Can a $125 million ad campaign convince you to change your mind about ObamaCare? A coalition of labor unions, special interests, liberal foundations and wealthy donors is prepared to find out. Get ready for TV ads, newspaper spreads and lots of Internet spam.
But before getting into that, what should we actually call this thing? That is, the Thing that Nobody Really Knows Much About (TNRKMA). At this blog, we have followed the convention of calling it “ObamaCare,” but that could be considered derisive. There is always “health reform,” but this bill will almost certainly be reformed many, many times, even before all of the original provisions are enacted.
On balance, I’m inclined to go with the acronym, TNRKMA — which is pronounced “Turkey Ma” (mother of all turkeys), with the N silent, or simply “Turkey,” for short.
Now back to the propaganda effort. What makes all this especially interesting is that the vast majority of people really don’t understand even a fraction of what’s in TNRKMA, beyond the gnawing conviction that it’s going to be bad for them. There are several reasons for this.
- There never really was any national debate over TNRKMA. Despite its being heralded as “revolutionary” and compared to the enactment of Social Security and Medicare, there never was a point where the issues were clear enough to even have a debate (unless you count the Congressional spectacle on the eve of the vote).
- There never was even a Congressional hearing on TNRKMA — not one!
- Even at the nationally televised discussion with President Obama and the Republicans, there was never any agreement on what TNRKMA would actually do.
- There is so much discretionary power invested in the Secretary of Health and Human Services and in various regulatory bodies that entire industries have no idea how they are going to fare under it. This includes doctors, hospitals, health insurers, device makers, employers — you name it!
- Throughout the legislative process, the people who had the most knowledge about the worst aspects of the bill were completely silent.
This last point is especially important. In a normal legislative exercise, there are winners and losers, or pros and cons. We count on the pro side to exaggerate the benefits of the legislation and the con side to exaggerate the harms, and this back and forth helps us understand what is really going on. Yet this time around the con side was almost completely silent. (I’m not counting all the TV ads whose factual content I bet you can’t even recall.) The administration skillfully (brilliantly, I would say) kept almost all the major parties at the bargaining table from beginning to end — thereby ensuring that those who were most knowledgeable about the defects were not free to speak publicly.
That process has continued to this very day. At the very same time that Barack Obama is giving speeches excoriating the health insurance companies as money hungry and heartless, Kathleen Sebelius is negotiating with these same people behind closed doors on regulations to be put in force, and Bill Clinton is at the insurance industry trade group convention in Las Vegas thanking the insurers for all they did to make TNRKMA possible.
Okay, so why would people spend enormous sums of money to support something they don’t really understand? For the special interests, it’s protection money. It’s spending they think they have to cough up to avoid even worse outcomes. For the ideologues, as I have explained before, the details don’t matter. All they really care about is collectivism and making sure that health care decisions are made collectively. Who gets what — even who lives and who dies — is much less important to them.
Will it work? Will a big lie, repeated often enough, come to be accepted as truth? Will the administration be able to pull off the biggest lie of all — convincing seniors (who will bear way more than half of the cost of health reform) that they in fact will gain?
Maybe. But I doubt it.