It's time for some straight talk about health care reform 

Busting Harry and Louise

This is your assignment: Go to Google and key in "Harry and Louise." There you will find a number of sites mentioning the exploits of this notorious couple. But before we continue, let's recall who Harry and Louise were and how they affected our lives.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton announced plans to overhaul the American health care system to control spiraling costs and assure coverage for all. He named wife Hillary Clinton to head the task force to study the problem and develop a plan that he could present to Congress.

We will never know how the Clinton plan might have worked. It was DOA when it arrived at Congress, and the assassins were that unlikely couple who briefly became household names in America. Harry and Louise were a warm and cozy middle-aged couple who sat at the kitchen table in several endlessly repeated 30-second television spots that ran in 1993 and 1994, talking worriedly about the Clinton plan, its "hidden costs," and the loss of choices Americans would suffer under a national health care plan. (Check out some of the old Harry and Louise ads on YouTube.)

The campaign was the product of the PR firm Goddard Claussen and financed to the tune of some $17 million by the Health Insurance Association of America, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and the Coalition for Health Insurance Choices. And it is still regarded as one of the most effective mass-marketing campaigns ever.

According to an article titled "Killing Health Care Reform" in Campaigns & Elections magazine, "Through a combination of skillfully targeted media and grassroots lobbying, these groups were able to change more minds than the president could, despite the White House 'bully pulpit' ... Never before have private interests spent so much money so publicly to defeat an initiative launched by a president."

Well, it's 16 years later. The insurance industry had its way with the American public and the American health care system. To prove it, costs have continued to soar at an annual double-digit rate. Today health care represents more than 16 percent of the national economy.

Today President Barack Obama is promising a health care plan to save us from this morass. And, of course, the insurance industry is mobilizing to do battle. By some accounts, they and their allies in the pharmaceutical industry have budgeted $200 million for advertising, marketing, and lobbying against any major health care reform.

But Democrats are proving they learned from the Clinton disaster. They are also organizing, but they are doing it this time from the ground up. Using the same grassroots skills and technology that launched an Illinois senator from obscurity to the White House, they have created Organizing for America. Last Saturday, OFA launched Obama's health care initiative with the president addressing tens of thousands of Americans by CD in neighborhood meetings in homes, churches, and union halls from coast to coast. There were 35 meetings scheduled around South Carolina, a dozen of them in the Lowcountry.

I was one of more than 20 who met in a James Island home and heard the president call for reducing medical costs, guaranteeing choice and ensuring all Americans quality, affordable health care.

More than 30 met at a Mt. Pleasant coffee shop and 20 more at a North Charleston church. One of those in North Charleston was videographer Ed Faircloth, who recorded health care stories of some of those in attendance, and wove them together with President Obama's remarks to produce an outstanding piece of video. See it at www.youtube.com/watch?v=LADJQInz3JY and you will understand what Americans are organizing for.

In the weeks ahead, there will be more meetings as Americans organize from the ground up to put pressure on Congress and the president for the most sweeping reform possible. You will see more stories, editorials, and columns about health care than you have ever read before. (And I've got a good idea which side the benighted Post and Courier will take on this critical issue.) You will see people on television and hear them on the radio, talking about health care. You might even meet somebody on the street offering you literature or asking you to sign a petition for health care reform. When the moment comes, I hope you will not hesitate. But you don't have to wait for that moment. To get involved in local organizing, go to IndigoJournal.com. To sign a petition now to support health care reform, go to BarackObama.com.

Bill Clinton has said that the reason he lost the health care fight in 1994 was that he did not have support on the ground. That won't happen again. This time we will be ready for Harry and Louise.

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