Peter Baker of the New York Times writes about the Obama administration’s effort to explain the continuing unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act. (Baker points out that just 32 percent supported the Affordable Care Act when it was approved in March 2010, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll; and as of a month ago, 34 percent supported it, virtually unchanged.)
The problem, Team Obama would have us believe, has nothing whatsoever to do with the defects in the law. The blame rests with an insufficiently effective PR effort.
“Unfortunately, we never had a really effective strategy around communicating to the public the benefits and the rationale behind health care reform,” said Ezekiel J. Emanuel, a physician and University of Pennsylvania vice provost who was a top White House adviser involved in developing the program. “We never had a spokesperson, and the public never really understood what we were doing.”
That failure still baffles supporters like Dr. Emanuel, given the significance of health care to Obama’s legacy. Some see it as a result of the president’s own instinctive diffidence or the natural desire to move to the next challenge. Others note the complexity of the act itself, or criticize the president’s advisers for not being more assertive.
But as I showed in this essay in COMMENTARY, the White House was highly aggressive in its public advocacy for reform. In the summer of 2009, for example, it was “all Obama, all the time,” in the words of the Washington Post. The president was “so active in advocating health care reform in September that some commentators suggested he was in danger of overexposure,” according to presidential scholar George C. Edwards III. Nothing worked; the Affordable Care Act became progressively less popular the more the president spoke about it and the more the public learned about it.
Champions of the Affordable Care Act, however, cannot handle the truth. They therefore seek refuge in the all-purpose, easy-to-apply We Have A Communications Problem explanation. This is self-deception of a high order. But when you’re allied with the Obama administration, it’s often the only excuse you have left.