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President's Health Care Campaign is Tone Deaf

By Dorothy Rabinowitz, Wall Street Journal - August 11, 2009

It didn’t take chaotic town-hall meetings, raging demonstrators and consequent brooding in various sectors of the media to bring home the truth that the campaign for a health-care bill is, to put it mildly, not going awfully well. It’s not hard now to envision the state of this crusade with just a month or two more of diligent management by the Obama team—think train wreck. It may one day be otherwise in the more perfect world of universal coverage, but for now disabilities like the tone deafness that afflicts this administration from the top down are uninsurable.

Consider former ABC reporter Linda Douglass—now the president’s communications director for health reform—who set about unmasking all the forces out there “always trying to scare people when you try to bring them health insurance reform.” People, she charged, are taking sentences out of context and otherwise working to present a misleading picture of the president’s proposals. One of her key solutions to this problem—her justly famed message encouraging citizens to contact the office at flag@whitehouse.gov if they got an email or other information about health reform “that seems fishy”—set off a riotous flow of online responses. (The word “fishy,” with its police detective tone, would have done the trick all by itself.)

These commentaries, packed with allusions to the secret police, the East German Stasi and Orwell, were mostly furious. Others quite simply hilarious. Ms. Douglass, who now has, in her public appearances, the air of a person consigned to service in a holy order, was not amused.

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Neither has she seemed to entertain any second thoughts about the tenor of a message enlisting the public in a program reeking of a White House effort to set Americans against one another—the good Americans protecting the president’s health-care program from the bad Americans fighting it and undermining truth and goodness.

She intended no such outcome, doubtless. That this former journalist, now a communications director, failed to notice anything amiss in the details of that communiqué is a bit odd but not altogether surprising.

Crusades are busy endeavors, the enlistees in this one, like those in every undertaking of this White House, concerned with just one message. Which is that the Obama administration is in possession of vital answers to ills and inequities that have long afflicted American society (whether Americans know it or not), and that those opposed to those answers and that vision are cynics, or operatives of the powerful vested interests responsible for the plight Americans find themselves in (whether they know it or not), or political enemies bent on destroying the Obama administration.

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