Death panels: the danger of hyperbole in politics

Sunday, August 16, 2009

One strategy in politics that can sometimes work but often backfires is a continual doubling down, where one side elects to keep on turning up the volume in the hopes that this will sway public opinion to their side. This strategy can be effective over the short term as a kind of surprise attack, but over the long term (=weeks) this will almost always backfire as the claims made are then put under the microscope. The GOP's so-called "death panel" approach is turning out the same way here. Here's how it has worked out so far:

- Basic positive support for health care reform, GOP talks about cost and asks whether it's affordable. Not bad but public support seems to be towards the bill. Now to the next stage.

- Up the rhetoric, way up. Make up a term like death panels to surprise everyone. OMG, are there death panels in this bill? For about maybe three to five days or so this technique can be effective. However...

- Now the bill has been delayed and the only thing to do for a month is debate. Now the public starts to take a closer look at these panels. Are they really death panels?, they're not death panels. Are they against GOP principles? Looks like another no there - they were proposed by a GOP senator. Oh, and they match with a previous bill supported by the GOP as well. This is the stage we're in right now.

This is the difficult stage - do you up the rhetoric some more, or give up on that approach and go back to simply talking about cost and the free market and so on? Upping the rhetoric is pretty hard to do as you can't get much more extreme than a death panel claim. Changing the subject to something else may cause people to ask why the "death panels" suddenly aren't an issue any more, and at the same time the base will begin asking why GOP members aren't out for blood like they should be.

Then there's also the absurdity of claiming that a person that lost his grandmother just last year is somehow in favour of a bill that makes it easier for people to lose theirs too. Obama responded to the death panel claims today.


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