Obama’s foes make his case

With the debate over healthcare reform heating up, the mountain of polling memos from interest groups is growing faster than the list of former 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls.

This week, GOP strategists Whit Ayres and Ed Gillespie released a report that predictably begins by stating: “President Obama’s push for healthcare reform is in trouble on Capitol Hill ... ”

But if you read the actual findings of the survey, a different conclusion emerges. Even Republican polling shows strong public support for the president’s healthcare reform principles: controlling runaway costs; protecting an individual’s choice of doctor and plan; and ensuring every American has access to high-quality, affordable care.

To wit (or maybe, to Whit?):

Question 1 asks Americans for their greatest financial concern. Topping the list? Healthcare costs.

Question 4 finds that 66 percent of respondents believe the federal government should be responsible for providing healthcare to everyone, and specifically to those who cannot afford it — with only 29 percent supporting the GOP notion that “you’re on your own.”

Question 8 shows that 31 percent prefer a system where healthcare is provided by the government (the public health insurance option), and another 60 percent prefer coverage through private insurers. Since the president’s plan explicitly guarantees that choice, that means 91 percent agree with Obama. (The other 9 percent weren’t sure.)

Question 14 finds 65 percent support the president’s proposal to require insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions.

Question 16 shows that 57 percent share the president’s position on healthcare choice: letting you either keep the healthcare you have or choose a public option.

There are a host of other questions, of course, carefully crafted to elicit responses consistent with the Republican philosophy that the status quo is A-OK. To their credit, even the memo’s authors concede that the right-wing scare tactics that killed healthcare reform in the 1990s are no longer operative. Opponents of “ObamaCare” would be wrong to think that the central arguments that defeated “HillaryCare” would prevail again today, they write.

So what’s a loyal, status quo-loving Republican to do?

Focus on small pieces of the legislation and twist them into arguments that directly contradict the president’s stated goals. Ayres and Gillespie urge opponents of healthcare reform to argue that “these proposals will raise the cost of healthcare for those with private insurance” — which is exactly the opposite of the Democratic plan, which lowers premiums and out-of-pocket costs. They advise Republicans to argue that healthcare reform “will make it very likely that if you have private insurance, you will end up in a government program” — a false dilemma that President Obama has explicitly said he will not abide.

One third-party group — presumably intending to help the GOP effort — does no better at poking holes in the president’s proposal. Its commercial highlights problems with the Canadian healthcare system; reminds viewers of America’s reputation for high-quality medical treatment; opposes some (unidentified) movement in Washington that seeks to impose “Canadian-style healthcare” on the United States; and concludes that “government should never come between your family and your doctor.”

If I were advising the White House on how to respond, it would be with one word:


Del Cecato is a partner at AKPD Message and Media, the political consulting firm founded by David Axelrod in 1985. He served as media adviser and admaker for Obama for America and Obama-Biden 2008.