Uncle Sam as Epithet

Posted December 22nd, 2010 in Uncategorized by Jeff Bentoff

Seems like if you want to tar and feather someone, forget about calling them nasty names, comparing them to Hitler, insulting their momma. Wanna land a real blow? Just insinuate they have something to do with the government.

Opponents of so-called “Obamacare” worked feverishly in 2010 to attach the dreaded word “government” to the Democratic health care plan. Despite the fact that most people want health care reform, apparently attach the word “government” to the concept, and magically, they oppose it.

The incessant chant of “government takeover of health care” was as ubiquitous this year as the background Christmas music we hear in every store and coffee shop during the holidays.

Yet, PolitiFact.com, a self-styled truth-o-meter of public statements, found this commonplace label to be the “lie of the year.”

Bill Adair, who runs PolitiFact, told NPR’s Steve Inskeep:

Well, it’s just ridiculously false. The plan relies on private insurance companies, and in fact private insurance companies are actually going to end up with more business because of the law, and yet it was a refrain we heard again and again. It was definitely the most pervasive falsehood of the year….The intent is to scare people about it and to make them think that the healthcare system is going to become this big bureaucracy. And that’s not to say it’s not that way now. But it is not going to be a government takeover.

So why apply the words “government takeover” to a plan that really is not a government takeover? Careless use of language? Actually, the opposite. Very smart people developed and then tested the phrase with voters. They knew the term would be effective. True or not.

Media critic Howard Kurtz, on his CNN show “Reliable Sources,” identified the likely mastermind who inexorably melded the terms “government” and “healthcare.” Kurtz said on a recent show that in the beginning, the media, including Fox News, initially labeled the controversial portion of the plan the “public option.” Kurtz reports that this more neutral characterization was banned on the influential Fox News after Republican pollster, and famed wordsmith, Frank Luntz, a one-time adviser to Newt Gingrich, said in a television interview:

If you call it a public option, the American people are split. If you call it the government option, the public is overwhelmingly against it.

Responded Sean Hannity, Fox News:

You know what? It’s a great point.

Kurtz said that soon after, the newsroom “got its marching orders” from Bill Sammon, Fox’s vice president and Washington managing editor. Kurtz said that Sammon:

…issued a memo telling the troops, “Let’s not slip back into calling it the ‘public option.’ Please use the term ‘government-run health insurance,’ or when brevity is a concern, ‘government option,’ whenever possible.”

 And the troops fell into line. … Now, maybe it’s a coincidence that Sammon, a right-leaning commentator and author, was echoing the GOP talking points. But even some folks at Fox don’t think so.

Communicators with successful records in shaping national opinion have determined that labeling something as related to “government” makes it less popular. A decades-long demonization of government – fed by a number of well publicized governmental failures – has been effective. How ironic and sad when government is in essence nothing more than us – “we the people.”

2 Responses so far.

  1. xoff says:

    Welcome to the Cheddarsphere. How come I had to find out about it from Rowen’s blog? More self=promotion is called for.

  2. Gretchen says:

    Excellent post. Evil Fox.

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