South Carolina ACA/Obamacare Responses: A Lesson in Communication Strategy

Yesterday, I sent letters to my representatives about how excited I was about Obamacare finally being implemented and how they weren’t pro-life if they stopped it from coming into effect. Today they responded.

Three different politicians representing me, three different approaches to communication strategy.  We’ve got the impersonal and avoidant form letter, the detailed policy concerns reply, and the I acknowledge your concerns as valid and appreciate your input email.  I am surprised to find that the last on the list, from Joe “you lie” Wilson, is actually the one I most positively responded to while Lindsey “Butters” Graham, who I hold in the least contempt, sent me a disappointing brush off.  Perhaps I will hear more from him.

Form letter from Senator Lindsey Graham:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me. I appreciate the opportunity to hear from you.

In spite of the high volume of mail I receive daily, I look forward to reviewing your correspondence and providing a personal response as soon as possible.

As we continue our work in the 113th Congress, I look forward to supporting our troops in the War on Terror, repairing our economy and creating jobs, strengthening Social Security, lowering the tax burden on American families, and making the federal government more accountable and efficient.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if I may be of further assistance to you or your family, and if you need immediate assistance, please call my office at 202-224-5972. If your correspondence pertains to a scheduling request, please fax your request to (202) 224-3808.

Sincerely,

Lindsey Graham

A longer, topic specific form letter from Senator Tim Scott, which also includes my name:

Dear Miss Miller,

Thank you for writing me to request more information regarding a conservative alternative to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). I appreciate your input on this important issue and the opportunity to share my thoughts with you.

As you may know, I am a staunch opponent of the PPACA, having voted multiple times to repeal the law, and I have consistently criticized President Obama’s implementation strategy for providing special favors and exemptions while ignoring Congressional intent and the rule of law. Recently, the President has challenged conservatives like myself on the issue of coming up with alternative plans rather than just fighting to dismantle his law. On August 9, 2013, at a press conference the President said, “There’s not even a pretense that [Republicans are] going to replace it with something better.”

In answering this challenge, I first want to mention that conservatives in Congress and the Republican party in general have not been without ideas for replacing the PPACA. In fact we have a history of bringing market-oriented alternatives to the table. The most notable plan, the Patients’ Choice Act of 2009, was put forth by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Rep Devin Nunes (R-CA).

Personally, I have embraced some ideas that address some key problems in our health care system. By starting with medical tort reform, which has seen great success in states like Texas, and moving toward a more competitive environment that allows health insurance companies to sell their products across state lines, I believe we could really see some significant improvements in the cost of care. Additionally, I believe that policies to protect high risk individuals from being excluded from the system or denied health insurance coverage will be critical to improving access to care. Beyond those initial steps, I would like to see more general movement toward a market-oriented health system without all of the excessive regulations that drive up costs, as we are currently seeing in the PPACA exchanges. Private health insurance exchanges are currently allowing companies to offer more options to their employees at a lower cost to companies and often to the employees as well. The competition and cost-savings that private exchanges allow will soon be contrasted by the government-run exchanges that are set to go live on October 1, 2013.

A more general issue beyond these particular options is the importance of controlling costs. I believe in fighting to make sure everyone has access to quality care, but, as health care costs continue rise, such access has become increasingly out of reach for many families. That is why the debate over solutions should focus on actually reducing costs, instead of simply shifting the burden to a different party. The solution is to get the government out of the way. The regulatory burden and mandates that the PPACA will place on providers, businesses and families will only serve to increase costs and reduce access to care.

While I cannot claim to have an answer for every problem facing our country, I can assure you that I have spent a lot of time considering alternatives to the President’s health care law. Health care reform will be one of the defining issues of our time, so it is critical that we implement plans that will work, not just for the short term, but for future generations as well.

Again, thank you for sharing your perspective with me; I hope that you will continue to do so in the future. If I can ever be of assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me or a member of my staff.

For more information, please visit my website at www.scott.senate.gov and subscribe to my monthly e-newsletter. I also encourage you to follow me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/SenatorTimScott and Twitter: www.twitter.com/SenatorTimScott for daily updates.

Sincerely,

Tim Scott
United States Senator

This communication is being sent via e-mail in order to save taxpayer dollars. If you would like a written letter, please notify our office. The information contained herein is intended for the use of the individual or entity named above. Please do not tamper with or alter this communication in any way.

A shorter response from Representative Joe Wilson that acknowledges my support of ACA and mostly just tries to assure me that my input is valued (see bolded text), while going off on a bit of a non-sequitur about how the bill is being implemented:

September 25, 2013Miss Ashley Miller
3001 Blossom St
Columbia, SC 29205-2605

Dear Ashley,

Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding your support for the continued implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).  I appreciate your taking the time to contact me.

I understand your concerns and welcome your interest in this matter.  As you are aware, the President signed this piece of legislation into law on March 23, 2010.  Since that time, much of the implementing authority has been passed to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as well as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), with a majority of provisions set to take effect at the beginning of 2014.

Until that time, please be assured that I will keep your thoughts in mind should legislation pertaining to this issue come before me on the House floor during the 113th Congress.

It is an honor to represent the people of the Second Congressional District of South Carolina, and I value your input.

If I may be of further assistance to you, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,
(signed)

So there you go.

Republicans in DC: Stop claiming to care about life

As you know, I am from South Carolina, one of the worst states in the union, politically speaking. Occasionally I get really angry about some stupid something people who claim me as a constituent are doing in DC, supposedly on my behalf.

STOP TRYING TO SHUT DOWN THE GOVERNMENT

Sorry. I have spent literally my entire adult life wishing I had access to insurance that would cover my pre-existing conditions, women’s healthcare, and mental healthcare. I am not exaggerating when I say that this has been one of the most important concerns in my life. Because I developed severe allergies and asthma when I was 7, insurance and medical costs have driven so many of my life choices. Other people have had it far worse than I do, I don’t claim any special claim to bad circumstances, but I tell you the fact that, as of January 1, I will have, regardless of my employment situation, access to full healthcare coverage is such a relief that it makes me want to cry.

And *my* representatives are participating in these shame shutdown shenanigans because they want to take that away from me.  That makes me angry.  So I wrote a letter to Joe “You Lie” Wilson, against whom I ran a write-in campaign that may have earned me votes into the double-digits, Lindsey Graham, and Tim Scott.  By the time I got to Tim Scott, I had perhaps over-flourished it all, but you can judge for yourself.

Senator Scott,

I am really struggling with the behavior of Republicans in Washington, DC right now. Shutting down the government in what appears to be an attempt to hurt the poorest of your constituents.

I am a 29 year old woman who works a full-time job, two part-time jobs, and is in school full-time as well. Despite this, the only insurance I have access to currently is individual insurance, which can deny me for my pre-existing asthma. Furthermore, it is impossible to get individual maternity coverage in South Carolina. Unless you are part of a group plan, you cannot get maternity coverage at all in this state. If I get pregnant it is far more economically feasible for me to abort than to have a child, and not because I am not willing to pay for coverage, but because out of pocket a birth can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

If you were honestly pro-life, you’d support women getting access to that care. If you were honestly pro-life, you’d support everyone getting access to healthcare.

This is all changing on January 1 thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Starting then, I will have access to care regardless of my childhood asthma and that care will cover maternity. I have spent my entire life wishing that I’d have access to that some day — and now Republicans are trying to take that away from me. It feels like you’re playing political football with my ability to afford having a family.

I am not some lazy bum and I am not looking for handouts, I just think that I shouldn’t have to work so hard to still face catastrophic bankruptcy if something wonderful like pregnancy should befall me. Offer me an alternate plan, offer me a promise that South Carolina insurance providers will have to offer maternity coverage and coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. Or stop claiming to care about life.

Regards, Ashley

I mean, I might have upped the pathos dial a bit much, but goddammit, could you just care about people instead of politics for once?  Also, how infuriating is it that South Carolina is not the only state in which it is literally impossible for a woman to get individual maternity coverage!  HOW MESSED UP IS THAT

Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, Stephen Colbert’s Sister, Runs for Congress

Colbert-Busch, Stephen, and their mother

Colbert-Busch, Stephen, and their mother

When Tim Scott was chosen by our illustrious governor, Nikki Haley, to become our newest Senator, replacing Jim DeMint who retired to head the Heritage Foundation, he left the 1st District of South Carolina without a congressman.  The 1st District is on the coast of South Carolina, and includes Charleston, the hometown of Stephen Colbert and his sister, Elizabeth Colbert-Busch.  It’s also the District from which our bright and shining homestate hero, Mark Sanford, comes.

Elizabeth Colbert-Busch has announced that she is going to file Tuesday to run as a Democrat for the special election for Tim Scott’s old seat.

2010 profile in the Charleston Post and Courier:

Her father and two of her brothers were killed in a plane crash when she was 19. She was married to a man who ended up on “America’s Most Wanted.” And in 2001, while at a business conference in New York City, she was sitting in a building directly across the street from the World Trade Center when two jetliners slammed into its twin towers, forever changing the landscape of America.

But looking into her sparkling brown eyes, you’d never know this woman has seen enough tragedy for two lifetimes. Her infectious laugh fills the room as she talks about her children. Her face lights up every time she mentions Claus, her second husband and the man she calls the love of her life. And when she talks about her job, she speaks with a passion so great, you’d swear her boss was sitting next to her.

As director of business development for Clemson University’s Restoration Institute, Colbert-Busch is, for lack of a better term, the school’s corporate matchmaker. She finds companies that could benefit from the kind of advanced environmentally conscious research the university is doing — wind turbine testing, water studies, different kinds of renewable energy — and partners with them. More to the point, she asks them for money. In return, the corporations get the kind of cutting-edge information to help them stay one step ahead of the competition.

United_States_House_of_Representatives,_South_Carolina_District_1_mapWhen Tim Scott initially ran for the district, he was an impressive fundraiser — outspending his opponents 35:1.  The results?  In 2010 he won the district 65%-29% against a Democratic challenger — becoming the first African-American Republican elected to Congress from SC in 114 years.  This was a huge improvement (for Republicans) over the 2008 results, which was a fluke 52%-48% thanks to Barack Obama’s presence on the ballot.  Tim Scott won the race in 2012 62%-36%, outspending his opponent 20:1.

So, can a Colbert bump make the difference in the 1st District of South Carolina?

Here’s a biography: http://www.cwitsc.org/documents/Bio06_Colbert-Busch.pdf

 

Secular Coalition for America Summit: Day 2

Day one here

Friday, in the wee hours of the morning, right after I’d gotten to sleep, there was some sort of major commotion on the 8th floor of the Hyatt, very near to my room.  I’m not sure what it was, but I was told hotel security was called and I definitely heard a man who’d been woken up scream, “Shut the Fuck Up!”  I would have applauded, but I wasn’t so much for moving.

So, I was very tired when 7:30AM came around.  And then breakfast was disappointing.  How hard is it to have toast or oatmeal or something other than a very sketchy bready fruity thing?  Everything was cooked fruit.  How gross.  (Note: I’m far too picky for people to take my food opinions seriously.)

We, the godless horde, strode over to the Capitol to meet with some staffers.  Herb, Sharon and I first met with Tara O’Neill, who is a Legislative Aide (or LA in Hill Parlance) for Tim Scott.  Tara, a Clemson grad, was very nice and polite and listened to all we had to say about HR 1179 2011 (patient rights) and Humanist Military Chaplains.  But I’d like to give you some background on Tim Scott, so that you can understand exactly the lion’s den we three atheists were stepping into.

Godless Horde

Tim Scott is one of the mythological Black Republicans, and he’s Southern, so he’s about as common as a unicorn.  When he was on City Council he erected the 10 Commandments in the Council Office and the AU and ACLU proceeded to sue him to take them down.  He campaigned on bringing Christian Values to Washington, and was endorsed by Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin.  He opposes gay marriage, and probably doesn’t believe in atheists in foxholes.

HR 1135 2011

He took $117,000 in campaign ads from an anti-union group and then proceeded to sponsor legislation that would deny FOOD STAMPS to anyone who had a family member on strike.  HR 1135 2011.  It’s very clever, Sheriff of Nottingham level villainy going on.  “I want this brigand found. Starve them out, slaughter their… No, take their live stock. I want Locksley’s own people fighting to bring his head in.”

But enough about the life and legislation of Tim Scott, the staff was very nice — Tara and the UCSD student who greeted us and the gentleman in charge, who understood immediately what the SCA was doing.  We were done there by 9:30 and then headed over to meet with Lindsey Graham’s staffer Jason Brown, who is now my favorite person in DC.  On the way we walked past an armed guard who had an AK-47 — it didn’t look real, they should really make them look less like toys.

Our appointment wasn’t until 11, so we went down into the cool/creepy tunnels that run under the capitol, and went to a little coffee shop below ground.  Then we went back up to meet with Jason Brown.  The Senate offices are much, much nicer than the House offices.  Graham’s office was decorated with a bunch of pictures and paintings of and by South Carolinians.

I love this picture

Jason Brown is a lawyer working as a Legislative Aide for Lindsey Graham and he took us to a relatively swank conference room and we talked primarily about the issue of Humanist Military Chaplains.  He asked us some questions that implied an interest and definite understanding of why it was important to us.  That was reassuring.  Graham is an interesting character in terms of willingness to not toe the Republican Party Line at all times, and as someone on the Committee on Armed Services, he’s a good person to have on your side in this issue.

After that meeting, I went to Union Station, which is apparently just a large mall without a candy store, and met some others for lunch at Pizzeria Uno.  At 2, the panel discussion were set to begin.  Fred Edwords, who shall be Fredwords henceforth, the head of COR was the first to arrive.  He is working with some people in Columbia to get some buildboards here as well as some media training for locals, so it was nice to see a face I’ve seen a lot of e-mails from of late.

The panel was filled out by David Silverman (American Atheists), Jesse Galef (SSA), and Sally Quinn (editor of On Faith, Washington Post).  They spent some time talking about the rapture, which was supposed to happen Saturday, and how good it has been for the cause of Atheism.  David Silverman had been on CNN several times, and Herb Silverman was fielding media phone calls all day.

Sally Quinn then spoke for a while, and she was interesting, though I’m not sure I agree with her or where she’s coming from — it could be a generational thing.  She had some good zingers though.

You all look like you’re going to hell to me.  Tomorrow.

The world is not going to end tomorrow, keep on flossing.

Not one person in this room will be elected president of the United States.  There will be a woman, gay, and muslim president before there is an atheist president.

Effective media strategy is based on knowing more about faith than the other guy.  This is what makes Hitchens so good, he makes them just give up.  PEW says atheists are more knowledgeable about religion than the faithful.

Now, I have a little bit of a problem with the defeatist attitude towards the possibility of an atheist president.  There are, of course, quite a few who argue that we currently have one.  But an openly atheist president within my lifetime doesn’t seem like an impossibility to me.  Maybe I’ll run in however many years til I’m 35.

Then they got into a discussion of when anger was appropriate, and the consensus was it was good when other people also got angry, like when children died of neglect because their family refused medical care because of their religious beliefs.  Atheists should try to get in the news for doing community service and nice things, to help dispel the myth that Atheists are immoral or unfeeling.  Fredwords echoed things I’ve heard PZ say, which is that you need the firebrands to get attention and the nice people to negotiate change.

And then this is where Sally Quinn really went off the rails for me (and Jennifer Michael Hecht), when she started talking about what the stereotypical view of an atheist is.  Apparently Quinn thinks that the image people have in mind when they hear “atheist” is Madalyn Murray O’Hair who was fat, ugly, crazy and had a mustache and that what atheism really lacks is an ATTRACTIVE public representative.  Now, I don’t think that our current representatives like Dawkins, Faircloth, Harris, and Hitch are unattractive, I’d be more likely to put them in the generally attractive categories, so I’m just not sure if she means there are no attractive female public personalities or that no one has overcome the O’Hair legacy.

I dunno, she looks pretty hot to me...

The first doesn’t resonate with me because I’ve seen plenty of attractive women at atheist events.  The second doesn’t resonate with me because neither I nor Omar knew what O’Hair looked like.  So maybe this is an old-people-who-think-atheism-is-communism-because-they’re-old-and-stupid problem, because no one I know, and we’re people who are like into atheism so we know stuff about atheism, has any idea why anyone would care about O’Hair.  Everything I knew about her before Quinn’s comment is that she was killed before I was old enough to know anything and she was also an atheist.

Basically what I’m saying is that I don’t think we’re going to change the hearts and minds of Glenn Beck’s 70 year old audience, we just have to let them die.  Does anyone under the age of forty think that all atheist ladies have mustaches?  If so, I would like to disabuse you of this notion.  Many of us also have horns.

Then there was a lot more discussion about tone and tactics, which basically covered all the same ground over and over again, with various protests of various sorts from the panelist and audience members.  The most interesting discussion was about whether to participate in interfaith groups, which were exclusive of atheists by name and nature.

Legal Panel

The next panel was a team of legal experts, David Niose, Amanda Knief, and Mark Dunn.  Their discussion really reflected the rest of the thrust of the meeting in that it was calling for more personal stories rather than more theoretical problems.  To this end, they wanted to bring cases based on civil rights and equal protection, not on the Establishment Clause.

What it boils down to is this: when we make Tim Scott take down the 10 Commandments, we are absolutely right, but it makes us seem like assholes, but when we call someone out for violating civil liberties, like firing someone for being an atheist or refusing to allow them to form school groups or parents are denied custody because they aren’t religious, we seem like people who are just fighting to be treated equally.  And we get to tell personal stories of how the religious bias has hurt us, and people respond more to that.

And then we got a two-hour break, which I filled with caffeine, and then it was time for the reception/dinner that evening.

Paul Provenza opened with a comedic talk which was very similar to his talk at TAM.  He did have a good line, “Today we lobbied, or as I like to call it, fucked shit up.”  After dinner, JMH introduced Sean Faircloth, and she reiterated the broad theme (poetic atheism) of needing to tell human stories, we may be rational, but people need emotional connection.

Executive Director Sean Faircloth

And then Sean Faircloth spoke, and it was very State of the Union.  Lots of clapping, lots of broad, hear-hear sort of statements.  Spontaneous standing O at the end.  He thinks that Secular Americans are the next moral majority, a sleeping giant waiting to be motivated.  Then he gave a list of ten goals:

  1. Our military will serve all Americans, with no fundamentalism or religious bias or conversion
  2. Any federal/state funded program will be based on science, not belief
  3. Healthcare providers have a responsibility to their medical duties over their religious beliefs
  4. The legislature will represent the non religious
  5. There will be one consistent health standard for children, no religious exception
  6. Medical and scientific progress shall not be impeded by religious bias ever
  7. Discrimination based on religion will not happen
  8. Marriage can be defined by an individual religion however it wants, but the government cannot use religion for its definition
  9. Government zoning laws will respect all faiths and non-faiths equally
  10. Youth won’t be subjected to religious bias in schools.

Then, we were kicked out of the room because it was 9 and that was as late as they’d booked it.  I proceeded to join JMH and her husband and a few others at the bar, where she ordered a margarita, but couldn’t remember the word for salt.  This was immensely amusing.  Then there was a party in a room, and we went there.  There were all sorts of illicit activities going on (clothes all remained on) and I shan’t be more specific, but it was really fun.
JMH then did a poetry reading for the party, which was quite entertaining.  Because her poems are good, people were drinking, and it was so weird that someone would read poetry at a party in the first place.  I felt like a Beatnik, but cleaner.

PARTY!

And then, 2000 words later, I went to bed.