November 6, 2013

November 6, 2013 | Commentary on Health Care, Obamacare

ObamaCare Goes Hollywood for Hispanics

With a disastrous ObamaCare website rollout and millions of Americans being kicked off their health-insurance plans, it's clear things aren't going well for the president's signature legislation. This week saw fresh evidence of how worried ObamaCare supporters are: news of an effort to use Hollywood story lines to send a message to Hispanics that they should sign up. It's not the first time promoters of government programs have used TV and radio programming to win over the country's largest minority group.

The Associated Press reported on Monday that the California Endowment is bankrolling an aggressive effort to sell ObamaCare to Hispanics and young adults. Half a million dollars will be dedicated to instructing Hollywood scriptwriters how to "produce compelling prime-time narratives that encourage Americans to enroll," the AP said. Overall, the Los Angeles-based foundation will spend some $130 million "for advertisements and other enrollment efforts aimed largely at Hispanics."

If ever there was a confluence of crony capitalism, big government, Hollywood, liberal media and the academy, this is it.

Consider the California Endowment, a foundation set up in 1996 and funded by Blue Cross of California. It receives federal matching funds for some of its work. The president, Robert K. Ross, also sits on the board of Covered California, the state health-insurance exchange set up under ObamaCare.

To promote ObamaCare among Hollywood types, the California Endowment will give funds to the University of Southern California's Norman Lear Center, which will use the money to meet with scriptwriters and coach them on how to weave plotlines promoting ObamaCare into television shows that appear on Spanish-language networks.

Martin Kaplan, a professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication, where he is the director of the Norman Lear Center is based, was nothing if not explicit about the initiative's goal: "We know from research that when people watch entertainment television, even if they know it's fiction, they tend to believe that the [information] is actually factual."

Norman Lear knows how right Mr. Kaplan is about the influential role entertainment can play in shifting the national political conversation. Mr. Lear, now a spry 91, was the television writer and producer who did so much to change America's mores in the 1970s with such shows as "All in the Family," "Maude" and "Good Times."

These hit sitcoms made social ills like broken marriages ( Bea Arthur's character in "Maude" was married four times) and welfare dependence (the first season of "Good Times" included a welfare-office visit) seem commonplace. Mr. Lear's shows were at their height of popularity from the early 1970s well into the 1980s, coincidentally just as the Hispanic population in the U.S. began to swell.

Around the same time, public schools, in the name of cultural sensitivity, were pulling back from teaching students about the values on which America had been founded. Many new immigrants—this writer included—who were looking for cultural cues had TV's version of America and little else. A good number of immigrant families we knew during that period thought that the fiction depicted on Mr. Lear's shows was what America actually looked like.

The new initiative out of the Norman Lear Center is unique in that it is consciously bringing together so many liberal forces to convince Hispanics to sign up for ObamaCare. But the Obama administration has already used television to sway viewers about another federal program.

Last year, the administration was caught by the Daily Caller using radio "novelas," like the soap operas that are the staples of Spanish-language networks such as Univision, to recruit more Hispanics into using food stamps. One of the 10-episode story lines produced by the Agriculture Department centered on overcoming a Hispanic woman's reluctance to use public assistance.

A character named Ramon, an advocate of using food stamps, offers the woman, named Diana, an apple: "Give it a try Diana. Look at me." She takes a bite, and Ramon says: "Now I'm able to continue buying apples and other fruits." She answers: "But I don't need help from anybody. My husband earns enough to take care of us." Ramon is exasperated: "Ay, girl, when are you going to learn . . ." After a slew of criticism, the Agriculture Department abandoned the series.

Breaking down people's natural pride and their reluctance to depend on welfare is the stock in trade of those who want government to grow by any means. Perhaps they don't appreciate the immense toll that eroding self-reliance has on these communities. Once churches, clubs and social organizations cease providing services because "the government will do it," they are almost impossible to bring back.

Progressives are extremely savvy about using entertainment and powerful cultural institutions to carry out their initiatives. Conservatives know how to complain about it, but so far they have been badly outmatched.

 - Mr. Gonzalez is the vice president of communications at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Mike Gonzalez Senior Fellow
The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy

Related Issues: Health Care, Obamacare

Originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal