"So you think you can out draw me, huh?"
That was one of my mother's favorite lines, which she exclaimed with glee whenever she figured out one of her kids' crazy schemes before it could be executed.
Dueling pistols for Washington health overhaul message gurus
The line might be from the mid-1960s cartoon, "Quick Draw McGraw" about a lovable, goofy mustang who was the sherriff of a lawless Western town. Or it could have come from a similarly-themed competitor, "Deputy Dawg," but in any case, it spoofed the Wild West obsessions of a previous generation.
The line could have been going through the head of Democratic strategist Paul Begala as he crafted a point-by-point counterargument (thanks, Politico) to Republican Frank Luntz's recent memo on health care messaging.
As we know from previous health care debates on Capitol Hill, the winners are not necessarily the ones with the best policy proposals, they are the ones with the best talking points.
And the current health overhaul debate is no different. Or is it?
Republicans are already following Luntz' plans, in some cases, word-for-word, and so Begala urges Democrats not to let them define the debate.
Begala argues that this is an "historic moment" because insurance and medical industry groups "have pledged to reduce costs and play a constructive role," "progressive organizations are more organized and energized," labor groups are on board, and voters have given Democrats power in Washington "in part because they agree with the Democrats' approach to health care."
Begala says Luntz and his Republican follower have three goals: To co-opt Democratic messaging, confuse voters, and kill reform. And it's worked before.
So he offers Democrats ways to counter Luntz' suggestions.
When Luntz suggests acknowledging that there's a health care "crisis" and threaten that government bureaucrats will get between people and their doctors, Begala urges Democrats to counter that its the "insurance company bureaucrats" who do that now.
"Make the Republicans own the status quo, and remind people just how scary that status quo is — even for people who have health insurance," Begala counsels.
When Luntz says to call the Democrats' plan a government takeover, Begala reminds Democrats that "President Obama has been explicit about the fact that he rejects a British or Canadian-style single-payer reform" and is looking for a "uniquely American solution" that preserves key elements of the current system.
(Incidentally, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), who is working closely with his counterpart Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), has also rejected the idea of a completely government-funded health system.)
When Luntz recommends that it's not enough to say what you're against, but you must tell people what you're for, Begala pays him the highest compliment:
"I couldn't agree more."