Wednesday, December 29, 2010


"When Obama's job performance improves, it will be fine to call it Obamacare."

One of the standard tricks legislators use is to name their bill the most innocuous, positive sounding bill on earth. That way when it is mentioned on the news, it sounds like a nice idea and they can make little comments like "How can my opponent have voted against the Free Hugs For Kittens Act of 2010?"

Generally the name is vaguely related to the actual law, such as the Employee Free Choice Act. This bill does have something to do with choosing and employees, but it means the opposite of the name: this would remove the secret ballot from union votes, opening people up to intimidation or worse by union thugs.

That's why I call the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act the "Government Health Insurance Takeover Act," because it more accurately portrays the legislation than its name. Recently Marilyn Sarafini wrote for the Washington Post about that bill, lamenting its poor acronym:
Puh-pack-uh? Is that some kind of llama?

In fact, it's the ungainly acronym of the new health-care law - PPACA, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Many people who support the law, or are neutral toward it, call it "puh-pack-uh" or "pee-pack-uh." Others call it the Affordable Care Act or plain old health-care reform.

But those less-than-inspiring monikers aren't much help to Democrats trying to convince the public that "Obamacare" - the Republicans' pejorative name for the law - is worth keeping, said Robert J. Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Democratic pollsters concede that there is a problem.

"We do need a common narrative that includes a name," said Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners.
The entire article is about how this bill would be polling better and more liked if only it had a better name that could be sold more easily. Nowhere in the bill is it even implied that people might be opposed to the idea of this legislation, it merely has many people lamenting that the attempt to sell the bill failed because it wasn't packaged well.

It seems to completely elude the supporters of this legislation that people just may not like the entire idea and reject the bill because it sucks. It isn't like the president of the united states wasn't on television dozens of times talking about the legislation, or that there weren't ads with movie stars talking about it, or that there was insufficient discussion. People know basically what was being attempted even if they, like the people who voted for it, don't know exactly what is in the gargantuan bill.

It is a long-known and understood principle of logic that if your argument comes down to careful wording or deceptive terminology, you lose the argument. That's a standard in debates, and there's all sorts of logical terms for why and how that's true. What it comes down to is this: if the content of your argument cannot stand scrutiny and is not convincing, then you have a poor argument.

Arguing by impressive sounding language and carefully crafted, emotionally manipulative terminology has a name, too. It's called "sophistry" and it is held in contempt by reasoned people.


eric said...

The problem, though, is that sophistry works so well with so many people. Sometimes it even seems to work in direct proportion to their claims that they can only be swayed through logic and facts. The terms "Death Panels" and "Government Health Insurance Takeover Act" are a nice bit of sophistry themselves. The government isn't actually taking over the insuracne industry. When you take over something, you run it. The government isn't running the health insurance companies, it is regulating their behavior at a much higher standard than ever before. And that's certainly a bad thing, with potentially disastrous results... but it doesn't sound nearly as ominous as "Government Takeover".

What I see happening in politics (and this is the way it has probably always been) is that ideolouges (of which I am one) debate the issues with eachother, come to understand eachothers positions, and then figure out ways to go sell their oppositions position to the uninformed public inthe worst possible light (and theirs in the best possible light). There is almost always a bit of sophistry involved, and (lucky for us) the modern right seems to be much better than the left at coming up with brutally effective slogans.

So the logical debates with all the uncolored facts do take place... they just take place well before this stuff is packaged up and presented to the public. That's why it is so important for people to study up on these issues themselves, because *everything* coming from either side of the aisle (as well as most of the media, old and new) is a sales pitch, and sales pitches aren't designed to make you informed... they're designed to make you agree.

Christopher Taylor said...

Well, technically you're right, the name I use isn't absolutely applicable but... I use it because that's their intent. The point of the bill is to make it impossible for private insurers to continue in business and compete until the government takes over the whole industry.

eric said...

Right, but even then, it isn't completely straightforward to label it as a government takeover. You are saying it is a means to an end to cause a government takeover (a view that I agree with), a potential catalyst to engage a government takeover... neither of which sound as ominous and immediate as "Government Health Insurance Takeover Act".

I don't mean to say such terms shouldn't be used. But what I am saying is that we should admit they are a plea to fearful emotions and not to logic, and that such pleas are simply part of the process of selling political ideas in the modern market (and probably the ancient market too). Conservatives should not assume that simple logic and facts are good enough evidence to sway an American public that has voted for the best looking Presidential candidate since the dawn of the television age.