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Minimum wage ‘indexing’: DFL political marketing at its worst

What do you think the great political pied piper Frank Luntz would have to say about Democratic politicians’ love affair with the term “indexing?”

MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach

Getting an “annual pay raise” is pretty awesome, especially if you’re a minimum wage worker. Fist pumpingly awesome even. So is getting a pay “bump,” “bonus,” “boost” or “hike.”

But having your wage “indexed” for inflation is underwhelming and/or confusing.

When a politician has an opportunity to legitimately claim credit for a guaranteed annual pay raise, that’s political gold. So why are Minnesota DFLers marching around the State Capitol continually yammering to Minnesotans about their desire to “index” the minimum wage? After all, the outcome of indexing is an annual pay raise, unless there is deflation, which is relatively unusual in the United States.

So why not call the DFL’s proposal what ordinary people would call it, an “annual raise?”

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The DFL is fighting to increase the minimum wage increase now, and build-in an annual pay raise for years to come.

Voters would understand that much better than the current language being used:

The DFL is fighting to adjust the minimum wage, indexed to the rate of inflation.

When most minimum wage recipients hear the term “index,” they don’t think “an annual raise.” They think one of two things: 1) Huh? or 2) The part of the book that everyone skips because it’s too boring. Either way, no fist pumps.

Mere wordsmithing, you say? Republicans invest heavily in wordsmithing, and it has proven very effective for them. They hire consultants like Frank Luntz, the author of “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear,” and many an Orwellian moment. Luntz famously convinced Republicans to shift from “inheritance taxes” to “death taxes.” Luntz understood that “inheritance” sounds unearned and aristocratic to the masses, while “taxing death” sounds outrageously insensitive and unfair. When they followed his advice, the level of support for inheritance taxes among non-wealthy citizens dramatically decreased.

But that’s not all. Luntz convinced Republicans to march in lockstep from “oil drilling” to “energy exploration,” “health care reform” to “government takeover of health care,” and “corporations” to “job creators.” Luntz showed Republicans that words can work against you or for you. Those seemingly minor shifts have helped Republicans win over many lightly engaged citizens.

So, my fellow liberals, what do you think the great political pied piper Luntz would have to say about Democratic politicians’ love affair with the term “indexing?”

“Indexing” is hardly the Democrats’ only jargon problem. There is the coded term “single payer” instead of the instantly understandable “Medicare for all.” There is the emphasis on the abstract move to “address the achievement gap” instead of on the more understandable push to “fix failing schools.” There is the sterile push for something called a “sustainable environment” instead of a push for something more tangible and visceral, such as “clean water, land and air.”

Ever-earnest Governor Dayton is trying to fix this through executive order. The Plain Language Fact Sheet that he issued notes, plainly:

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Using Plain Language to communicate will: 1) reduce confusion for citizens; 2) save time and resources; 3) improve customer service; and 4) make state government work better for the people it serves.

You go, Guv.

Republicans seem to be much more thoughtful and disciplined about campaign communications than Democrats. Republicans will read Luntz’s steady stream of talking points, and dutifully execute them day after day. “Death tax, death tax, death tax.” Meanwhile, self-serious Democrats turn up their noses about what they regard as superficial “spin,” and cling to their beloved Wonkspeak to impress the think tankers.

Then, come Election Day, the Democrats wonder why voters under-appreciate their hard work. As I watch the Minnesota DFL speak in policy-nerd code about their work to give the poorest Minnesotans a built-in annual pay raise or years to come, I don’t wonder.

This post was written by Joe Loveland and originally published on Wry Wing Politics.

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