Obama must show emotion

Posted in Around The Nation, Commentary, Health Care, Insurance Reform at 11:15 am by wcnews

Without a change in tone and emotion , to rally enough Democratic Congressional support for health insurance reform, it’s unlikely that we will get meaningful reform passed this year. The American people are ready, it’s many centrist/Blue Dog Democrats that aren’t. It’s unlikely that a health care bill will fail, because of Democrats, once votes start to be taken. Democrats are unlikely to vote against any health reform legislation once it hits the House and Senate floors. If a bill is going to die because of Democrats, it will die because of a fear that it will fail, without a vote ever being taken as it did in 1993.

The way I’ve come to understand the health care debate, at this point, is that there are three main factions.

  1. Those that want to bring competition and lower costs by allowing competition in the form of a public option. (What we like to call The American Plan). This includes most of the Democrats in Congress, Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, President Obama, and a large majority of the American people.
  2. Those that want a bill that will give the insurance corporations more customers and higher profits, but no competition in the form of a public option. This group includes a small minority of GOP members of Congress, most, if not all, of the Blue Dog Democrats, and most of the insurance and pharmaceutical corporations.
  3. Those that want no bill whatsoever. This group includes the rest of the GOP members of Congress, some of the insurance corporations and pharmaceutical corporations, and a minority of the American people.

When looked at in this way it’s really hard to understand why the debate has gone on this long, when there was such a clear mandate in 2008 towards the Democratic Party and it’s stance on health insurance reform. In a constitutional republic like ours, where our Congress is elected by the people, and those people overwhelmingly support health insurance reform and a public option, this should have been done months ago. Unless, our elected representatives are actually beholden to someone other than the people that actually elected them to office, (corporations are people too, you know?).

It would be nice to see President Obama make a real case for reform, and step and lead on this issue, when he speaks next week. In order for Obama to win on this issue he needs to be the people’s advocate, the “good guy”. And, in order to be the “good guy”, there must be a “bad guy”, (that’s just the way it is). And if he and his administration can’t make the insurance corporations into bad guys then they are either inept, afraid of or in bed with them. The same insurance corporations that are profiting from denying health care to sick and dying Americans, that have been paying premiums for years, once they get sick.

The calm, discerning, “no drama” campaign that Obama ran, which was instrumental in getting him elected, is working against him in the health insurance reform debate. He needs to show that he shares the anger of the majority of Americans on this issue, and definitively point out who the bad guy is.

The argument against Obama and any health plan that increases government intervention fits into a well-worn story line that gained its greatest power under President Reagan, said Drew Westen, an Emory University professor of psychology and psychiatry who wrote “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.”

“The anti-healthcare reform argument fits into a really well-branded theme from Reagan,” Westen said in an interview, “that Democrats never met a government program they didn’t like or a tax they didn’t want to raise.”

Westen became a favorite of Democratic audiences during the last election for his argument that the party had been too passive, letting Republicans seize the visceral arguments that tend to move voters.

Obama has had little to say about Republican-driven deregulation and the economic calamities that followed an over-reliance on free markets, Westen said.

“Roosevelt never missed the chance to remind people it was the Hoover Depression,” Westen said, “or to say that was what happens when you have powerful moneyed interests with no real control placed over them.”

The political theorist argued that by refusing to name the plan’s real adversaries — including Republicans and health insurance firms and pharmaceutical companies — Obama has denied himself the antagonists that would help him tell the healthcare story to the public and the press.

“People are anxious and angry — over the economy, over losing their jobs and home foreclosures — and the Democrats have refused on principal to define what people are angry about and what is making them anxious,” Westen said. “You couldn’t have asked for a better bonanza for the Republicans. (Emphasis added).

“It’s become more and more clear that one of Obama’s greatest strengths, his cool under fire, is also one of his greatest weaknesses, because he is incapable of empathizing with the anger of the American people.”

Westen also speculates, in another article, that if Obama doesn’t get fired up he’s likely to appear “out of touch”.

Westen figures a politician as bright and canny as Obama should know that and shouldn’t shy away from using emotions to connect with voters.

“When people are anxious and angry, they look to their leaders for a way to channel that anger that is productive. That is part of what leadership is. (But) this president and his leadership team believe that leadership is channeling hope, and even touching anybody’s anger and anxiety is off limits. It’s the politics of Dukakis,” Westen said.

“What I think the White House hasn’t gotten is that if the public is angry and anxious and you don’t talk about that anger, and it doesn’t look like you feel it, you start to look like George H.W. Bush in the recession (of the early 1990s). Out of touch,” Westen said.

Obama needs to be more like FDR and LBJ, and less like Dukakis and Daddy Bush. He needs to put more emphasis on the human cost of health insurance corporation profits. If he can’t show the urgent need for health insruance reform, then the American people won’t feel it too and force Congress to support reform. There’s a real simple argument to be made, that everyone can understand:

If health insurance reform is not passed Americans without insurance will still have no insurance, those with insurance will, at an alarming rate, continue to lose coverage when they need it most, will see their co-pays and out of pocket expenses continue to skyrocket, and insurance corporation profits, CEO pay, and bonuses will continue to go up, up and up.

That’s what we need to hear next week.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.