Politico did not note that it's Luntz -- not Obama -- who's talking about a “Washington takeover” of health care

Politico uncritically quoted Sen. Lamar Alexander stating, in reference to health care reform: “Washington takeover are two words we've been hearing a lot from the Obama Administration these days.” But Obama has explicitly disavowed a “Washington takeover” of health care; it's GOP consultant Frank Luntz who's urged Republicans to use that phrase to attack Obama's plan.

In a June 15 article, Politico reported that Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) “predicted that Americans would begin to sour on President Barack Obama's call for a public option” for health care, and then uncritically quoted Alexander stating: " 'Washington takeover' are two words we've been hearing a lot from the Obama Administration these days." The article did not mention that Obama has explicitly disavowed a “Washington takeover” of health care, including during a June 15 speech before the American Medical Association in which he described “warnings about ... government takeovers” as part of reform opponents' “scare tactics and fear-mongering.” In fact, it is GOP consultant Frank Luntz who has urged Republicans to attack Obama's plan as a “Washington takeover” of health care, penning a memo titled “The Language of Healthcare 2009: The 10 Rules for Stopping the 'Washington Takeover' of Healthcare,” as Politico itself reported in May. Indeed, Alexander has reportedly acknowledged that he and other Senate Republicans have met with Luntz, whom Alexander described as “a useful wordsmith.”

In addition to quoting Alexander's statement, the Politico article also uncritically reported that “Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a floor speech scheduled for this afternoon warned that what Americans 'don't want is a Washington takeover of health care along the lines of what we've already seen with banks, insurance companies, and the auto industry.' ”

But Obama has frequently said he is not proposing a “Washington takeover” of health care. For instance, during a June 11 town hall meeting, Obama reportedly stated: “One of the options ... should be a public insurance option. ... The reason is not because we want a government takeover of health care.” Obama further explained that “if you've got a private plan that works for you, that's great. But we want some competition. If the private insurance companies have to compete with a public option, it'll keep them honest and it'll help keep their prices down.” Similarly, during the June 15 AMA conference, Obama said:

We know the moment is right for health care reform. We know this is an historic opportunity we've never seen before and may not see again. But we also know that there are those who will try and scuttle this opportunity no matter what -- who will use the same scare tactics and fear-mongering that's worked in the past. They'll give dire warnings about socialized medicine and government takeovers; long lines and rationed care; decisions made by bureaucrats and not doctors. We've heard it all before -- and because these fear tactics have worked, things have kept getting worse.

So let me begin by saying this: I know that there are millions of Americans who are content with their health care coverage -- they like their plan and they value their relationship with their doctor. And that means that no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what. My view is that health care reform should be guided by a simple principle: fix what's broken and build on what works.

Nonetheless, Luntz prescribed the phrase “Washington Takeover” as one of the “BEST words” for “maximiz[ing] your attacks on the Democratic plan.” From Luntz's memo [emphases in original]:

Maximize your attacks on the Democratic plan by choosing the BEST words. For instance, calling it the “Democratic plan” isn't your best bet; doing so makes it political in the wrong way. It makes the issue Republicans vs. Democrats -- which doesn't favor you. The issue needs to be Americans vs. Washington. So here are the words to use:


“Washington Takeover” beats “Washington Control.” Takeovers are like coups -- they both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom. What Americans fear most is that Washington politicians will dictate what kind of care they can receive.

In a June 16 report that aired on NPR's Morning Edition, David Welna reported that Alexander “didn't hesitate to confirm that his party did get the [Luntz] memo”:

But for many Republicans, it's more than just a “government plan.” For Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, it's a “Washington takeover.”

“A Washington takeover of health care would result in a stifling of innovation,” he says.

Same goes for Tennessee's Lamar Alexander, who's in charge of crafting Senate Republicans' message: “I think the one thing we don't want most is a Washington takeover.”


Two months ago, GOP lawmakers got a 28-page memo from pollster and political strategist Frank Luntz titled “The Language of Healthcare 2009.” It lays out what Luntz calls “10 rules for stopping the 'Washington takeover' of healthcare.”

Dick Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, says it's clear where Republicans got their talking points. “As we listen to the speeches of Sen. [Mitch] McConnell day in and day out, they're right out of the playbook, almost verbatim -- in fact, many cases they are verbatim from the Luntz memo.”

Senate GOP message chief Alexander didn't hesitate to confirm that his party did get the memo.

“Well, Frank met with our Republican senators one time, and he's a useful wordsmith,” he said.

From the June 15 Politico article:

Senate GOP Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) predicted that Americans would begin to sour on President Barack Obama's call for a public option.

“Washington takeover are two words we've been hearing a lot from the Obama Administration these days,” said Alexander. “That's a different direction that Republicans want to go.”

Alexander vowed that Republicans would stay on offense on the issue

“We intend to be players,” he said.