It certainly looked bad.
Last week, political watchers fully expected the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act. The country was about to go back to square one on healthcare.
Democrats seemed resigned to the loss, and the back-up plan seemed to consist solely of saving parts of the law.
Republicans had no plan. Which I later realized was exactly the plan.
So what should be the progressives’ play? After exhausting the least-bad options, return to what made sense from the start, of course: expanding Medicare to cover everyone.
Such a move — also known as Single Payer, referring to government’s role as the only payer to independent hospitals and doctors — was endorsed by President Obama when he was State Senator Obama. It was the favorite solution of President Truman and Sen. Edward Kennedy, too.
The Progressive Caucus in the House already signaled it was ready to present Single Payer as the alternative. But the corresponding bill, HR 676, only boasted about 80 cosponsors.
The grassroots activists championing Single Payer have been at it a long time, especially the doctors behind the Physicians for National Health Plan (PNHP). But none of them wield much clout in Washington — partly because they don’t involve themselves in the dirty business of raising and giving money away.
Normally, a three-piece ecosystem of nonprofits support successful campaigns, usually dominated by several 501(c)(3) educational nonprofits able to accept tax-deductible donations but limited in their ability to lobby; one or more 501(c)(4) nonprofits unable to accept tax-deductible donations but less limited in their political activity; and political committees that give money directly to the campaigns of candidates or get otherwise involved in elections.
But Single Payer lacked the third piece. So late last month, anticipating a court decision that could re-open the healthcare debate, Hairpin set out to create a political action committee. As we set to work, we tried to follow some of our own advice.
First, a name. We were well aware that “single payer” is a tad jargon-y. “Medicare for All” explains things well to a broader audience. But if we were to raise the hardest kind of money — political money that gives no tax benefits — we needed to speak to a more narrow, more dedicated audience. We bet that that audience will respond to “single payer.” Similarly, our second audience — members of Congress and their campaign staff — know the term. They would have no confusion as to what message was attached to the money. So we let our audience guide us.
Then we grabbed the Facebook and Twitter handles for “singlepayerpac,” and the website URL for the same. So we prioritized internet real estate.
Next, we got clear about our identity in words, starting with a single sentence that might appear in a news story or in our Facebook “about” block. We settled on one that both explained its purpose and the void its filled: “Single Payer PAC is the only political action committee focused on electing candidates who will champion an expansion of Medicare to cover everyone.” So, with the use of an “only” statement, we defined ourselves in a way that set us apart.
Fourth, we created a visual mark. True, we hadn’t raised a dime yet. And with only 48 hours before the court was to hand down its ruling, we hadn’t yet recruited impressive endorsers. All the more reason we needed to signal that we meant business. A professionally rendered logo, we knew, covers numerous sins.
Hairpin Senior Designer Aaron Bouvier took the lead, working off concepts from the group. The mark’s icon image plays off the familiar medical cross but combines the number 1 (as in single) and gives it a third dimension with a shadow — enough to make the point but simple enough to work from distance and in various sizes. It also filled a square space nicely, ideal as a Facebook and Twitter identity and meshing with our vision of an internet-powered organization.
He added a bold typeface, slightly tweaked, in Futura Bold for the full name and identity. We coupled it with a declarative tagline that, following the Supreme Court’s (expected) ruling, reminded audiences of one of Single Payer’s new assets: it’s legal.
Next, we created a national press list from Hairpin’s database service, culling it down to a tidy 700 reporters, bloggers and producers covering healthcare reform, the Supreme Court, U.S. politics and left-of-center activism. We drafted a pithy, one-page release.
With time running out, we succumbed to reality and used a pre-fab WordPress template. We chose “Reddle” by the folks at Automattic because it was super clean and browser responsive, so its look adapted automatically for viewing in smartphones, tablets and traditional computer screens. We added an email sign-up form from MailChimp and a PayPal button to accept donations. We loaded basic content, including the launch day news release, and pointed our newly minted URL to the site but hidden behind a password wall until the court’s announcement.
The announcement was unexpected. As everyone knows now, by a 5-4 vote, the court upheld the law. The political opening for single payer had, for the moment, closed.
So we never launched. But should the Affordable Care Act be repealed, we’ll have Single Payer PAC at the ready.