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A Winning Slogan for a Winning Agenda

Repeal, and then real reform.

12:00 AM, Apr 14, 2010 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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Now that Rasmussen shows that, yes, Americans really do want Obamacare to be repealed, one hopes that Republicans will shelve their pessimism and advance this crucial and winning agenda with confidence. But now is also the time for the GOP to make sure that its slogan is clarifying, rather than obscuring its goal.

A Winning Slogan for a Winning Agenda

Rasmussen shows that Americans support repeal by a whopping 20 percentage points (58 to 38 percent), with 50 percent of Americans “strongly” favoring repeal and less than a third (32 percent) strongly opposing it.  Even before the release of this poll, most Republicans — especially such members as Rep. Paul Ryan, Rep. Mike Pence, Sen. Jim DeMint, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rep. Steve King, and House Minority Leader John Boehner — seemed to be strongly on board with the repeal message.  But there has been a surprising amount of confusion in the press corps about the GOP’s actual goal.

Plainly, most Republicans want to repeal Obamacare, and then replace it with real reform.  Yet, judging by the reaction in the press, this message is not being captured very well by the slogans that have been advanced.  CBS News writes, “Right-wing members of the Republican party continue to push for a full repeal of the Democrats' new package of health care reforms, even as GOP leaders have blunted their message to one of “repeal and replace.”  I doubt that most Republicans who use “repeal and replace” think that they are blunting or watering down the message, but that’s what CBS News thinks. 

The Hill writes, “[Rep. Steve] King told The Hill...that he intends to press his leadership to sign on to a call for a full repeal.  In the days following the enactment of Obama’s sweeping healthcare reform measure, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) agreed to pursue a ‘repeal and replace’ strategy as lawmakers headed home for the Easter recess.  That has frustrated King and other conservatives.  ‘Sell the repeal idea.  We can debate the replace idea.  That’s what I would like to see our leadership do,’ King said.”  Again, “repeal and replace” would seem to require repeal, but it doesn’t seem to have come across that way to The Hill. (Rep. Boehner, who's clearly a conservative, has since removed any doubt about his intentions, emphasizing that “repealing this bill has to be our No. 1 priority.”)

If Republicans' slogans are causing confusion among prominent reporters, and presumably among many other Americans, it’s important to fine tune the rhetoric to clarify the goal.  These appear to be the leading options for describing the GOP's agenda in response to Obamacare, with one man's two cents on each:

“Repeal and reform”:  This slogan invites confusion.  It vaguely represents Republicans' goals, but only vaguely.  It can easily be read as promoting simultaneous goals (working on reforming some provisions, while also working to repeal the whole law), rather than sequential ones (repeal, and then enacting real reform in Obamacare's place).  It, therefore, too easily suggests that reform of the existing legislation is a prominent part of the goal, when it shouldn’t be. You don’t reform arguably the worst piece of legislation ever passed in America; you scrap it.  (This isn’t to say that congressional Republicans shouldn't offer partial bills to highlight particularly egregious sections of Obamacare and to help fuel momentum for repeal, but such tactics should be used in support of the overarching goal and shouldn’t be part of a slogan.)  This slogan is problematic. 

“Repeal and replace”:  This slogan isn’t bad, but the reason that it's apparently causing confusion may well be that it’s redundant.  “Replace” implies “repeal.”  You can’t replace something while simultaneously leaving it there. (“Replace” by itself would be a clearer, but comically uninspiring, slogan.)  The slogan’s redundancy may in turn lead some, like CBS News and The Hill, to conclude that “replace” must refer not to replacing Obamacare as a whole, but rather to replacing various provisions — while much of Obamacare would remain intact.  It seems that reporters are hearing this slogan as implying an either-or message, and hence a lack of resolve, rather than a true commitment to repeal.

“Repeal”:  This slogan has the virtue of being clear, which is important enough to elevate it over the other two.  It doesn’t immediately suggest that Republicans have alternatives in mind to implement once Obamacare is scrapped, but it conveys the most crucial message and does so firmly and directly.  And Republican candidates can always talk about how they would reform the health care system once Obamacare is gone, complementing the slogan with their own further thoughts, expressed at greater length.  This slogan is a winner.

“Repeal, and then real reform”:  This slogan is the most effective of all.  It's clear.  It’s firm in its push for repeal.  The sequence is plain.  It immediately rebuts (however pithily) the initial criticism of “Repeal” alone — that the GOP has no intention of offering alternatives.  And, importantly, it reminds people that Obamacare isn’t health care reform in any genuine sense of that term, but rather it is a massive and ill conceived health care overhaul that would preclude real reform.  

True, this slogan is a bit wordier.  But it’s all of five words, and short ones at that.  Americans can handle it.  And Republicans don’t need to get too cute in trying to pair two words together in a parallel structure at the expense of clarity.  Furthermore, this slogan can be used interchangeably with the shorter “Repeal,” with each one being used as appropriate.

More than anything, the Republicans’ slogan for this epic fight needs to be clear and to convey resolve.  “Repeal, and then real reform” — paired with the shorthand "Repeal" — hits the mark.

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