Archive for March 23, 2010

Creating Villains: A Self-Defeating Strategy

March 23, 2010 1 comment

It is a bi-partisan failing. Liberals do it. Conservatives do it. And it’s not effective. Making villains of politicians or policy, like health care, is a dead-end strategy.

I distinctly recall the attempts to make Ronald Reagan into some kind of dangerous, evil figure. He was an out-of-control cowboy. A B-movie actor whose claim to fame was making a film called Bedtime for Bonzo. He was an intellectual lightweight. Except that in the Presidential debates and in his news conferences, he actually looked rather affable, optimistic, and while no policy genius, certainly in command enough of his facts. His presence, his charm, his sheer skills as a politician, belied the epithets. He ousted an incumbent President then racked up one of the largest electoral majorities in American history when he ran for re-election.

The tirades against George W. Bush were truly venomous. He was a murderer, a buffoon, a fascist. And a two-term President. So was Bill Clinton who took more slings and arrows than George Custer. In the 2008 Presidential campaign, when his opponents tried to paint Barack Obama as a socialist and a possibly non-American interloper, just as in the Reagan example, his non-threatening demeanor just didn’t jive with the extreme rhetoric. All these four guys did was win election after election because no one could possibly live down to the nasty caricatures made of them.

A similar fate may well await the American public’s initial perception of the health care reform bill. “Armageddon,” was the phrase some Republican lawmakers were using after passage. Last time I checked- that’s a reference to the end of the world. Then there were the death panels; images conjured of faceless bureaucrats deciding to kill off Grandma in favor of saving younger lives.

Well, a health care reform bill has passed and there is a high probability it will not be the end of the world. Six months from now, Grandma will not have gone before even one death panel.

I’m not saying the bill’s perfect, effective, or the right or wrong thing to do; in fact, there are both liberals and conservatives who think the legislation is deeply flawed- that it goes too far or not far enough. To be honest, I don’t know what the hell is in it besides tax breaks for small business, tax hikes for those making over 200K a year, keeping your kid on your insurance until they’re 26, banning denial of coverage for children with pre-existing conditions and making all Americans get health insurance or face the equivalent of fines.

But it’s not the end of the world. Life will go on. You’ll get your mail. You’ll watch TV. You’ll go out with your friends and go to your neighbor’s barbeques. Some people may begin to wonder what all the fuss was about. That wouldn’t be because it’s a good bill necessarily. It would be because in the game of setting expectations, health care reform was demonized beyond all reasonable proportion and didn’t actually turn out to be the end of the Republic.