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Can’t Buy Me Love: Health Care Reform’s PR Campaign Fizzles

After the health care law passed, we were promised a massive, $125 million PR campaign staffed with top quality talent that would really sell the new law to the American people. In a fascinating article, Politico found that this promised campaign essentially crashed and burned:

Wal-Mart Watch founder Andrew Grossman unveiled the Health Information Campaign with great fanfare last June. Tom Daschle and Ted Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, were expected to lead the effort. They’d have help from former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn. They’d have an office in Washington with 10 or 15 operatives backing the Affordable Care Act and those who supported it.

And they’d have money to spend: Grossman hoped for $25 million a year for five years.

But nine months later, the Health Information Campaign has all but disappeared. Its website hasn’t been updated since the end of last year. Its executive director and communications director are gone. There’s no sign that it has any money. And neither Daschle nor Dunn will return calls asking about it.

It seemed the game plan was to pass corporate health care reform and expect the corporatists, in gratitude, to spend big, convincing everyone to love the new law. I don’t know if the strategy was simply some wishful vision of Rahm Emanuel ala Field of Dreams, “sell it out and they will fund,” or was meant to be part of the secret deal the White House cut with the big industries players until the corporations reneged. What is clear, though, is that it failed miserably.

This is a big problem because to pass the corporate bill Democrats had to go out of their way to destroy any hope of producing an organic, grassroots PR campaign to sell the law. It wasn’t just the lack of a public option, or the lying by Obama as he literally sold out his base. No bones were thrown to the hardcore progressive activists, like an immediate waiver that would in theory allow states to adopt single payer, so they could have a glimmer of hope instead of feeling like their dream was just sold into corporate servitude.

The result is that 13 percent of the country still opposes (PDF) the law for not being “liberal enough.” Democrats managed the unbelievably dysfunctional “accomplishment” of turning a large segment of the most dedicated part of their base against a purely Democrat-passed law.

What makes that 13 percent so critical is that a lot them are the true diehard activists that attend local meetings, write letters to the editors, and canvas neighborhoods in the winter. Basically, the dedicated volunteers whose work makes grassroots campaigns possible.

So, we have a law without a grassroots campaign to show it love or a corporatist PR campaign to sell it. It’s no wonder a whole year after the signing of the Affordable Care Act, public support, on average, has dropped.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at