President Obama held a town hall meeting in Portsmouth, NH to talk about health reform, and while he was on point, I think that reform’s passage depends on how well Democrats can define the problem, not how well they can relay their specific solution.
My colleagues tell me that they are clear on the goals of reform, but not the details of the plan for how to reach those goals. They say they understand the problems — why we need reform — but they don’t know what the reform bills under consideration do to address those particular problems. They want a “nuts-and-bolts” grasp of the technical details.
The problem is, most of the American people, many of my own friends and family included, do not understand many of these details even when they’re spelled out neatly for them. For example, I recently had someone ask me what “200 percent of poverty” meant. They thought that it meant you were really, really poor (i.e., 2 times the legal limit for poverty or some such). With misunderstandings of this sort commonplace, the details are not going to be comprehended — at least not correctly.
While policy wonks might know the problems, 9 out of 10 people I come in contact with absolutely do not. Talking about what is going to be done to fix things that people don’t know are broken puts the cart before the horse and makes people more distrustful of government involvement and thus, open to scare tactics. Most Americans do NOT know who the uninsured are, that employer-based coverage is in steady decline, or have any idea what their coverage actually costs. They have to be shown the problem in a tangible way that they can understand, not just told that it exists.
This helps to explain the paradox of polling that shows people like their coverage but think the system needs to be reformed. Only when they get a reason to dislike their coverage (and there are already plenty), are we going to push past the cognitive dissonance that is turning these town halls into such a mess.