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The power of labels

Words, particularly labels, have considerable power.

If, for example, the Affordable Care Act is ultimately defeated it will be largely because the label “Obamacare” stuck and was widely used, including by the media and the Democrats.

We would probably not have Medicare today if it had been called Johnsoncare or LBJcare.

No matter your political stripe, you have to admit that the Republicans have been winning the label battle ever since William Safire first wrote for them back in the Nixon administration.

The Republicans are seen as the pro-life party even though they want to push through food stamp cuts that will deprive some embryos and fetuses of the umbilical nourishment required for healthy development and survival. This is hardly a pro-life agenda, and it shows the sticking power of a label. Once applied, it can gloss over practices that run directly counter to what it implies.

Before Safire, the Democrats did better. One reason for Kennedy’s wit was his speech writer, comedian Mort Sahl.

This, of course, brings to mind something President Obama needs right now with the ACA implementation problems: a comedian speech writer, or a humor coach. He needs some Kennedy-like or Reagan-like self-deprecating and funny remarks, such as:

“You think you have problems with your computer? Hey, I feel your pain. In fact, my computer problems are part of your pain. Sorry about that. Who knew these things were so darn complicated?”

Something like this, but written by a professional and aided by a comedic delivery coach.

For an example of just such coaching, check out on the Internet the Nov. 15 NPR story, “A Jewish Comic And A Muslim Researcher Walked Into A Party.”

A very academic and very serious charts-and-graphs research presenter met up with a comedian who instructs persons on injecting humor into their presentations.

The two women hit it off, maybe because of their differences, and the researcher asked the comedian for professional help. She got it and incorporated humor into her previously dry, unemotional talks.

She got laughs, bonded better with her audience, drew them in more, and succeeded in her stated goal of wanting “to make a research presentation to an audience of 7,000 without anyone falling asleep.”

I was so impressed with this radio report that I sent it on to the president’s White House web site, suggesting politely that he could use just such instruction.

If he does better from now on in dealing with the ACA implementations, I will, in my delusional way, take credit for it, as I did for his not bombing Syria after I wrote to him.

Actually, of course, important others like Senator Heitkamp and Pope Francis influenced the administration not to attack Syria. But maybe enough other ordinary citizens also sent messages, or prayed along with the pope, to help tip the balance.

As for the ACA, it’s probably too late for a re-label. But it’s worth a try. How about Affordacare? That’s the best I’ve got. There have to be some professional writers out there who can do better.

The Democrats have to turn around the label battle sometime, don’t they?

(James Lein is a community columnist for The Minot Daily News)