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Obama's Use of the Word 'Bureaucrat'

By Ed O'Keefe

As the health care reform debate continues, some close observers have noticed President Obama's increased use of the word "bureaucrat" when assuring audiences that the government will not intervene in future health care decisions.

In Sunday's New York Times, Obama stated, "If you have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or government bureaucrat gets between you and the care you need."

He used similar language on Saturday in Colorado: "If you like your doctor, you keep seeing your doctor. I don't want government bureaucrats meddling in your health care."

Ditto on Friday in Montana: "If you like your doctor, you can keep seeing your doctor. This is important. I don't want government bureaucrats meddling in your health care, but I also don't want insurance company bureaucrats meddling in your health care either."

Use of "the b-word" is frowned upon by federal workers unions and other longtime members of the federal bur... (gulp), uh, federal government community.

His use of the word is even more curious considering Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry's recent comments that "We have a President in Barack Obama who gets it; who understands the value of service and isn't in the practice of throwing around 'bureaucrat' as a slur towards our workers."

Queried about Obama's use of the term, the White House declined to comment.

Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, said Obama's use of the word is "derogatory," because it's meant to conjure up negative feelings. He cited a 2004 study published by his group, which found that:

...the most common voter reaction to federal government workers is summarized in the word “bureaucrats.” The term “federal government workers” receives a favorable response from 71 percent of those surveyed, but the term “federal government bureaucrats” receives only 20 percent -- a drop of 51 percent with one word.

"Honestly, the president of the United States should not be using [bureaucrat]," Stier said. "He’s done very important work in making government cool again. He should not be referring to the federal workforce as bureaucrats."

Pollster Frank Luntz, author of "Words That Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear," recently authored a memo for Republicans that suggested how to best construct a message of opposition to health care reform.

Polls suggest that using the b-word helped increase opposition to the reform efforts, Luntz concluded. Republicans should thus say things like: "It would have federal bureaucrats determining health care standards rather than the doctors who are actually providing the care," or, "President Obama wants to put the Washington bureaucrats in charge of health care. I want to put the medical professionals in charge.”

"Bureaucrat conjures up everything the public hates about government," Luntz said in an interview. "It conjures up red tape. It conjures up delay. It makes people think of the DMV. Everything bad about government can be summarized in one word: bureaucrat. What Obama has basically done is he's thrown all of his loyal government workers under the bus to get health care reform."

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | August 18, 2009; 10:37 AM ET
Categories:  Administration  
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Joe Davidson ran a column in the Post earlier this summer. In it he quoted a professor who conducted a study on How to Change Government: "the lower the percentage of political appointees in your agency, the more successful the agency is."

The more 'bureaucrats' you have, the better the agency runs. These much loathed 'bureacrats' have been in the trenches long enough to efficiently maneuver around the inflated egos, overdeveloped sense of entitlement and personal agendas of presidential appointees.

So Mr. Obama, I think you should rephrase: "If you have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or idiot ego-maniac that I or congress appoint gets between you and the care you need."

Posted by: CandyManShaBam | August 18, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

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