It’s no secret that politics is more or less a popularity contest. We might like to think that people vote for a candidate because of their position on the issues–and sometimes that’s the case–but it’s just as likely that a person votes for a candidate because they seem likable, ooze charm and confidence, or look good on TV. After all, it’s a lot easier to go with your gut and your idea of attractiveness than it is to delve into the details of a candidate’s stance on foreign policy or anything else of substantive importance.
Good politicians, however, play to both sides–they espouse policy positions that will win them approval from the wonkier members of the public, and they do their best to frame these positions in ways that will make them popular with the rest of the public. In fact, that’s what we’re about to see the Obama administration do with health reform. The substantive policy battle has largely been won–health reform is now law. Sure, there remains a great deal of work to be done in implementing the law, and sure, the law falls short of what many on the left would consider ideal, but it is a policy victory nonetheless. The goal now is to convince the rest of the public that Obama is not Hitler (as so many protest rally posters depicted) and that health reform is a good thing for them. You see, if the administration can do that successfully, it can springboard a policy victory into a popularity boost, and that’s always good in an election year.
Doing so requires an active strategy, which is why the White House is kicking off a big public relations campaign on health care. As this New York Times article highlights, there will be both an educational and a political aspect to the work. I like to think of it as my blog with a $25 million budget. Hopefully all that money will translate into tangible results, because my opinion on health reform is something like this:
People said passing the bill would be the hard part — and it was.
Once the bill became law, people said implementing the law would be the hard part — and it is.
Once the law is implemented, people will demand proof that it is working as intended — and providing that proof will be the most important part of all. In fact, without it, we’ll never be able to call health reform a success. The public relations campaign is just starting, pointing out the simple and the obviously tangible benefits. Over time, more sophisticated evaluative research will be necessary to demonstrate that demonstration projects have or have not worked, to guide incremental reforms of reform, and to convince the public that the sky is indeed not falling as so many continue to fear. It promises to be fun.