, the White House began what officials described as a major push to counter disinformation about the president's health care agenda, including an online effort to alert the public to false claims and a media blitz on local and national outlets. The administration also sought to reframe the debate on eight core principles for "health insurance consumer protections," which aides said resonated much better than the "health care reform" push it has made to this point.
Part of the effort will include a continued outreach to critics. But the administration acknowledged that there were limitations to what it could or would attempt on that front.
"There has been less outreach to conservative media outlets in part [due to] a question of utility," said one aide. "No amount of outreach to Rush Limbaugh is going to change his opinion; same for Sean Hannity. Those are some very hard and fast opinions. The analogous part would be, there are members of the House and Senate who no amount of outreach would change their opinions as well."