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A Short History Of The Obamacare “Reboot”

Ever since the tumultuous passing of Obamacare, Democrats can’t seem to decide how to sell it.

Democratic governors had a powwow with President Barack Obama this week, and according to Politico, many of them were in Washington to personally plead for more assistance in selling Obamacare at home. “In absence of a stronger pro-ACA message emanating from Washington,” the piece says, Democrats are left to their own devices.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon told Obama at a closed-door meeting of Democratic governors Friday that the president should do more to play up health care innovations unfolding at the state level. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said he had counseled senior White House officials to highlight efforts to control health care costs, rather than simply telling now-familiar stories about patients with pre-existing conditions who now have access to health insurance.

I suppose you can highlight these things even if they’re untrue. Even if Affordable Care Act advocates decided to reboot their messaging, odds are it’s going to sound awfully familiar. Ever since the tumultuous passing of Obamacare, a law that’s supposed to be self-evidently moral and indispensable, disapproval ratings have consistently stunk and messaging has always been the culprit. Even during the passage fight, the focus was constantly shifting to deal with new concerns – from job creator to premium reducer to a law you could avoid altogether if you desired — this law was for you.

There were rumblings from the left back in 2009 about ineffective messaging. When Tom Daschle, Obama’s original choice to head up the Department of Health and Human Services, was asked by the New York Times if the administration had done a good job selling the first wave of ACA programs, he responded: “I think we have to do better at making this issue a moral imperative.” When NBC News asked Chris Dodd what he thought of the administration’s sales job: “I think the president’s got to decide in a sense, and he has, and to step up and really frame this again for us.”

In a 2010 Politico story, “Dems retreat on health care cost pitch,” we learned that labor groups and other White House allies were “dramatically shifting their attempts to defend health care legislation,” by abandoning assertions that the Affordable Care Act was reducing costs or bringing down the deficit, and instead begin promising voters that the administration would “improve it.”

Example: “New Dem message: ‘Improve’ health care, don’t talk cost”:

The messaging shift was circulated this afternoon on a conference call and PowerPoint presentation organized by Families USA — one of the central groups in the push for the initial legislation. The call was led by a staffer for the Herndon Alliance, which includes leading labor groups and other health care allies. It was based on polling from three top Democratic pollsters: John Anzalone, Celinda Lake and Stan Greenberg.

The basic idea was to rely on personalized accounts showcasing Obamacare’s goodness rather than the promises that were made about policy. “Use personal stories coupled with clear, simple descriptions of how the law works,” the study suggested. This would mean, for example, focusing on a 23-year-old woman with a 6-year-old child with asthma or a family that lost their coverage when the husband lost his job and never on any of the false promises made during passage.

Nothing changed. In 2012, Time ran a puff piece informing us that the White House had finally found a point man to mend Obamacare politics. Phil Schiliro was going to shore up the messaging problems. An administration “shake-up yields dividends on Capitol Hill” it said. The dynamics of the debate were about to change again.

In 2013, we could read about the five messaging challenges for Obamacare. Organizing for Action, Obama’s campaign outfit, was about to embark on a seven-figure TV ad buy that would sharpen the message and publicize the benefits of the law, and finally offer “the truth.” Once again, the message would be brought to the masses by big-name celebrities.

Also in 2013, President Obama and his allies were set to revive the “stalled promotional campaign” for marketplaces. Obama kicked off the push with a statement at the White House, where he would be surrounded by some people who had “personally benefited” from Obamacare.

Then, of course, there was the technological reboot after the brutal rollout of the health exchanges. A messaging reboot was imperative. And only the best would do. “Democrats Form Obamacare “Strike Teams” To Sell Troubled Law“!

House and Senate Democrats assembled an A-team of top Dems to spring into action. According to “strike leader” Rep. Steve Israel, Democrats would no longer be passive about defending the law. This was a whole new ball game. “They knew they needed to be more aggressive on this,” Israel told Buzzfeed. “They also need to be, and one of the points that I made, is they have to do a better job not only talking about the successes of the Affordable Care Act but the fact that Republicans are advocating a repeal that will increase costs, bring us back to a broken system, that leads to bankruptcy. ”

ACA success story. Check.

GOP is terrible. Check.

Now, I hate to be a concern troll here, but that sounds exactly like every other Obamacare reboot.

And, meanwhile.

David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist and author of the forthcoming The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy. Follow him on Twitter.

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