By Ben Cohen: Watching Mitt Romney desperately try to capitalize on conservative anger and public fear over 'Obamacare' is a lesson in the art of modern marketing. PR firms and advertisers are hired to the majority of the work on Presidential campaigns these days because the public's perception of politicians is almost exclusively based on images and soundbytes coming from TV. And as any good marketer will tell you, it doesn't matter whether the product is any good, it matters whether you can sell it or not.
Romney has a real problem - he's not charismatic, not believable and not particularly likeable. In other words, he's a marketers nightmare, especially when he's competing against one of the most marketable candidates in political history. He's also trying to sell the public on the idea that Obamacare will bring on the demise of America - a tricky business for a number of reasons.
The team behind Romney have obviously decided on a strategy to counter Romney's problems; bash Obama at every opportunity and appeal to people's fear. They're essentially saying 'Our product isn't that great, but the other one is actively dangerous'. The healthcare debate provides the perfect testing ground for this strategy because it is so unpopular with a large percentage of the country.
The problem is as everyone knows, Romney passed an almost identical health care plan in Massachusetts.
And how is this problem solved? Easy. Team Romney simply ignores it.
Hilariously, Romney has been contradicting literally everything he did and said in Massachusetts, even going as far as claiming mandates aren't a tax in Massachusetts but are on a federal level. Some of his team have been trying to maintain a semblance of continuity, but team Romney has clearly decided that lying is the best way forward. Check out this remarkable piece of logical gymnastics in an interview with CBS News:
Mitt Romney: Well, the Supreme Court has the final word. And their final word is that Obamacare is a tax. So it's a tax. It's – they decided it was constitutional. So it is a tax and it's constitutional. That's – that's the final word. That's what it is. Now, I agreed with the dissent. I would have taken a different course. But the dissent wasn't the majority. The majority has ruled. And their rule is final.
Jan Crawford: But does that mean that the – the mandate in the state of Massachusetts under your health care law also is a tax –
Romney: Actually –
Crawford: – and that you raised taxes as governor?
Romney: Actually, the – chief justice, in his opinion, made it very clear that, at the state level – states have the power to put in place mandates. They don't need to require them to be called taxes in order for them to be constitutional. And – and as a result, Massachusetts' mandate was a mandate, was a penalty, was described that way by the legislature and by me. And so it stays as it was.
This is like saying killing your daughter for no reason is murder in America, but not in Saudi Arabia because they don't call it murder. None of this seems to bother Romney, and for that reason he is able to press on with the PR strategy and bash Obama for a policy he actually advocates.
It's hard to tell how this plays out over the election. Obama will hammer Romney on this over and over again in an attempt to portray him as a flip flopping flake, and Romney will keep to the script and claim Obamacare is an illegal tax and a danger to the freedom of all Americans.
Just as soft drinks companies spend millions of dollars to convince people that their mixture of sugar, water and artificial flavors are inherently superior to others, Presidential candidates spend similar amounts amplifying minute differences in policy to do the same (and in Romney's case, there actually are no differences).
At the end of the day, the battle doesn't really come down to the facts, it comes down to which camp can effectively pump their message out to the greatest number of people. Romney is banking on the fear factor - he repeats over and over again that Obamacare is a tax and un-American and hopes that enough people get scared and vote for him. Sadly, with enough money he may even be able to make it work.