The Republicans' Obama experiment

Paul Wells on the latest attempt to torpedo Obama's health-care reform

This ad from the Republican National Committee, which at this writing has drawn only a teeny number of viewers, is part of the Republicans’ attempt to torpedo Obama’s health-care reform. Here, let’s triple its audience:

Now. Two things about this. Frankly the second is more interesting, but I gotta walk you through the first.

First, any opposition party would use more or less this vocabulary to gum up any leader’s proposed reform. This isn’t very far from the lines the No campaign used during the 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty: what the proponents of change are propounding is chaos, and you’re sensible people so you won’t let them get away with it. This is more or less the line I would adopt if I were trying to block any proposed change in a context of democratic choice. The Yes side, meanwhile, tries to draw the same slope in reverse: chaos is now, calm is just over there. Again, in 1995: Oui et ça devient possible, with a pretty flower or a peace sign.

So far, so routine. What’s a bit more interesting is that the ads link the proposed reform to Obama personally. That’s not necessary; they could call it the Democrats’ Risky Scheme, or even just These People Want to Take Your Health Care Away, or whatever.

Now here’s the thing. Normally, if you’re trying to torpedo a reform, you hitch it to the most unpopular politician in sight. That’s why Lucien Bouchard was so desperate to associate federalism with Jean Chrétien in 1995.  But while the polls I’ve seen show a pretty sustained shallow downward slope in Obama’s popularity, he’s still a pretty popular president and, I’ll warrant, a lot more popular as a guy than health reform is as a policy option. Which is why the Democrats’ campaign to save their reform is also personalized around Obama. So using Obama to drag health care down would seem to be dumb tactics.

Which is why I think it’s the other way around. The Republicans figure health care will fail, or disappoint if it manages to pass. They’re not attaching it to Obama to drag the reform down. They’re attaching it to Obama to drag him down.

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