August 15, 2013

Here’s a little tale that neatly reveals the real game plan of Obamacare opponents: Spread as much confusion and dishonesty about the law as possible, with the explicit goal of preventing Americans from realizing what benefits it carries for them.

The conservative group Americans for Prosperity is up with a new radio ad (embedded below) that decries the law as an impending disaster. Yet when you unpack the ad it’s actually more revealing about the strategic game plan behind this sort of political attack than it is about the law itself.

The ad features a worried mother who says the following: “Two years ago, my son Caleb began having seizures…if we can’t pick our own doctor, how do I know my family is going to get the care they need?”

FactCheck.org took a look at a previous version of this ad, and pronounced the claim that “we can’t pick our own doctor” under Obamacare to be false. What’s more, the invocation of a preexisting condition is a particularly audacious move in an ad that attacks a law that bans discrimination against people with preexisting conditions.

But perhaps the most revealing thing of all is the ad’s warning of public confusion about the law. To buttress the impression that the ad is a catastrophe, the ad claims: “ABC News says confusion and doubt are prognosis for Obamcare.”

And it’s true: The ABC News article in question does bear that headline. But the article actually presents this not as a sign that the law itself is flawed, but as a sign that the public remains ignorant about what’s actually in it. The article is about how many Americans, even those who stand to gain from the law, are not yet aware of its benefits.

This neatly underscores the game plan behind ads like these: spread confusion about the law — in a deliberate effort to prevent folks from learning what’s actually in it — while simultaneously citing confusion about the law as evidence that it’s a disaster in hopes that folks will give up on it.

This is not hyperbole. Remember, groups opposed to Obamacare are explicitly working to get young people not to sign up for the exchanges, in order to make the law fail.

All of which gets to a crucial point about the battle over the law: Opponents need to bet heavily on the hope that political messaging will overwhelm and drown out the emergence of facts about what the law will actually do for people. The law’s exchanges are set to kick in this fall, and the Wall Street Journal reports that insurers are set to spend as much as $1 billion in new ads wooing new customers to shop for insurance on those exchanges, a huge marketing push that can only help get out more information about the law’s benefits.

We shouldn’t underestimate the possibility of serious implementation problems, and ultimately, people’s experience of the law will probably do the most to determine the public’s ultimate verdict on it. That said, it looks very possible that the calculus may now shift rather dramatically on the pro-Obamacare side of the equation. This, even as opponents will have to keep resorting to the sort of political attacks on the law that people have already been hearing for literally years now.

Here’s the ad:

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.