It hasn’t been an uncommon gripe among liberals that Barack Obama has somehow not communicated his ideas on health care reform clearly. I don’t have a link, but I’ve seen Bill Maher argue something like this, and I’ve heard it a number of times either around the office or in conversations with other people. Steve Benen — not complaining — mentions the criticism today, in the context of some disheartening polling which shows the public to remain confused about the various health care reforms on the table. Steve sensibly points out that Obama has made constant efforts to promote reform, and what’s more, is fighting an uphill battle because Congress has yet to coalesce around a single proposal. This is all true, but I think there’s a simpler explanation. From an NBC/WSJ poll:
As you can see, there are large swathes of the public — majorities in some cases — who believe things that are categorically false, but have nonetheless been peddled by Republican operatives, politicians and conservative members of the media. Indeed, Republicans have mounted a concerted strategy to lie about the particulars of health care reform, scaring vulnerable demographics into opposition. And despite the White House’s efforts — and the occasional debunking in the main stream press — research indicates that once a lie or distortion has entered the public debate, it’s basically impossible to undo the damage. Matters are not helped by a mainstream media that sees as part of its mission of even handedness to continue quoting people who are lying.
All these things considered, it seems quite difficult to blame President Obama for failing to communicate clearly. Strategically speaking, I think there are a number of things the White House could have done differently — for example, adjust more quickly to Republican obstructionism (arguably Max Baucus is most deserving of blame for this, though the White House could have done something to put the heat on), but I don’t think it’s been a failure of messaging per se.