Peters, Totten: Hit your opponents on Obamacare
If you are watching basketball and the play is constantly at one end of the court, you have a pretty good guess who’s winning, right? (HINT: not the team that’s spending all its time defending). The same thing goes for hockey, soccer, football…and communications.
When Chris interviewed me when I started writing here he asked about the mistakes I see progressive communicators make, and I answered that playing defense instead of offense is one of the biggest ones. I see too many candidates and advocates spend their time defending against attacks, trying to justify to the public why their views aren’t wrong, rather than going on the offense against their opponents and forcing them to explain the ways they are out of touch with American values.
Specifically about health care, Paul Begala made the case persuasively in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago that Democrats need to be going on the offense by telling the public Republicans will take away popular provisions of Obamacare. The results of Democrats taking a more defensive approach are evident in the polling data. For example, a USA Today/Pew study out this week finds that the only people basing their votes on Obamacare are those who hate it – AND OF COURSE! The last four years have been filled with Republicans talking about how Obamacare threatens our very civilization, and Democrats trying to explain that it’s not that bad and they will fix it. Without telling us what we will lose without it, we don’t have much reason to vote to protect it.
It’s not just health care, though, where playing defense can hurt you. For example:
Talking about immigration, candidates and advocates should stop trying to explain how people are in this county unlawfully and why they should be allowed to stay. Instead, they need to force opponents to justify their policies, which amount to either maintaining the status quo or ridiculously impractical and expensive attempts to deport 10 million people and build ever-bigger fence.
Instead of trying to show the public that climate change is a threat and what we can do about it, environmentalists should go on the offense against the fossil fuel industry and make them try to explain away the fact that there is no limit on the amount of carbon dioxide pollution they are allowed to release into the air.
In efforts to raise the minimum wage, communicators will be on stronger ground if they stick to the offense and focus on values – challenge Wal-Mart and its allies to defend paying people so little they cannot support themselves even working full time – than if they spend their time defending against charges that increasing wages will hurt the economy by saying studies show it won’t really hurt.
Your defenses of your position and rebuttal arguments may be rock solid, but it still won’t work. When you spend your communications defending, just like in sports, you can lose ground but will never gain any. Fortunately, on Obamacare specifically, we may finally be seeing a shift. The ad below, run for Mark Begich in Alaska, is claiming credit for the health care law’s benefits.
What we need next is candidates taking it a step further and pointing out that their Republican opponents want to take these benefits away. Here in Michigan, both Gary Peters for Senate and Mark Totten for Attorney General have a serious opportunity in running against outspoken opponents of Obamacare.
The current Attorney General, Bill Schuette, hates Obamacare so much he joined a lawsuit to try to take away tax credits away from Michiganders who purchase insurance through the exchange. Mark Totten should hammer him for it.
And Gary Peters has been subject to non-stop ads hitting him for his vote in favor of Obamacare. He doesn’t need to defend himself for that vote, but to point out that if Terri Lynn Land gets her way, people who have pre-existing conditions will go back to not being able to get health insurance and hundreds of thousands who have already signed up for private insurance and Medicaid will lose coverage.
In other words, play to win.