THE BLOG

Come Out of the "Woodwork"

05/20/2014 02:35 pm ET | Updated Jul 20, 2014

A number of supporters of Obamacare are touting a phenomenon known as the "Woodwork Effect," whereby states that declined to expand Medicaid under the new law are witnessing a surge in enrollment under pre-Obamacare Medicaid rules caused by publicity around Obamacare itself.

More than half a million people in 17 states have signed up for Medicaid that was available to them before Obamacare was signed into law. This is great news for America and for the struggling families who now have access to health care coverage to which they were long entitled.

Now, stop for a second and think about phrase that's being used: "come out of the woodwork." According to the American Heritage Dictionary, it "alludes to insects crawling out of the interior wooden fittings of a house."

Insects. Yes, Obamacare true believers who are still valiantly climbing the mountain to win public support for the law are using metaphors used for insidious creatures to describe hard-working mothers and fathers and their children who are benefiting (even tangentially) from the law.

Of course, these advocates have the best of intentions. Still, this misuse of language undermines an important effort to humanize struggling families and end a stigma, perpetuated by Obamacare opponents, that Medicaid recipients are creatures who are insidiously syphoning taxpayer dollars.

Indeed, the phrase has been picked up by the news media -- a May 14th Washington Post story on Obamacare used it more than a half dozen times.

The problem with this phraseology doesn't lie in the treacherous domain of word policing; it's about persuasive communications. In politics, how we talk about ideas is just as important is the ideas themselves.

The lies about "death panels" brought the Affordable Care Act to its knees. The message that people themselves could be "illegal" stalled the immigration reform movement for decades. And the notion that there's such a thing as "child prostitutes" obscures a crisis where thousands of young girls are traded in commercial sex rackets across the country.

The American people are at once inundated with tweets, likes, posts, blogs, vines and IMs. At the same time and perhaps consequently, they only have an impressionist understanding of major issues. Statistics and nuance are overlooked; values and themes triumph.

Fairly or unfairly, progressives have generally failed to understand this reality while conservatives have embraced it and won on issue after issue. Perhaps it's a sense that if we just confront people with the intellectual fallacy or hypocrisy of their strongly held views, we will convince them to change.

Fortunately, over the past few decades, some very smart progressives began to understand the basic principle that the key to the heart and minds of the American people is appealing to their values.

Cases in point: "It's the economy, Stupid." "Marriage Equality." "Hope and Change." "Yes, We Can." "Undocumented Americans."

Now, the inevitable step back.

In the healthcare debate and beyond, words matter. When progressives make an even stronger effort to abide by and harness the power of that simple principle, we will find more and more Americans come to our side. Word.