Telling Repubs how to talk

I don’t know how much envy or bias affects my perception, but it does seem that the Repubs are just better at euphemizing for political advantage. Frank Luntz is the most famous (and perhaps the most brilliant) of Repub pollster/focus group mavens/consultants who concentrates on language. He tests words all the time and advises his clients on the word choices that will sell, politically.

As the Repub Governor’s Association met this week in Orlando, reporter Chris Moody of Yahoo News sat in on Luntz’s session with the guv’s on how to talk about the issues of the day. For example:

1. Don’t say ‘capitalism.’

“I’m trying to get that word removed and we’re replacing it with either ‘economic freedom’ or ‘free market,’ ” Luntz said. “The public . . . still prefers capitalism to socialism, but they think capitalism is immoral. And if we’re seen as defenders of quote, Wall Street, end quote, we’ve got a problem.”

2. Don’t say that the government ‘taxes the rich.’ Instead, tell them that the government ‘takes from the rich.’

“If you talk about raising taxes on the rich,” the public responds favorably, Luntz cautioned. But  “if you talk about government taking the money from hardworking Americans, the public says no. Taxing, the public will say yes.”

3. Republicans should forget about winning the battle over the ‘middle class.’ Call them ‘hardworking taxpayers.’

“They cannot win if the fight is on hardworking taxpayers. We can say we defend the ‘middle class’ and the public will say, I’m not sure about that. But defending ‘hardworking taxpayers’ and Republicans have the advantage.”

 4. Don’t talk about ‘jobs.’ Talk about ‘careers.’

“Everyone in this room talks about ‘jobs,'” Luntz said. “Watch this.”

He then asked everyone to raise their hand if they want a “job.” Few hands went up. Then he asked who wants a “career.” Almost every hand was raised.

“So why are we talking about jobs?”

5. Don’t say ‘government spending.’ Call it ‘waste.’

“It’s not about ‘government spending.’ It’s about ‘waste.’ That’s what makes people angry.”

6. Don’t ever say you’re willing to ‘compromise.’

“If you talk about ‘compromise,’ they’ll say you’re selling out. Your side doesn’t want you to ‘compromise.’ What you use in that to replace it with is ‘cooperation.’ It means the same thing. But cooperation means you stick to your principles but still get the job done. Compromise says that you’re selling out those principles.”

7. The three most important words you can say to an Occupier: ‘I get it.’

“First off, here are three words for you all: ‘I get it.’ . . . ‘I get that you’re angry. I get that you’ve seen inequality. I get that you want to fix the system.”

Then, he instructed, offer Republican solutions to the problem.

8. Out: ‘Entrepreneur.’ In: ‘Job creator.’

Use the phrases “small business owners” and “job creators” instead of “entrepreneurs” and “innovators.”

9. Don’t ever ask anyone to ‘sacrifice.’

“There isn’t an American today in November of 2011 who doesn’t think they’ve already sacrificed. If you tell them you want them to ‘sacrifice,’ they’re going to be be pretty angry at you. You talk about how ‘we’re all in this together.’ We either succeed together or we fail together.”

10. Always blame Washington.

Tell them, “You shouldn’t be occupying Wall Street, you should be occupying Washington. You should occupy the White House because it’s the policies over the past few years that have created this problem.”

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Comments (24)

  1. Submitted by David Stovall on 12/01/2011 - 02:51 pm.

    Putting it that way, economic freedom, free market, take from the rich and hardworking Americans, hardworking taxpayers, wanting careers, government waste, cooperation, I get it, job creators, we’re all in together and occupy Washington; what part does the left and the Democrats not get?

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/01/2011 - 03:29 pm.

    I certainly hope DFL and Democratic politicians read this and take it to heart. Republicans don’t own the language, and Democrats should stop ceding the semantic battlefield to them. In that context, I’d like to see a lot more Democrats adopt the Elizabeth Warren model.

    As an aside, it’s hard to imagine a more cynical exercise – on the part of either party – than parsing every word for political gain. “Small business owners” might, in fact, work better than “entrepreneurs,” but no one except a diehard Republican believes “job creators” actually means “those who create jobs. It has already come to mean “the wealthy,” though “innovators” still has a positive connotation. I’d quarrel with Mr. Luntz on this one, though Newt Gingrich has been an apt student of propaganda.

    “Always blame Washington” is the ultimate right wing cop-out. Even if it were true, it’s not helpful, and does nothing to solve local, state or national problems. “Always blame Washington” is part and parcel of the right wing “government is the problem” propaganda refrain that’s been coming from loudspeakers for a generation and more. For most of the past decade Republicans HAVE been in charge, so if government of “the past few years” is the problem, Republicans have only themselves to blame.

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/01/2011 - 03:53 pm.

    Orwell rules!

  4. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/01/2011 - 04:43 pm.

    Ditto #2. I count at least four recognizable propaganda techniques, which somewhat overlap: “common man”, “glittering generalities”, “appeal to prejudice”, “labeling” or “stereotyping.”

    How many can you count?

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/01/2011 - 06:27 pm.

    “Ah Wanna Buy Me a Huntin’ License.” – John Kerry


  6. Submitted by Ann Spencer on 12/01/2011 - 10:20 pm.

    One of my personal pet peeves, gaining currency on the right: “government schools” instead of “public schools.” “Government schools” has connotations of top-down control, indoctrination, Big Brother, collectivism, and enforced uniformity, whereas “public schools” implies a common good in which all citizens have the opportunity to participate and have input. I don’t know whether Luntz invented this one, but I’m hearing it more and more from Republican candidates and pundits.

  7. Submitted by John Hoffman on 12/02/2011 - 03:34 am.

    I’m not falling for your Jedi mind tricks. I’ve already seen the “Job Creator” euphemism as rich guys like Romney breaking up good American companies in the name of capitalism and creating jobs for China! I see nothing noble in the dismantling of companies like Mitt suggested in the 2008 Rescue Package. The US saved GM, like Reagan did with Chrysler in the early 1980’s with a bridge loan. What would Lee Iococo say today about that? It was the right thing to do then, and it’s still right today.

  8. Submitted by John Olson on 12/02/2011 - 07:23 am.

    Wash, rinse, spin. Repeat.

  9. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 12/02/2011 - 07:52 am.

    Ray #2, to sum up your first two paragraphs: coordinating talking points is extremely cynical . . . and you wish the Dems did it better. And might I suggest that it’s a little naive not to realize that this already happens?
    Your last paragraph has more meat in it. ‘“Always blame Washington” is the ultimate right wing cop-out. Even if it were true, it’s not helpful, and does nothing to solve local, state or national problems.’ Three problems with this.
    1. So figuring out where the problems are isn’t helpful? How can that possibly be? Or are you suggesting that it distracts from arguments that you like better?
    2. There is growing recognition on the right that local and state problems, especially underfunded pensions, are becoming huge problems. Not Washington originated but often a government assisted problem.
    3. Republicans have been in charge for most of the last decade. Why do you think that the Tea party so quickly gained popularity? Think it has something to do with their willingness to kick out noxious GOP members? (OWS take note.)

    And another problem or at least annoyance, when exactly is the left going to pitch in on figuring out these local problems? Is there any discussion of pension shortfalls in liberal circles? None that I’ve heard. If it’s mentioned, it’s only to launch into a plea for higher taxes.

  10. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 12/02/2011 - 07:56 am.

    “7. The three most important words you can say to an Occupier: ‘I get it.’

    “First off, here are three words for you all: ‘I get it.’ . . . ‘I get that you’re angry. I get that you’ve seen inequality. I get that you want to fix the system.”

    Then, he instructed, offer Republican solutions to the problem.”

    Those . . . those monsters! Empathizing and then (the horror!) offering solutions! This is pure craziness and must be stopped.

  11. Submitted by John Cricky on 12/02/2011 - 08:25 am.

    “Then, he instructed, offer Republican solutions to the problem.”

    Those . . . those monsters! Empathizing and then (the horror!) offering solutions! This is pure craziness and must be stopped.”

    Republican solution = “Obama is the devil. Now go get a job.”

  12. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/02/2011 - 09:39 am.

    The problem is that the typical Republican solution is tax breaks for business, justified by the assumption that businesses will use that extra capital to hire more workers.
    However, American businesses already have excess capital (record profits). They’re not using it to hire more workers, since aggregate consumer demand is still down. Even in cases where they do increase output they are doing it by increasing productivity (mechanization/computerization) and overtime/part time hiring (no extra benefits) rather than by increasing jobs. Unemployment as a whole is still at historically high levels, even if down slightly over two years ago.
    Their extra capital goes mostly into profitable investments (often off shore).
    So, why would you suppose they would do any differently if you gave them even more money?

  13. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/02/2011 - 10:02 am.

    “[O]ffer Republican solutions to the problem.”

    The Republican solutions–deregulation of the financial sector, tax cuts that favor the wealthy, labor policies that favor employers over employees–are what caused the problem in the first place. Thanks, but keep your solutions and your phony consultant-derived empathy.

  14. Submitted by Pat Thompson on 12/02/2011 - 11:15 am.

    Luntz has appeared on the Colbert Report a couple of times. The setup is that Colbert has hired him to consult for the Colbert SuperPAC and Luntz is helping him come up with his messaging.

    His appearances have been some of the most surreal moments on a generally surreal show.—frank-luntz-commits-to-the-pac—-corporations-are-people—-frank-luntz—colbert-super-pac—frank-luntz

  15. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 12/02/2011 - 01:15 pm.

    RB Holbrook, name one piece of Republican deregulation that led to the recession. Please.
    And frankly the more union friendly policies are part of the problem. That’s why states like New York, Rhode Island and Illinois are in serious budget trouble. Note, all of these have been blue states for a very long time. They can’t credibly blame the GOP.

    Having said that, frankly crony capitalism HAS been a bipartisan problem. I think that the Tea Party has been a good first step in weeding it out on the right. I have some small hope that the OWS will do some good work from the left

  16. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 12/02/2011 - 01:31 pm.

    #11 John, as opposed to the very sophisticated Dem solution: “Bush is the devil, vote him out and we’ll have hope and change and paradise.”?

  17. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/02/2011 - 04:43 pm.

    #15 Repeal of Glass-Steagall, and you don’t have to say that it was done under Clinton, I know that, but deregulation is one of the all-purpose fixes proposed by Republicans. Perhaps “Republican-esque” policies would be a better term. Certainly, the Bush tax cuts are a major factor causing the dfeinict that so hamstrings our “leaders” in how to deal with the recession.

    Did I say “union friendly?” I said “policies that favor employers over employees.” You can’t blame public employee unions for all of any given state’s budget problems. Public employee salaries make up a relatively small part of a state’s budget. A bigger problem has been a mule-headed refusal to consider tax increases.

    The Tea party has done nothing to “weed out” crony capitalism. The Tea Party has done nothing but kvetch at the top of their collective voice because they lost the election in 2008. Besides, reforming capitalism would mean they see a point in what the DFHs are saying, and, Lord knows, we can’t have that.

  18. Submitted by will lynott on 12/02/2011 - 05:50 pm.

    #15, start with the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1998 by the ultra-cynical Phil Gramm. Yes, I know Clinton signed it, which makes him complicit after the fact. What’s your point? Without Gramm, he’d have had nothing to sign.

    There’s lots of other examples, such as Saint Reagan’s deregulation of the Savings and Loan industry. Google “Charles Keating” for the history lesson I don’t have time to give you right now.

    Frank Luntz makes his money by abusing language, using people’s perceptions against them as shamelessly as any Madison Avenue prostitute. There’s a special circle of Hell reserved for people like him who use their intelligence to win, whatever the cost to the nation and it’s people.

  19. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/02/2011 - 09:00 pm.

    @#15 and #16: Here’s one Republican deregulation that lead to the recession: the Fernand-St. Germain Financial Deregulation Act of 1982. Another one is the Alternative Mortgage Act of 1987. Both of these were Reagan era acts that lead first to the S&L debacle and then to the 2008 financial meltdown.

    But you’re right to point out that this deregulation mania is very bipartisan. The Commodity Futures Modernization Act and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 were Clinton deregulation bills that 1) deregulated index futures speculation and 2) allowed banking, investment banking and insurance to be conducted by banks. I’m very glad to pin the tail on the “donkeys” when they apply, in this case Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, two Wall Street hucksters who seem to belong more to the Tea Party mob rather than to a party that is trying to preserve hard earned economic gains.

  20. Submitted by Joe Musich on 12/02/2011 - 10:51 pm.

    Frank Luntz talks like zippy the pinhead. The sloppy talker.

  21. Submitted by Warren Park on 12/03/2011 - 06:09 am.

    Curious that Eric followed this piece with a story of the brainwashing of George Romney. Just keep singing Happy Days Are Here Again and everything will be just fine.

  22. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 12/03/2011 - 08:29 am.

    #17 and #18, thank you for responding. The idea that Glass Steagall would have saved us from recession is tendentious at best. The housing bubble had already started when it was repealed. And it’s hard to really connect the dots that critics like to throw out.

    From the article:
    “GLB had nothing to do with either lending standards at commercial banks, or leverage ratios at broker-dealers, the two most plausible candidates for regulatory failure here.
    Most importantly, commercial banks are not the main problems. If Glass-Steagall’s repeal had meaningfully contributed to this crisis, we should see the failures concentrated among megabanks where speculation put deposits at risk. Instead we see the exact opposite: the failures are among either commercial banks with no significant investment arm (Washington Mutual, Countrywide), or standalone investment banks. It is the diversified financial institutions that are riding to the rescue.”

    It looks like what has happened is that the repeal of Glass Steagall is the only real bit of deregulation that Dems can point to in the last 20 years and boy do they want to make it pay! The problem is that this ignores the housing bubble and everything that contributed to it. It ignores the last fifteen years of easy money and (probably) too low interest rates that really pushed that baby. Even more problematic is the fact that the Bush admin didn’t cut regulations. It expanded them!

    Figuring out where we are and what got us here is extremely important. It would be helpful if people would drop the partisan snipping and actually work the problem.

  23. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 12/03/2011 - 08:35 am.

    Jon #19, the impact of the Fernand-St Germain act on the S&L debacle is disputed at best but let’s set that aside. Can you tell me what the connection is to the 2008 meltdown?
    (I LOL’d at the idea that Rubin and Summers are like Tea Partiers.)

  24. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/04/2011 - 03:54 pm.

    @## 22 and 23: Peder where did you get the idea that the housing bubble had already started when GBL was enacted? GBL was enacted in part to repeal Glass-Steagall and thereby enable Citibank to acquire Travelers Insurance Group. Citibank is where Rubin became CEO after leaving his post as Sec. of Treasury and helped get GBL enacted.

    The repeal of Glass-Steagall is linked to TARP and the bailouts of the financial industry in that many of the largest banks, including those like Citibank, which were considered too big to fail would not have happened had these banks been properly restricted from engaging in investment banking activities which included outright speculation. It would not have prevented it but no one says it would. Glass-Steagall would have prevented a bad situation from being worse than it was.

    You say that repeal of Glass-Steagall is the only bit of deregulation but you don’t comment on the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. That prevented the regulation of financial derivatives like collateral default swaps and collateralized debt obligations. In fact, these derivatives are still unregulated and tepid attempts at re-regulation like the Dodd-Franks bill are being whittled down.

    By the way, if you don’t see how Rubin and Summers share a lot with the Tea Partiers, then maybe you need glasses. The Republicans-Tea Partiers in the Senate have opposed many Obama nominees but Elizabeth Warren, who should have been nominated and approved to serve as the first head of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, was opposed by Republicans from the get go. They share the values of Rubin and Summers who also opposed everything she stands for in terms of bringing the financial services industry bank under strong regulation. Why are the Republicans and the Tea Partiers opposed to this?

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