Messaging the Public Option: the Jerry Maguire Strategy

How can you talk about the public option while being simultaneously strong yet flexible? Here’s how.

Despite Conor Clarke’s reasonable suggestion that every blog post that can be written about the public option has already been written, here’s another one.

Here’s the problem: the Administration wants the public option. But it’s not going to give up on health care reform if it doesn’t get it. But it can’t SAY that because then it is negotiating against itself. But it also has to see if it can get a bill out of the Senate to do what it needs to do in conference.

That is, to put it mildly, a formidable messaging and policy problem. No wonder Kathleen Sebelius, who is a very talented administrator and politician, didn’t get it quite right. So what to say now? How about this:

Q: Will President Obama sign a bill without a public option?

A: Chuck, President Obama believes and continues to believe that the best way to reduce costs is through a public option to keep the insurers honest. The American public is sick and tired of insurance companies getting in between them and their doctor. Now, we’ve heard a lot in the last few days about co-ops. But no one knows what they are, or how they will work. I’ve even heard one Senator compare health care to a cheese company. If Senators think that co-ops can be as effective as a public option in reducing people’s insurance bills, then they had better come out and show us why. Put up or shut up.

This puts the burden back on the co-op supporters — or should I say, co-op supporter, because so far only Kent Conrad seems to think that they are useful. it shows the left that you are committed, while not closing the door if there is a real proposal there.

It’s the Jerry Maguire strategy: show us the money.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: