Democrats discuss repeal debate language

Democrats contemplate branding: "No Care" sounds way cornier than "Patients' Rights Repeal," but it's shorter

Published January 16, 2011 4:01PM (EST)

Last week, Greg Sargent reported that Democratic leadership plans to brand the GOP repeal of the Affordable Care Act as "The Patients' Rights Repeal Act." Immediately, media critics like David Kurtz jumped on the length of the name as evidence that their efforts are doomed to failure -- and that emergency help should be flown in from Madison Avenue.

Predictably, the Democrats are scrambling and scattering. Greg Sargent reports that a number of Democrats, concerned specifically about the length of the proposed name, are suggesting an alternative: "No Care."

"No Care" is probably the stupidest slogan ever, since it doesn't actually evoke anything. But is the original proposal really too long? It's worth noting that "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue either. But the thing that stands out is the use of the expression "job-killing." Strategists like pollster Frank Luntz have been advising Republicans for years about how to select exactly the right words to move the attitudes of voters -- and Republicans have had enough message discipline to take this advice.

Length need not be a problem. In the end, people will probably just say "Patients' Rights Repeal" anyway. And that's starting to get a little snappy. But, more important, with "Patients' Rights Repeal Act" Democrats have finally found a slogan -- perhaps by accident -- that competes on the same level.

The key is to elicit an emotional response from the listener by activating the mental networks related to the specific words and concepts you choose. The most famous example is Frank Luntz' "death tax" -- used to this day as a Republican alternative to "estate tax." The reason this slogan works is, quite simply, that everyone dies.

Looking at "Patients' Rights Repeal" through the same lens, its power is obvious: rights are central in American values; and everyone will one day be a patient. You can be damn sure that an American wants his rights when it comes time to be a patient. I'd bet a month's salary that "Patients' Rights Repeal" polls better than "No Care." Any takers?


By Christopher R Walker

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Healthcare Reform