The GOP’s toxic messaging

WASHINGTON — As the government health care website chugs along, the Obama administration has initiated a counter-initiative to combat Republican naysaying — and its weapons are of superior grade.

The bunker buster is positive messaging and a return to hope and change. For Republicans, it’s whatever the opposite is. Despair and stagnation? Gloating and gloom?

“Obamacare” may be fraught with potentially lethal problems, including the bungling of information as people sign up without any guarantee of privacy, but nothing is more toxic than “this is going to be a disaster.” Every time Republicans slam on the brakes, Obama tosses coins and candy into the crowds.

Even if the president at times resembles Baghdad Bob, the Iraqi spokesman who said everything’s fine here as American bombs exploded in the background, Republicans are the shock-and-awe gang with no plan for the day after.

Democrats have targeted the GOP’s soft spot, which is a hard line on social services. Thus, when Republicans want to drastically cut food stamps, it is a piece of cake (and not the moldy sort Marie Antoinette suggested the peasants eat) to designate conservatives as cruel and heartless.

When Republicans say the health care plan is doomed, a train wreck, a disaster, etc. — and offer no hopeful options — they appear to be rooting only for failure.

This approach is a blessing for Democrats, who have responded by shining a light on success stories: the 25-year-old who gets to stay on his parents’ insurance plan another year, the child or elderly parent with a pre-existing condition who now can get insurance, the family who never could afford insurance and now can, thanks to … well, all those people who are now mandated to buy insurance of a certain type or else.

Comparing approaches, President Obama is wearing love beads and planting flowers in the gun barrels of the Republican guard.

What Democrats know keenly — and Republicans seem never to learn — is that positive beats negative every time. Thus, we see MSNBC’s clever montage of Republican negativity: A series of unfriendly faces decrying the Affordable Care Act with apocalyptic language. Which would any everyday American prefer? The healer or the doomsayer? The elves or the orcs?

This is not precisely reality, but perception drives policy as much as reality does. The key for Republicans is to drop the negative attacks and refocus energies on the positives of their own alternate plans. They do have some, right?

It’s fine to note the objective fact that the employer mandate/fine has restrained hiring and forced businesses to drop insurance for their employees. It’s also true that many Americans navigating the exchanges are finding much-higher premiums and less-satisfactory policies. Other longer-term consequences include inevitable cuts to Medicare benefits and tax increases, such as a 3.8 percent tax on capital gains, dividends and interest that are unrelated to health care.

The effect of these additional taxes is to stifle investments and savings, which would seem to be a priority for our Congress. If this isn’t punitive toward those trying to create wealth, what is it? Or do we even care anymore?

It is also fact that the rocky rollout has created uncertainty and a lack of faith among businesses and consumers. The computer system, now entering a new phase of glitchitude, has put impatient Americans on prolonged “hold.” How long before they simply hang up?

Then what? What alternative solutions are Republicans hiding behind their backs?

Frank Macchiarola, former Republican staff director of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (and my patient guide through the ACA) proposes in an op-ed for CNBC, co-written with Republican former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, that the GOP lead with solutions rather than piling on criticism. The authors agree with Democrats’ goal to expand access to care, including to those with pre-existing conditions. But the cure, they suggest, is in targeted policy solutions rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Given the president’s low favorability rating these days — with 52 percent of voters saying they don’t trust him and 60 percent disapproving of his handling of health care, according to last month’s Quinnipiac poll — Democrats are scurrying to shift attention from Republican opportunity to the hope formula that worked so well in the past.

The same aspirational attitude could work for Republicans, too, if they can stop shaking their heads long enough. “No” gets you nothing but nothing — and gloating floats no boats.

Kathleen Parker is a Washington Post columnist. Her email address is

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