When President Obama was campaigning for re-election, I wrote that his public relations operatives had made a hash of their communications strategy if, indeed, they ever had one. They seemed stuck on putting the president in stilted factory photo-ops or letting him make the same predictable, professorial speeches, ignoring Obama’s considerable personal charm, popularity, and oratory skills.
Despite his communications staffs’ complete lack of imagination and daring, Obama was re-elected. Now we’re on the eve of seeing his signature legislative achievement go into effect and we learn, yes, 62 percent of Americans say they lack the information they need to understand the Affordable Care Act, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll.
The old PR saw, if you don’t tell your story, your competition will, comes to mind. The White House communications team has once again turned the chicken salad into chicken feathers, allowing the far right wing noise machine to take the communications high ground while they scramble around in reaction mode.
Obama’s people appear to have had no plan in place to go on the communications offensive the moment Obamacare was signed into law. Did they actually think Rush Limbaugh and Fox News would retreat and go radio silent?
Yes, there was some initial desultory Obamacare media outreach from the White House, but it should have been a tsunami of information aimed at quelling fears and clearly communicating the Act’s many positive features and benefits.
There was a tsunami alright, but it was from the right wing that flooded the airwaves, Internet and print media with all manner of misinformation, distortions and lies aimed at confusing and frightening the electorate, everything from bogus death panels to non-existent healthcare rationing.
Obama, I believe, is a well-intentioned but incredibly naïve, unworldly fellow who continues to believe, despite five years of evidence to the contrary, his political opponents will somehow start listening to their better angels and begin working for the greater good. He may also believe in rainbows and unicorns for all I know. Obama no doubt expresses such whimsy in meetings with his PR team and he evidently gets no pushback or reality checks.
Now, on the brink of health insurance exchanges opening October 1, Obama has suddenly gone proactive, explaining how ACA will work and how Americans stand to win.
His Johnny-come-lately appearance with former President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative confab the other day helped, but Obama will be fighting an uphill battle in the weeks ahead as Republicans, like the Corleone family, go to the mattresses over a debt ceiling vote.
The Treasury says it will run out of cash October 17 and House and Senate Republicans want to strip Obamacare’s mandatory spending from the continuing resolution before they vote on it. Obama has said emphatically, no deal.
If his public relations operation had been doing its job, Americans would be better informed and Republicans would be on their heels. Instead, too many Americans remain in the dark and the GOP is making sure they stay that way.
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Kevin Foley owns KEF Media Associates, Inc., an Atlanta-based producer and distributor of electronic publicity. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.