The Ripon Forum

Volume 0, No. 0

Oct - Nov 2007 Issue

The Backpage: Above All, Try Something

By on November 11, 2015 with 0 Comments

When it came to policy making, Franklin Roosevelt once offered this piece of advice: “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” 

Today across America, Governors are following this advice and moving ahead with various policy proposals that may or may not succeed. Health care is a good example. In state after state, Governors are taking action to make health care more affordable and accessible to the people they lead. 

In Georgia, for instance, Sonny Perdue recently announced the Health Insurance Partnership initiative, a new incentive to help small businesses offer coverage for their employees. In Connecticut, Jodi Rell has created a private-public partnership offering state residents a state-defined benefit package through private insurers. And in Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty has established “Healthy Connections,” a health reform plan to increase access to affordable insurance and enhance the quality and value of care. 

Surprisingly, these and many other efforts to improve health care in states are being led by Governors who are Republicans. This is surprising because if you have been following the news coming out of Washington this fall, the perception is that Republicans are against doing anything about health care. Indeed, in the debate over expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), battle lines have been drawn that depict Democrats as being in favor of improving health care for children and Republicans as being opposed. Of course, the story is more complex than that, and there are valid arguments on either side. But in the battle of perceptions, Republicans in Washington are losing the health care debate. 

… you’ve got to have a message before you can make the sale. Unfortunately, when it comes to health care, Republicans in Washington haven’t had much to promote.

There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is the core governing philosophy of both political parties. Democrats tend to favor direct federal assistance to help people who are in need, while Republicans generally believe the role of government should be to create the conditions and lower the barriers so individuals can succeed. The higher ground is easier to acquire when you are throwing cash down from the top of a hill. That’s why Democrats usually have the advantage in most domestic policy debates. It’s also why the GOP usually ends up with a much harder sell. 

But you’ve got to have a message before you can make the sale. Unfortunately, when it comes to health care, Republicans in Washington haven’t had much to promote. As a result, they are left arguing about numbers, criticizing, for instance, the fact that the Democrat’s proposal would expand SCHIP benefits to people who live at 300% of the poverty line. That’s obviously a relevant point. But how many people know what that actually means in terms of income? I didn’t until I checked, and yet that has been one of the main Republican talking points in the SCHIP debate. It brings back memories of the 1995 government shutdown, when Congressional Republicans got bogged down talking about the difference between CBO and OMB numbers when it came to balancing the budget, while Bill Clinton simply talked about the fact that senior citizens might not be receiving their Social Security checks if the shutdown were to occur. We all remember who won that debate. 

One of the few issues these days where Republicans still hold an advantage over Democrats is terrorism. There’s a reason for that. Ever since 9/11, the GOP has done an exceptional job of personalizing the war on terror. A dirty bomb in the mall. A shoe bomb on a plane. A chemical attack on the subway. Republicans have succeeded in bringing this issue home to the American people. To communicate their goals on health care, they’ve got to figure out a way to do the same thing. And just as importantly, they’ve got to do it in a tone that conveys both empathy and humility – a tone that not only says “I understand what you’re going through,” but also acknowledges that “There, but for the Grace of God, go I.” 

In that regard, it does Republicans absolutely no good when a conservative commentator such as Michelle Malkin stakes out the home of a 12 year old boy to refute claims, made by Democrats, that he is the type of young person who will benefit by SCHIP being expanded. The GOP should condemn these kinds of actions and tactics for what they are: mean-spirited and petty. It’s not the boy’s fault he has been brought into this debate. Republicans use kids as political props, too. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong. It’s politics, and politics is about people’s lives. 

When it comes to health care, Republican Governors around the Nation seem to understand that. Republicans in Washington often give off the impression that they don’t. But it’s not too late for them to change this perception. All they have to do is follow FDR’s advice — they have to try something. If it fails, admit it frankly, and try something else. But above all, try something.  RF

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Louis M. Zickar is the Editor of The Ripon Forum.

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