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Giving Tips and Giving Up on the Health Care Debate

Pundits have plenty of advice on how Obama can take control. But some believe the debate itself is beyond repair.

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In the midst of fist-shaking protests there have been as many ideas about how to debate healthcare as there have been on actually reforming it.

In the Washington Post, Danielle Allen makes the obvious recommendation that townhall shouters and desperate government officials should listen to one another about the consequences of reform:

There is a real debate going on in what appear to be crazy town hall meetings. If only both sides had ears to hear.

This is one of the simpler strategies pundits are suggesting to Obama as he tries to regain control of the conversation. You can tell that the press is concerned by the recent appearance of fact-sheets to help clarify what is actually being proposed. What other tactics have been suggested?

  • Target Self Interest, say Jim Rutenberg and Jackie Calmes in the New York Times. "The administration has had a harder time getting across the themes it wanted to strike in this period: that the current system is unsustainable and that Mr. Obama's plan holds concrete benefits for people who already have health insurance as well as for those who do not.
  • Mock the Protests, says Christi Parsons in the Los Angeles Times. "The vitriol of some critics -- who hanged one congressman in effigy and shouted down Democrats at some gatherings -- has given Democrats a chance to highlight and criticize opposition tactics."
  • Combat Misinformation, says Sam Stein in the Huffington Post "The administration also sought to reframe the debate on eight core principles for "health insurance consumer protections," which aides said resonated much better than the "health care reform" push it has made to this point."
  • Quit Lecturing, says Dorothy Rabinowitz in the Wall Street Journal. "Americans don't take well, for instance, to bullying, especially of the moralizing kind, implicit in those speeches on health care for everybody. Neither do they wish to be taken where they don't know they want to go and being told it's good for them."

But these all may be futile. As Gerald Seib argues in the Wall Street Journal today,  liberals are approaching the debate as though it's about technical policy details. In fact, it's an argument of political philosophy that can't be resolved by clearing the air:

On a deeper level, [the debate is] about the role of government in America's economy. And that is a raw and unresolved topic, only made more so by months of exceptional government intervention amid a deep recession.

Ezra Klein echoes him in the Washington Post, with much greater pessimism and a disparaging glance at the protesters:

What we're seeing here is not merely distrust in the House health-care reform bill. It's distrust in the political system...The protesters believe the government capable of madness. There is no evidence for that claim, which means that there is no answer for it, either.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.