Tag Archives: Jesse Greenberg

Are Democrats Losing Control of Healthcare Reform Possibility?

Between last week and this week, the answer would seem like Democrats, and the White House in particular, were starting to lose any hope of passing healthcare reform legislation that included a public option.  Cable TV news stations have been showing endless coverage of the Right’s disruptive tactics at congressional townhall meetings as Members of Congress returned to their districts to engage constituents on healthcare reform options for the August recess.

However, the notion that there is this massive and universal backlash against healthcare reform is hardly true.  Of course it is a contentious debate, but the reality is that three of the House committees charged with creating healthcare reform legislation have seemed to reach written legislation, respectively.  And in the Senate, one of two committees charged with concocting healthcare reform legislation have concluded.

The Right is making a lot of noise and usually extreme elements get covered in the media.  But, like with the Tea Party movement meant to thwart President Obama’s stimulus package, the healthcare disruptions will end up being a minor distraction. I believe Americans do think the unruly and overly-aggressive tactics will be dismissed eventually as trying to stifle debate, while unconstructively trying to kill needed healthcare reforms.

The White House communications team responded this week with a page out of President Obama’s campaign playbook.  If you recall, lots of rumors by the Right tried to damage Obama’s reputation – ideas like he is a Muslim or that he was not an American citizen.  Obama responded with a sort of myth & fact website complete with text and video.  It helped not only correct the record and debunk rumors, but it also gave activists a tool to make the case to their networks.

Now, through whitehouse.gov/realitycheck, the White House is refocusing its efforts to speak directly to people – hoping traditional media and bloggers/facebookers/tweets direct people to the site.  It’s a great online communications effort.  The website is well-designed, which is actually hard to do on this issue because there is so much information and disinformation regarding this debate, that people can easily be overwhelmed.  But, the White House’s site lets video do most of the talking, which is an effective medium for getting the message across.  It also has an FAQ page, a Q&A on consumer protections and a page for users to submit questions.  I will try submitting something and see if I get a response.

The one critique I have is on video shareability.  The site features all these great testimonials on healthcare from experts on the President’s team, but there is no place to grab a link and place in on my blog or website.  That’s could be a very effective tool in spreading the White House’s message that can be utilized.

My prediction – the media focus on healthcare reform opposition will dissipate and rationality about passing healthcare reform will return.

Big Names Come to Stump at Northside DFA

Tonight was an exciting meeting at the Northside Democracy for America (DFA), the local arm of activists who endorse and work on behalf of progressive candidates  and issues.

First off, nobody was happier at the end of the meeting than Jeff Smith.  Smith is an Evanston attorney and longtime good government advocate who is running for state representative in the 18th District.  He was unanimously endorsed by DFA, making him the first candidate to receive the organization’s endorsement for 2010 races.

After having Toni Preckwinkle speak to the organization two months ago, two elected officials with big name recognition came to speak to the Northside DFA.  Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin and Congressman Danny Davis have both declined to officially announce their candidacy for Cook County Board President, as Toni Preckwinkle has, yet each man said they were definitely in the race at the DFA meeting.

Suffredin spoke first, bringing talking points up with him as he, from the outset, seemed extraordinarily careful about his message.  Oddly enough, he started with defending his vote for supporting the 1 percent Cook County sales tax hike last year that has been wildly unpopular.  Suffredin explained he gave Todd Stroger his vote for the tax hike primarily in a trade for establishing an independent board of health to oversee Cook County Hospital, and because Cook County’s finances were so badly mismanaged that the tax hike was necessary to get the County’s house back in order.  Suffredin deflected the impact of the sales hike on Cook County, arguing that the collar counties are hurting for revenue as well.  In other words, Suffredin suggested that the flight of Cook County consumer spending going to collar counties to save on higher taxes simply was not happening.

Suffredin commended the impact of the independent health board’s impact on the overall Cook County health system, claiming that the board has turned around its finances to benefit of $250 million.

I won’t speak for Northside DFA members, but I certainly was asking myself if Suffredin’s vote was really necessary to establish the independent health board.  After all, reformers Mike Quigley and Forrest Claypool rejected the tax increase.  It is hard to accept Suffredin’s argument that he is with the Quigleys and the Claypools when it comes to reform but also vote for the Stroger tax hike.

Clearly, Suffredin knows Cook County issues very well.  But, I felt as though he was grasping and defending himself because he knew the vote for increased taxes was a mistake.  He’s now voting for its repeal.

Danny Davis came and spoke next, using a much different tone.  He projected leadership, experience and confidence.  And while the local media is saying Davis will not run for Cook County Board President, Davis told Northside DFA that he is.

Davis presented the case that he’s worked his whole life representing progressive issues and wants to focus his Cook County Board President candidacy on healthcare, fixing the judicial/correctional system and reforming taxes.  He didn’t say how he would approach any of these issue in specifics but his argument about his experience as a Chicago alderman, Cook County commissioner and Congressman sure sounded convincing.  Interestingly, he did say that his strong suit was inspiring and motivating people and that he felt Cook County needed that type of leadership if it were to reform.

The last word here was something that Suffredin said in response to a question about waiting to declare if he was running.  Suffredin flat out said that his strategy for not declaring is rooted in getting media attention.  Simply, the longer he waited, the more the media would speculate and give him ink.  Seems like it’s working.

Jumping into IL-10

This week has been the time politicos have been waiting for – who would run for the seat Mark Kirk vacates as he bids for U.S. Senate?

The safe bet would be to assume the seat will go Democratic.  Two contenders with name recognition and a history have already signaled that they will run: Dan Seals and Julie Hamos.

It will be every interesting to see how each candidate goes about building a campaign for the 10th Congressional seat.  Hamos, the State Rep from Evanston, has been working towards a state-wide run until Lisa Madigan announced she would not vacate her Attorney General seat.  Hamos is looking to turn that disappointment into a victory in the Democratic primary.

Hamos has some built-in advantages for her in the 10th District.  She’s already known in the area from her years as State Rep in Evanston (outside of the 10th District).  She will have unprecedented support from elected officials (especially Jan Schakowsky next door in the 9th), who wants a woman and a progressive in that seat long-held by a Republican.   Hamos has also built up plenty of good-will in the district as the area served as a fundraising hub for her state-wide race.  I believe she has a lot of sympathetic supporters who feel that Lisa Madigan thwarted Hamos’ chances at higher office and now will support Hamos in the Congressional bid.

Seals, I think, faces a really uphill battle.  He does have the advantages when he ran for the seat during the last two election cycles.  He knows the district really well and undoubtedly brings lessons learned and insights to this campaign after losing two previous ones.  But, he won’t have the backing he did when he was an unknown taking on Kirk in 2006 and again in 2008.  From what I’ve heard, many residents in the 10th are hoping that Seals will not run, to open the door for new blood.  That would be Seals’ death knell.  He cannot count on the political kingmakers to bless his run this time around.  He will need an even stronger grassroots campaign than he has had previously.  Can he do it?

I think if he does run a better grassroots campaign, he can beat Hamos in a very tough battle.  But looking at today’s events after Seals announced his candidacy via email, a look at his Facebook page has no announcement to about 500 supporters across several pages that he is running for Congress.  That built-in network will be absolutely key to Seals’ support in the 10th and beyond.  He needs that to be successful.  He cannot rely on the Democratic organizations handing him supporters like they did in previous elections.  Facebook is the start of grassroots outreach, and it’s a good bell-weather of a campaign at a given moment.

Hamos, meanwhile, has to do a good job of channeling her support and momentum from the statewide run into continung to give supporters a piece of the campaign.  The Hamos team has done a great job at that so far.  It has been interesting to see the media speculate about Hamos’ political future plans and the campaign make no announcement or outreach to her supporters (even to tell them to sit tight) since Madigan announcemed she isn’t’ running over a week ago.

How to Choose Between Facebook and MySpace

Some really great research is beginning to disseminate through the blogosphere emanating from the Personal Democracy Forum just held in New York.  In particular, is the user base and growth of the two largest social networks, MySpace and Facebook.

Northwestern researcher Eszter Harggitai found that MySpace’s users slightly declined or stayed about the same over a 0ne year period dating back to 2008.  In fact, Facebook’s traffic increased 97 percent and MySpace’s traffic declined 5 percent from a year ago, writes Riva Richmond, blogging for the New York Times.

Both Richmond and Harggitai refer to social media researcher Danah Boyd, who has uncovered important demographic trends with Facebook and MySpace users.

Research by Harggitai, Boyd and others boils down to this:

  • Whites are using Facebook more and leaving MySpace
  • Asians are using Facebook at very high levels and MySpace very little
  • Hispanics are more likely to be active on MySpace than Facebook
  • African Americans seem to be more evenly split between using Facebook and MySpace but are using Facebook slightly more
  • Facebook users come from more economically advantaged families than MySpace users

Not commenting on the social stratification of the research findings, it is interesting for those who are running local political campaigns to take this data into consideration when putting together an online communications strategy.  Supposing there is finite time in a campaign, plus limited staff resources, it is safe to assume that a campaign cannot effectively be all over each social network and use each well (i.e. John Edwards in 2008).

Therefore, especially for urban and suburban districts, it seems practical to use this data in order to assist a campaign in choosing what kind of social networking strategy they will employ.  Campaigns have to ask themselves, does it make sense to use Facebook in a more predominantly African American or Hispanic voting area?  This research would indicate that would be a bad idea.  But, the realities on the ground are always a little different and must be measured for each case.

The lesson here is listening to statistics and going with the percentages.  Other campaigns have tried and failed, others have won.  Good campaigns listen to those lessons and put those findings to work to their advantage.

Social Media in Electoral Politics is not a Mutually Exclusive Venture

I had a really interesting conversation last night with Jeff Smith, a really sharp Evanston lawyer, activist and candidate for state representative in the 18th District.  Smith is running in a field of other great candidates, including Patrick Keenan-Devlin and Eamon Kelly.  Jeff and I were discussing the value of Facebook in building a support network and reaching voters during an election.

I took the position that Facebook offered an incredibly efficient medium to communicate and organize voters.  Jeff countered that though that is true, most probable voters in his Evanston district probably won’t go on Facebook and would need to be reached the old fashioned way – knocking on doors and shaking hands. 

The truth is, I think, is that we’re both right and we’re both wrong.  From Barack Obama’s campaign down to Daniel Biss’ campaign for state rep in 2008, we learned that a good online strategy was made possible by the hard work candidates and staffs put in on the ground to introduce themselves to voters.  Facebook was just the next logical place to go to continue the conversation and stay engaged in the campaign.  In short, there are synergies between online and offline that are complimentary, rather than mutually exclusive.

Of course, the largest group of Facebook users are in the 18-25 range, but we also know the fastest growing segment of Facebook users is the 45-54 age group.  Ask any teenage kid if their parents are friending them on Facebook and the likely answer is ‘yes.’  I believe that in the Evanston district, Facebook and other new media tools will be crucial to winning the campaign for state representative.

Jeff is right too – nothing replaces shaking hands and talking to voters.  People want to feel listened to and  putting a name with a face is crucial.

All three candidates have a solid presence on Facebook and all have comparable-sized networks.  It seems as though all candidates believe it’s necessary to have a Facebook page.  But how many will make it a priority?  Who will use it as a strategic tool?  Who will accidentally find it invaluable because of the reach and ease of use?

These are all questions I’ll watching out for in this race!

Generic Drugmaker, Seizes Public Affairs Opportunity

Teva Pharmaceuticals, the world’s largest manufacturer of generic drugs in the world, is uniquely positioned to benefit from the impassioned debate on healthcare reform, prompted by the Obama Administration’s call for a government option for health insurance.

Teva occupies an interesting place in the healthcare industry.  Prescription drugs are a central part of American healthcare.  Millions of Americans rely on pharmeceuticals to keep them healthy and Teva can meet this need through producing generic prescriptions.  As the costs of healthcare and drugs escalate at alarming rates, Teva produces drug generics much cheaper than name-brand drugs, thereby providing relief to consumers facing healthcare costs that rise much faster than wages.

Patients, doctors and health insurance companies are all clamoring for generics, realizing that affordable access to drugs is a key to providing quality healthcare to Americans.  Obviously, Teva understands this and the company has creatively joined the country’s healthcare debate in a centrist role.  By not aggressively taking a position on the Obama insurance plan, Teva can safely raise awareness for its company and its products, all while driving home its message that generic drugs are quality products at vastly lower prices than brand-name drugs.

Whatever the outcome of the national healthcare debate, Teva will win.  Increased access to generics is pretty much universally agreed on by all stakeholders in the healthcare debate (besides its competitors).  Through sponsoring events, like the upcoming Year of Affordable Healthcare Series in Chicago, a Twitter page and a series of online videos (though it could be more creative than ripping off the Mac vs. PC genre), Teva is playing this debate wisely.

They’ve put themselves in a win-win situation.  While Congress will not agree on how to fix healthcare, they all realize it is too expensive and lacking coverage among large segments of Americans.  If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, generic pharmeceuticals are beneficial for all.  I would bet any legislative outcome to the healthcare issue will address even more access to generics.

The lesson here?  Realize the opportunity and seize on it.  Furthermore, through good messaging and non-partisian approach, Teva has put together a winning grassroots public affairs strategy.  That serves as a nice compliment to its other public affairs function through the DC office and its PAC, focusing on federal policymakers.

My one suggestion for the Year of Affordable Healthcare is that it would really benefit from a blog.  If this is a tour and debate featuring Teva executives and guest speakers, it would be interesting for people unable to make events, to see and hear what happens.  Guest bloggers, reports and opinions could easily be integrated into a blog.  It would also make this public affairs effort’s Twitter account more valuable.

Social Media, Direct Democracy and Iran

Tom Friedman penned a great column today in the New York Times discussing the reversal of a trend whereby democracy in the Middle East assisted in bringing to power more radical Islamic elements to governing positions in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine over the last few years.  Now, demonstrated by the power of Twitter and Facebook, Iran’s “democratic” re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is being challenged by large swaths of the local population, threatening the legitimacy of the Islamic rule in Iran.  Friedman points out that the failure of other Islamic movements in the rest of the aforementioned countries, may assist in the democratic weakening or removal of radical groups in favor of more moderate forces.

In short, democracy in the Middle East stands the chance of bringing the pendulum back to the political center after years of growing Islamic power.  This was the strategy behind the Bush adminstration’s push for democracy in that region.  Ironically, it was Bush’s lack of positive engagement in the region that assisted in bringing these Islamic movements to power in the first place.  The Obama administration is now standing to benefit from more moderate and Western-friendly governments, ready to capitalize on a more American-friendly diplomatic position.

The real lesson from Iran, in my opinion, is that social media tools offer the power in direct democracy.  With little outlet to express frustration and protest over the elections in Iran, Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms give unfiltered views and opinions for local voters to share with the rest of the world.  In the process these sentiments have captured the world’s attention, built a growing protest movement in Iran threatening the regime, and has helped organize the opposition in ways which could not exist before these social media tools existed.

For politicos in the US, I see Iran lesson teaching us to be cognizant of situations that can help political movements or political candidates make their case and win popular support.  Social media is the natural and best outlet to speak directly with supporters.  But most importantly, after engaging in that conversation and helping to set its tone, stand back and let your supporters self organize and communicate with their own networks.  Voters have to be trusted and by putting issues and passions into their own hands, they will pass on the rewards better and faster than a centralized movement.