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All Politics is Local: What Healthcare Reformers Forgot

Some old adages survive because they are true.  No matter how you deliver the message - email, snail mail, voice mail, text message or old-fashioned word-of-mouth - if you forget to keep it simple and keep it local, your issue or candidate will lose.

The right-wing went into high-wind to scare seniors - a huge voting block - about healthcare reform.  And why not?  All politics is local. 

Tell a senior citizen you are going to raise property taxes for new schools and it won't matter for even a moment that the money is for their grandkids' education -  those seniors will vote no.  Ask any number of local or state candidates for office.  Seniors, more than any other voting block, vote their pocketbooks and vote their own immediate well-being.

Don't get me wrong, I love older folks.  In fact I am getting to be one.  But many in the 65 years old -plus generation only hear that you are going to cut Medicare spending - sounds like you are going to cut their health benefits and what you spend on old people.  Then they hear the scary, if tainted cries of the crazies saying lots of other unfriendly-to-the-older-set dribble and there you go ... a political revolution has begun.  It's hard enough for many to survive on the retirement they have, so why wouldn't potential cuts be scary?

We'd be in healthcare reform heaven right now if some brainchild in Congress or the administration had sold it this way:

  1. We're going to close the Medicare Part D, drug-benefit donut-hole;
  2. We're going to end the Medicare Advantage subsidies paid to insurance companies;
  3. We're going to preserve and protect Medicare benefits with no increase in premiums for seniors.

Nirvana.  Political gold.  No matter what you put forward in the rest of the healthcare reform story would have been safer and far less worrisome to the entire nation.  But you all scared the seniors, and now you are paying the price of inelegant and shifting messaging. 

Political miscalculation isn't pretty to watch.  And it is unfortunately going to reinforce what seniors were worried about in the first place - being lied to about health reform and being maneuvered to their detriment.  Perhaps because we all watched a fairly brilliant campaign strategy pile on top of a fairly arrogant Republican collapse in 2008, we expected some political savvy to endure.

Maybe if you had been a little less sure of yourselves as the new face of politics and political strategy, maybe we'd be talking about truly getting everyone in this nation covered instead of wondering how little we can see passed and still call it reform at all.  The American people deserve better -  seniors and all others.

You forgot politics 101, boys and girls. All politics are local, Tip O'Neill once said.  Seniors wanted to know seniors would be helped.  Oops.

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Donna Smith

Donna Smith
Donna Smith is the executive director of Progressive Democrats of America.  PDA's mission is to strengthen the voice of progressive ideas inside and outside the Democratic Party by using "inside/outside" and "grassroots fusion" models of working both in the Democratic Party as well as working with other progressive organizations both inside and outside the Party.

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