Obama hangs his lantern

    There’s a canny old saying in politics, “Hang a lantern on your problems.” That probably explains why President Obama, in his early pitch for re-election, is conspicuously highlighting health care reform.
    The canny politician deals with a perceived weakness by owning it, by seeking to turn it to his advantage. So it’s noteworthy that Obama’s new re-election video, a 17-minute paean to his reign narrated by Tom Hanks, spends more time on the reform law (three minutes and 13 seconds) than on anything else. It seems like a bold decision, given the fact that the reform law, dubbed “ObamaCare” by its enemies, has never drawn boffo poll ratings.But hanging a lantern on health care is also politically necessary. Ignoring it would imply that its enemies were right when they screamed about totalitarianism. Ignoring it would cede the public narrative to the Republicans who keep lying about it – which the Republicans did yet again last week, when they cited a new Congressional Budget Office report that supposedly warns about exploding cost; in reality, the CBO says right away that the projected costs of reform are slightly lower less than originally anticipated.And the thing is, Obama has an upbeat story to tell. As the video points out, at the 13-minute mark, “Millions of families…feel, for the first time, the security of coverage. 2.5 million young adults now have coverage. Seventeen million kids could no longer be denied (coverage) for pre-existing conditions. The expanded drug discounts for seniors. And with the Patient Bill of Rights, Americans will no longer see their coverage dropped or capped when illness strikes.”Meanwhile, the Obama team is emailing more detailed information to people in swing states such as Pennsylvania: “As of June 2011, 64,798 young adults in Pennsylvania gained insurance coverage as a result of the new health law” – thanks to the provision which allows parents to keep their kids on the family plan, up to age 26, if the kids lack job-based coverage of their own.Obviously, the reform law continues to divide Americans – the Obama re-election video omits any mention of the mandate that requires Americans to buy coverage, the same mandate that will be debated in front of the U.S. Supreme Court next week – but that’s all the more reason why Obama needs to own it and frame the dialogue to his advantage. There’s some astounding ignorance in the land; a Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds that one in seven Americans actually thinks that the high court has overturned the reform law. But, mostly, the latest surveys suggest that Obama has enough wiggle room to drive the dialogue. A new Bloomberg poll reports that only 37 percent of Americans favor repeal (the GOP position); 46 percent prefer to “see how it works” with “small modifications,” and 11 percent want to “leave it alone.” A new Pew poll (asking different questions) reports 38 percent for repeal, 33 percent for expanding the law, and 20 percent for leaving it “as is.” Again, those aren’t landslide numbers for Obama, but they’re good enough for an aggressive pitch – not just in the campaign video, but on the trail, where Obama is touting the law’s benefits and warning about the Republicans’ threat to repeal (“we can’t let them get away with it”).And let’s also note the current political zeitgeist. There’s another factor that explains Obama’s willingness to hang his lantern on health reform:Women voters, and their growing disgust with the GOP.As GOP strategist John Feehery reportedly lamented earlier this month, “The whole party’s image has taken a beating.” John McCain said something similar on Meet The Press yesterday; when asked whether he believes that the GOP has been waging a war on women, he replied: “I think we have to fix that. I think that there is a perception out there, because of the way that this whole contraception issue played out. We need to get off of that issue, in my view. I think we ought to respect the right of women to make choices in their lives, and make that clear, and get back on to what the American people really care about: jobs and the economy.”Context is everything. Thanks to the “perception” (actually, the reality) that the GOP has sought this year to meddle in women’s private lives (the state-by-state efforts are too numerous to cite), Obama in the latest national polls has opened up a huge lead among women voters – somewhere between 15 and 18 percentage points ahead of the GOP. Four years ago, Obama won women by 13 points, and women comprised 53 percent of the overall electorate. None of that math looks good for the Republicans.And this mood among women has clearly fueled the Obama campaign’s confidence about highlighting the health reform law. Courtesy of the GOP’s efforts, more women are now open to hear his pitch. And, as Republican pollster Bill McInturff reportedly noted a few weeks ago, “Women 30 to 55 are always the most important target in health care. They’re caregivers, taking care of children and parents, and are more engaged and active in the health care system, more than any other age and gender.”We’ll be hearing a lot more about health reform in the weeks ahead – Friday marks the two-year anniversary of Obama’s signing ceremony, the Supreme Court arguments will put the mandate front and center, Rick Santorum will continue to hammer Mitt Romney for his Massachusetts health reform law (which happens to be working well) – and the federal law will stay on the slow road to implementation, taking more hits along the way. But Obama appears to understand something fundamental, something that Democrats are often too clueless to grasp:If you don’t frame the dialogue, the other side will. (Witness the lie about “death panels” in the summer of ’09.) If you run from your own record, the other side will paint it to their advantage. If you don’t hang a lantern on your problems, the other side will shine it for you.——-My Sunday newspaper column deals with Obama’s assassination program, the one where he reserves the right to whack Americans with scant oversight or accountability. Attorney General Eric Holder defended the program in a March 5 speech that the press woefully underplayed. If George W. Bush had ever tried such a program, liberals would have gone ballistic. ——-I’m slated to do another Live Chat, at 1 p.m. today. I suspect most of the chatter will focus on the unending Republican race.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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