Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All
Saturday, August 15, 2009
This Week's Presidential YouTube Address
Calmly dispelling the healthcare lies of the Right and insurance industry flacks of both parties again this week. Obama is taking great care to debunk crazy frames without explicitly repeating and therefore activating them, and he is trying to provide analogies and historical contexts via comparable battles around Social Security and Medicare in order to re-open minds that have hardened through the cynical mobilization of their fears and resentments in opposition to reforms from which they would almost inevitably benefit. This is delicate and necessary, but I also notice that while Obama and his team are managing these feats in a more masterly way than most people advocating in public for healthcare reform, he is still on the defensive, devoting less time to making his positive case than he would surely like to do. It's good that he has fixated on the Big Bad Insurance Industry as an opponent with which to battle the targeting of Big Bad Government by incumbent and right-wing foes. If you have five minutes to make your case, that's a good way to map the terrain. One would like more faces of folks harmed by the status quo whose lives will be made better by reform -- faces that will provoke identification from those who dis-identify with the faces of reformers who might seem patronizing or bureaucratic to those who are ignorant or fearful -- but these moves are nudged to the side by the need to respond to deceptions and misinformation that gain credibility precisely through their outrageousness (eg, where there's smoke there must be fire... if there were no truth to them would elected officials be saying them...? insinuating themselves via mass-mediated repetition into the shorthand formulations even of those who disapprove and disagree with them... and so on).
It seems certain that Obama is going to get healthcare reform and that whatever reform he gets is going to get spun as an historic achievement for his Administration. The only worry is whether or not what we get will constitute real reform that addresses the real problems. This will likely depend not on what the President is doing but on whether or not the Progressive Caucus plays hardball and really refuses to allow any "reform" to pass that does not include the public option. Obama may content himself with a wedge he thinks can be elaborated into real reform in the coming years of his Administration (which almost certainly will be eight years long and retain the support of Congress given ongoing Republican self-marginalization), but my own fear is that this would be a mistake, that one only gets one bite at this particular apple a generation, and that reform either gets locked in now or not right here right now. I'm optimistic but it's a real nail-biter, and the players who matter most and the language that matters most are not finding their way to our tee vees for the most part.