The White House has released a new website, the “Reform Reality Check,” the latest “fact-check” sites, aimed at debunking some of the more egregious characterizations of the still-amorphous health care reform effort. It is a signal that the Obama Administration is settling in for a long slog against its conservative critics, a fight not just for the opinions of the great American mass, but for the actual facts about what health care reform will and will not do. Here are four of the things one can learn from the new website.
1. The White House does not think people read online, or at least not the people they want to reach. All the major messages–attempting to debunk claims that health reform will ration care or force euthanasia–are delivered as videos.
2. The offices in the West Wing and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building are, well, not all that. Kavita Patel, a senior advisor to the president, works in an office overrun by plastic packing boxes. Christina Romer, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, poses in front of a laser printer and an HVAC vent. Matt Flavin, a veterans policy director, at least has a white board and an American flag. We can all thank Ricky Gervais for making such aesthetically appalling setting acceptable for public addresses by the president’s senior advisors.
3. This campaign-style communications battle is just beginning, and it will continue to come at the cost of a serious debate about the most complex health care reform issues. Obama’s fiercest critics, like Sarah Palin who ruminates about hypothetical “death panels” to get the blogs a-buzzing, are content to misrepresent what is in the health care proposal and reference decade-old academic papers by Obama advisers to scare voters. The White House, meanwhile, has decided, both in its legislative proposals and its rhetoric, to avoid the trickiest issues of long-term health care cost control, which will eventually have to involve, almost all experts agree, either government rationing of care, along the lines of private sector managed care, or huge new taxes to pay for the unsustainable cost increases.
4. The White House continues to exploit its own credibility. It is hard to imagine George W. Bush putting out fact-check videos from the West Wing at the end of his term because, well, so few people believed at that point that he could either do what he said, or worse say what he was going to do. Obama continues to have maintained his own credibility with most of the nation, and his team is committed to exploiting it. (A recent New York Times poll said Americans prefer his health reform ideas to Republicans by a margin of 55 percent to 26 percent.) One of the videos actually shows Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican from Virginia North Carolina, alleging that Obama’s plan will “put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government”–an extremely misleading distortion of what the bill entails. (There is a provision allowing funding for voluntary living wills, not any plans for nursing home executions.) The message here is unmistakable. We can be trusted, they can’t.