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Blaise Nutter

Blaise Nutter

Posted: August 13, 2009 12:41 PM

Axelrod's White House Email: Truth and Myths, All Mixed Up


During President Obama's campaign last year, his team was frequently praised for always keeping on message, and keeping that message consistent and professional. And rightly so. It was an amazingly confident and error-free campaign. But ever since Obama has reached the White House, his administration has exhibited a few growing pains in doing the same. The inability to craft a clear, concise message has been on display especially in this raucous health care debate.

Case in point, the latest email from the White House, coming in today from David Axelrod, Senior Advisor to the President: He starts by outlining eight ways that "reform provides security and stability to those with or without coverage" - fine, great, fantastic - and then goes on to list eight myths about health care reform. A simple procedure, right? Set up the myth, then knock it down with the truth. Easy as pie.

Unfortunately, Axelrod isn't up to the task. The truth quickly, maybe accidentally, manages to seep into his "myths." He starts with this:

1. Reform will stop "rationing" -- not increase it: It's a myth that reform will mean a "government takeover" of health care or lead to "rationing." To the contrary, reform will forbid many forms of rationing that are currently being used by insurance companies.

Well, wait, what's the myth here? That reform will stop health care rationing? Do we currently have rationing that needs to be stopped by reform? This could be clearer, but the email does improve, if only momentarily.

2. We can't afford reform: It's the status quo we can't afford. It's a myth that reform will bust the budget. To the contrary, the President has identified ways to pay for the vast majority of the up-front costs by cutting waste, fraud, and abuse within existing government health programs; ending big subsidies to insurance companies; and increasing efficiency with such steps as coordinating care and streamlining paperwork. In the long term, reform can help bring down costs that will otherwise lead to a fiscal crisis.

3. Reform would encourage "euthanasia": It does not. It's a malicious myth that reform would encourage or even require euthanasia for seniors. For seniors who want to consult with their family and physicians about end-of life decisions, reform will help to cover these voluntary, private consultations for those who want help with these personal and difficult family decisions.

Okay, fantastic. I get it. The myth is that we can't afford reform, but the truth is that we can't afford not to. And then the ridiculous myth that reform will lead to euthanizing Grandma, clearly presented and then debunked. This is clear messaging, and it easily fits into the brain. But skip down the list a bit and things get more murky.

5. Reform will benefit small business -- not burden it: It's a myth that health insurance reform will hurt small businesses. To the contrary, reform will ease the burdens on small businesses, provide tax credits to help them pay for employee coverage and help level the playing field with big firms who pay much less to cover their employees on average.

Now, we're on rocky territory. The myth is that "Reform will benefit small business -- not burden it." That can't be right, or else President Obama would not be pushing for reform. Yes, the text clarifies the "myth" but the header makes it read like reform is going to hurt local ice-cream trucks and bicycle stores. This is followed by my favorite myths:

7. You can keep your own insurance: It's myth that reform will force you out of your current insurance plan or force you to change doctors. To the contrary, reform will expand your choices, not eliminate them.

8. No, government will not do anything with your bank account: It is an absurd myth that government will be in charge of your bank accounts. Health insurance reform will simplify administration, making it easier and more convenient for you to pay bills in a method that you choose. Just like paying a phone bill or a utility bill, you can pay by traditional check, or by a direct electronic payment. And forms will be standardized so they will be easier to understand.

So the myths presented here are that, with reform, "You can keep your own insurance" and "No, the government will not do anything with your bank account." Those are myths? So the inverse is the truth? Now I don't want reform at all. I don't want the government taking away my insurance and withdrawing my dwindling dollars from my bank account to payoff bankers and sub-prime loans... Oh... wait a second...

Once again, Axelrod presents the truth as the myth, then describes the myth second, changing format from the previous items on the list. It's a confusing presentation, and representative of how poorly the White House has kept on message in this debate.

Yes, this is picky, but for anyone who is scanning this professionally prepared email, this is what you get: a list of myths and truths mixed together, forcing people to actually carefully read what is written to understand the true meaning. And we know how much people hate doing that. If the administration can't list 8 simple myths about what reform won't do, how can we hope to get a clear message on what reform will actually do?

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