Adding a real, live body to the strawman

ADDING A REAL, LIVE BODY TO THE STRAWMAN…. When the current debate over health care reform was just getting underway, Republican pollster Frank Luntz reminded GOP officials not to ignore the desire for change in the system. “You simply MUST be vocally and passionately on the side of REFORM,” Luntz advised his party. “The status quo is no longer acceptable. If the dynamic becomes ‘President Obama is on the side of reform and Republicans are against it,’ then the battle is lost and every word in this document is useless…. Acknowledge the ‘crisis’ or suffer the consequences.”

For the most part, Republicans have followed Luntz’s lead. Whenever President Obama or other reform advocates blast those who defend the status quo as opponents of reform, GOP policymakers are quick to insist that’s a “strawman” argument — they want reform, too, just not the good kind that actually helps people.

But once in a while, prominent GOP leaders will slip and hint that reform isn’t necessary after all. Far-right lawmakers like to argue, for example, that “there are no Americans who don’t have health care.” Karl Rove made the suggestion again this morning that there’s broad satisfaction with the status quo. And Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) dipped his toe in the same waters this morning.

GOP Rep. Pete King, on MSNBC this morning, said he doesn’t think that health care reform is that important to the American people — and national Dems are getting ready to pounce. […]

Asked whether health care reform is an important issue to voters, King said: “When you ask the American people what’s the most important issue to them health care reform does not rank high.”

As things go, this one isn’t in a class with Jim DeMint’s claim that health care reform will be Obama’s “Waterloo.” But it gives Dems a bit of an opening to push along their message that for Republicans, the best cure for the health care system is no cure at all.

As a factual matter, when you ask the American people what’s the most important issue to them, health care reform actually ranks very high. Last week, an NYT/CBS poll asked an open-ended question of respondents, asking what’s the “most important problem facing the country today.” While the economy and job creation were on top, health care was next on the list — with a higher score than the deficit, education, immigration, Iraq, terrorism, and the environment combined.

But as a political matter, Republicans have been on the offensive for weeks, and feel like they’re in a position to kill reform before the fall. The more they argue that the system is fine the way it is, and that reform isn’t especially necessary, the easier it will be for Democrats to regain the rhetorical advantage.