Health-Care Reform, the Media and Groupthink

Antiqued Compass wallpaper or an accurate modern compass in a traditional casing.

Nate Silver nails the current media created atmosphere about health-care reform and the Obama presidency, The Healthcare Timeout is Fine

I don’t think the media has a liberal bias or a conservative bias so much as it has a bias toward overreacting to short-term trends and a tendency toward groupthink. The fact is that there have been some pretty decent signals on health care. Yes, it has stalled in some committees, but it has advanced in others; yes, the Mayo Clinic expressed their skepticism but also the AMA — surprisingly — endorsed it; yes, the CBO’s Doug Elmendorf got walked into a somewhat deceptive and undoubtedly damaging line of questioning about the measure’s capacities on cost control, but also, the CBO’s actual cost estimates have generally been lower than expected and also favorable to particular Democratic priorities like the public option. This all seems pretty par for the course, even if you wouldn’t know it from reading Politico or Jake Tapper, who giddily report on each new poll telling us the exact same thing as though there’s some sort of actual news value there.

The media likes to talk about “momentum”. It usually talks about the momentum in the present tense — as in, “health care has no momentum”. But almost always, those observations are formulated based on events of the past and sloppily extrapolated to imply events of the future, often to embarrassing effect: see also, New Hampshire, the 15-day infatuation with Sarah Palin, the Straight Talk express being left for dead somewhere in the summer of 2007, the overreaction to “Bittergate” and the whole lot, and the naive assumption that Obama’s high-60’s approval ratings represented a paradigm shift and not a honeymoon period that new Presidents almost always experience.

At any given time there are political events, posturing, maneuvering and sound bits. The press always feels a compulsion to boil things down into a horse race-like scenario. It is actually possible for important events to  Nate may not think is a conservative bias, but the horse race theme just happens to benefit conservatives. Only conservatives have unapologetic media outlets like in the print media and most of AM radio. Conservatives have a 24/7 cable network that echoes right-wing talking points. Health-care reform is one of the biggest changes to our economy since the New Deal. Having witnessed how unhinged conservative were when they controlled every branch of government, how could anyone, especially in the media not know that any and every bit of legislation backed by this administration would be portrayed as the end of the world as we know it. When NBC’s David Gregory announces that “Obama’s health-care” plan has had a set back, that is a watered down media groupthink version of this reform stuff is nut’n but trouble. Its July and while many Democrats like myself are not thrilled with some of Obama’s policies I’m still in a little shock that considering the state of the media – where conservatives still out number saner POVs – that Obama was even elected president. Which ties in with John Nichols latest post in which he argues that Obama should look at winning health-care reform the way he won his office.

The president is beginning to understand something that he should have recognized long ago: There is a consensus on the need for healthcare reform. But there is no consensus on the scope and character of that reform.

As the Washington Post notes, “public opinion (is) still waiting to be shaped on healthcare” and “the legislative details (are) in flux.”

Obama, alone, must forge the latter consensus.

He cannot wait for competing House and Senate committees to reconcile their various proposals and then present the White House with a turn-key program for providing healthcare to all while controlling costs.

This is not a change that will come from Congress.

We all get Democrats in Congress. They write a great sternly worded letter. They’re very civilized, almost to a fault. Obama showed Democrats the way when he declared,

“I’m rushed because I get letters every day from families that are being clobbered by healthcare costs, and they ask me can you help,”

Call it good old Democratic populism or putting the debate in terms of working class bread and butter issues. Obama does seem to get it, now America just needs for that light to go off in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s head – among others. A recess might be good for everyone. It will give America time to separate right-wing spin from fact and Democrats time to sharpen their message and address Main Street’s concern.