Saturday, May 27, 2006


Stay with me two paragraphs, that's all I'm asking. One of the most important and ambitious of those fabled experiments on the state level is in really bad trouble. Dirigo Health of Maine, a well planned try at providing affordable health insurance to the uninsured and the soon to be uninsured, is under full attack by the insurance industry and its Republican spearhead. Those who wax romantic about the states as test tubes always leave that part out. When progress is made in one of the fifty Petri dishes instead of all of them, it's easier for industry to kill the culture. And Maine is a mighty small dish.

For those who are already turning away, let me reassure you, this is not going into the details of Dirigo Health, though those aren't as complex as an income tax form. A lot of the trouble Dirigo is in comes from the same source as what plagues so much of the Democratic agenda. .

The explanations of Dirigo from its supporters are just awful. They are detailed, they are truthful, they mention all possible roadblocks and turns. They are delivered in so much insurance industry and policy jargon that not one in a thousand of those paying attention can understand what's being said.

John Baldacci, the incumbent Democratic Governor of Maine, has done some things I don't like at and has appointed some people I don't like but he hasn't been a really bad governor. For anyone who needs reminding, Jock McKernan, now better known as Mr. Olympia Snowe was the gold medal winner of bad governors. But John Baldacci has appointed spokesmen for Dirigo who can't seem to get three words out not guaranteed to make eyes roll from Kittery to Fort Kent. The program is under attack from Republicans who have two things to say about it, "costs money", "socialized medicine". They just took out the talking points handed to Ronald Reagan in the 60s by the AMA and the insurance industry and are going to bury an experiment that has a real chance of doing it. A model for the nation.

For the Democratic Party in other states and on a national level, you've got bright people making the same STUPID mistake. I know they are brilliant with real degrees in real subjects from fine universities. I know they love the feel of those words coming out of their mouths with perfect diction. I know that if they close their eyes they see C. J. and Toby. But remember all of those plots where these brilliant, jargon fluent, policy wonks got into trouble when they tried to speak in public? There is a reason for that. It's because anyone who takes five minutes from their frantic schedule and looks knows that policy wonkery as public relations is guaranteed to do three things:

1. Confuse the public that would like the program if they understood it,
2. Embarrass them and make them hate you for it.
3. Provide the decisive opportunity for the lying servants of your enemies to master the debate.

For the love of Mike, stop it. You've got to use plain language, you've got to finish talking about step one before you jump to step 49 no matter how much of an inter-relationship there might be. Train two people on your staff to speak English on the subject, on that subject alone and let ONLY them talk on that subject to the public. Come up with simple accurate words and phrases to replace the industry terms that no one understands. If you want to know what those are ask the experts. The janitor, the lunch counter person, your doctor who has only been pretending to understand them all these years. Don't use the words the insurance industry invented to confuse their customers in the first place.

You have made a noble choice to serve the public. You have decided that the sacrifice is worth it. But if it is worth serving the people you should have enough regard for them to explain things. Getting them to understand isn't an exercise in vocabulary building. They've got all the words they want to know. Use those and show the world how smart you really are.

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