Despite a successful career as a congressman and as president of one of the country's most powerful industry groups, BILL GRADISON may best be remembered as the mastermind behind the "Harry & Louise" commercials that helped sink President Clinton's health reform plan in the mid-1990s.
It wasn't his usual role to be out front on one of the most successful issue advertising campaigns ever conducted. "My style is one of sort of working quietly in the background," Gradison says. "It never occurred to me that I would be in the middle of a national controversy."
Gradison left the House of Representatives after 10 terms in 1993 to lead the Health Insurance Association of America. Immediately, his new constituents faced a devastating threat in the form of the Clinton "managed competition" plan.
Gradison says he resorted to the aggressive ad campaign only after being rebuffed in efforts to have discussions with President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
He remembers looking at ad ideas and knowing he had a winner with the middle-aged couple at the kitchen table worrying that the government would take over their healthcare.
Gradison, who left the HIAA in 1998 and is now a lobbyist with the Washington law firm of Patton Boggs, would have preferred to bring about needed reforms to healthcare through a constructive dialogue with those in the White House, he says. "I don't look back at that with great satisfaction in thinking that `Oh, we beat the Clinton plan.' I look back and think the process failed," Gradison says.