by John Gaski
Republican Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz have been pushing a plan to fund the federal government except for the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) in the next budget year. The senators believe this is the last chance to stop a mortal atrocity against public health.
Their effort has met with opposition even by some heavies within their own party. Republicans, however, have a winning hand available in this defunding matter if their leadership would realize it.
To understand why, we must first understand why those who tactically recommend against pursuing defunding are wrong.
Their advice is that because Republicans lost major budget confrontations in the past — those with presumed government-shutdown implications — this will always happen.
Really, that non logic is their pseudo argument, and we hear it from such well-known commentators as Karl Rove and Charles Krauthammer. Rove calls it an “iron” law that Republicans will lose any public-relations battle over a spending impasse. The otherwise wise Krauthammer describes the effort to defund ObamaCare as “nuts.”
My rebuttal is straightforward: How large is the sample size grounding these adverse conclusions? How many shutdown crises have there really been, two? Maybe three, depending on definition? Obviously, that is not nearly enough to establish a trend, or an iron law or an iron anything.
Republicans just need a better communication strategy to win such a fiscal fight. In this case, they need to use the truth already on their side.
First, specifically, they need to do a better job promoting the objective fact that a government shutdown will not be caused by the Lee-Cruz plan but only by President Barack Obama and the Democrats. Once the Republican House signs off on a budget of any kind, it literally cedes the power to shutter the government. And it sure doesn’t help when other Republicans join conservative TV talking heads in wrongly equating the defunding plan with a shutdown.
Another communication tactic might use this verbiage:
The main reason ObamaCare must be postponed is that Barack Obama and his remade Internal Revenue Service (IRS) cannot be trusted to abide by the law. We have seen President Obama ignore and violate U.S. law several times, sometimes using the IRS as his tool. Therefore, the American people cannot trust Mr. Obama or the IRS to abide by the ObamaCare law, or any new law, as written. Implementing ObamaCare is simply not feasible as long as Barack Obama is president, and that is all his fault.
This will resonate with the American public because the premises are overt, observable and already understood even by a large and growing low-information segment.
Another potent public argument of similar structure can be summarized as an elliptical syllogism:
Premise 1 — The government lies to you.
Premise 2 — The government is now telling you that the Republicans are causing a shutdown.
Conclusion — Therefore . . . get it?
Again, communication effectiveness is plausible even with a dumbed-down populace because the first premise is already accepted. Effectiveness is always enhanced when the message recipients can reach a conclusion on their own.
And defunding advocates should not let adversaries — or even allies like Newt Gingrich — get away with the claim that Republicans have no alternative to ObamaCare.
The alternative, first, is status quo ante, followed by: 1) more widespread use of health savings accounts; 2) allowance of unfettered interstate insurance competition; and 3) medical tort reform. Institute all three and the country could afford to buy gold-plated health insurance for the remaining uninsured. The Republican alternative, then, is well established if only the message would get out.
There in sum is a viable communication strategy for Republicans on defunding versus shutdown. It will not be easy to overcome a dishonest opposition by Democrats and the Democrat mainstream media. Such accurate locution, by the way, is long overdue. Indeed, it is perhaps time for Republicans to call out the major media on this partisanship; it would be a tactic with potential because the public already distrusts the media.
So more power to you, Senators Lee and Cruz. Don’t listen to the likes of Rove and Krauthammer, at least on this issue. Go full speed ahead with ObamaCare defunding, but do a smarter communication job — one that entails, primarily, the right message content and delivery tactics.
Remarkably, the lives of your fellow citizens may depend on your public-relations skill.
John F. Gaski, Ph.D., associate professor of marketing at Notre Dame and an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, does research in socio-political power and conflict. Gaski, the author of Frugal Cool (Corby, 2009) and The Language of Branding (Nova Science, 2010), describes himself as a longtime registered (but former) Democrat.