Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

President Obama’s problem in the health care debate is that he is losing the battle of the sound bite.  What do I mean?  In my experience, for a soundbite to, well, bite, it has to capture and symbolize a more complex and detailed cultural value or perceived truth in a debate. 

Thus, to my admitted surprise, “death panels” seems to have driven the Obamacare debate even though it was inaccurately applied by Sarah Palin, because the term captured a broader and reasonable fear among the populace—as I wrote at the time—that grandma would be rationed out of life.

That Palin could blunder (in my view) into what now looks to be the most effective political play of the debate via a hastily drafted Facebook entry, is richly ironic. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, supporters of the current bills spent four years using polling and focus groups to figure out the right words to use in the debate.  From the story:

In the rhetorical battle over health care, the forces backing President Barack Obama’s overhaul have spent years polling and using focus groups to find the precise language that would win over voters — an effort that doesn’t at the moment appear to be working.

That’s because carefully chosen words and phrases alone aren’t sufficient.  It helps to have a good product, which the president does not have.  And liberals no longer enjoy a monopoly on the dissemination of ideas and information, meaning that the concerted efforts by the MSM to shore up Obama’s arguments have failed to move the polls.

More to the point, when people perceive that the words are mendacious and meant to obscure the truth rather than capture it in simple terms, the language ceases to work wonders in much the same way that a magic trick loses entertainment value when the audience knows how it is done. 

Obamacare stinks and the people know it.  All of the focus grouped language can’t erase the stench from people’s minds.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles