Posts Tagged ‘Frank Luntz’

GOP-Elephant-upside-downMy latest column with Scot Faulkner on the sorry state of affairs in the Republican Party.

Apparently some other folks are picking up on our idea that all the GOP needs to do is rework its “messaging” — Jon Stewart skewered my old boss Frank Luntz in the first segment of his show last night.

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I offered some thoughts on POLITICO today about the Wisconsin union debate, and how the two opposing sides are attempting to frame the conflict with their rhetoric. The contrasts are stark, and often simply cascades of clichés — though some interesting exceptions caught my eye, including this from my old law school classmate Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. He takes the trusty GOP standby “class warfare” and turns it right around. This is a page out of the George Lakoff playbook, which he recently explained here in a contribution to my blog.

Read my full POLITICO article here, originally published March 10, 2011.

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I wrote an extended piece on POLITICO today drawing on my earlier reaction to Frank Luntz’s recent Huffington Post op-ed.

You can read the full article here.

In preparing my article I also spoke to George Lakoff, an esteemed colleague in the world of political language. His own take on Frank’s formulations went in something of a different direction than my own. Where I see Frank’s platitudes as empty rhetoric (“You decide”; “You derserve”‘; “Let’s get to work”; “No excuses”) which function to both erase actual reasoning and to serve as a dangerous linguistic smokescreen, George also sees framing. Here is some of what he wrote me:

Accountability is a contested concept: it has opposite meaning for liberals and conservatives. Luntz gives the conservative meaning: underlings are accountable to strict overseers. “No excuses” is a threat from the boss. To liberals, political leaders and corporate managers are accountable to the public. “No excuses, Governor Walker. You created a deficit by giving corporate tax breaks. Now you want teachers, nurses and firemen to pay for your gifts to your corporate supporters. And even worse, you use that as a excuse to take away the right of collective bargaining, which balances the take-it-or-leave-it power that bosses like you want over their employees. No excuses, Governor.”

When used by a someone in authority, these phrases project absolute power, and call it “integrity.” But it can be used in other situations: the Wisconsin Senators now in Illinois have uncompromising integrity. They are taking a moral stand and won’t back down.

Aha! But what George is doing here is moving beyond Luntz; he is making an argument.


“Let’s get to work,” uttered by a Republican Governor, introduces a frame placing the blame for what is wrong on others for not doing enough work on his projects. It hides the governor’s own failures.

These are more than empty phrases. When uttered in context, they say of the speaker, “I’m both self-righteous and pig-headed.”

As George says, Luntz’s platitudes can, indeed be mouthed by folks from both sides of the aisle — and with different meaning to their allied audiences. Ultimately, the danger of empty rhetoric is not a party-line matter. Chris Christie rode to victory bellowing “Let’s get to work.” Maybe, as George suggests, this implied an argument about others not doing enough. But a Democratic governor could do the same thing; there is nothing inherently partisan about the phrase. And in either case, there is no explanation of what work, exactly, we need to get to work on, or why we need to do so.

That’s a real problem.

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My old boss Frank Luntz has posted his “11 Words for 2011” on the Huffington Post, and it’s an unfortunate example of why most political rhetoric is seen as empty. Frank highlights words (actually phrases) included such content-free formulations as “I get it,” “You deserve,” and “You decide.” These phrases mean nothing; what matters in political reality is the second half of that sentence, and its rationale. You deserve…what? What do you deserve? “You decide…what? And why should you decide it? The reason so many people see political debate in this country as meaningless is because leaders follow Frank’s advice, and mouth these emotionally reassuring but completely vapid locutions, devoid of reasoning or any actual content.

“The simple truth.” The simple truth is…what? Tea Party Birther drivel that Frank elicited from his recent Fox News focus group?

The unfortunate thing is that Frank knows better. I know firsthand. As he ironically begins his HuffPo column, “words matter.”

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Bradley Smith, a well known Washington conservative intellectual and former FEC Commissioner, has been out in front of the MSM lately, appearing on Hardball and other cable programs and also contributing frequently to POLITICO.  I know from our many mutual friends in the Federalist Society that Brad is a top notch thinker and certainly not remotely in the same class as the tea party know-nothings. All the more reason I was disturbed to read his recent post on POLITICO arguing that the continuing influence of the “birthers” was not the result of his own party’s unwillingness to confront them, but, in a some contorted way, the fault of “the left” who want to “keep the issue alive.”

We do not want to “keep the issue alive.” It is a non-issue. It is a waste of everyone’s time. We on the left have dismissed it as such. It is the right that keeps it alive, by refusing to shut the conversation down as William F. Buckley shut down the John Birchers in an earlier era. What Smith is saying now is another rhetorical run for cover: Rather than use his position as a spokesperson for the responsible right to denounce the birthers and move on, he tries to blame their presence and influence on the left.  As I point out in my response, when my old boss Frank Luntz had a Fox News focus group of Iowa Republicans veer off into secret-muslim birther-land last week, he was hardly functioning as a tool of the left “keeping the issue alive.” If you watch the video, it’s telling that not only does Frank seem genuinely disturbed by what he was hearing, but he tried to impress upon these people that the nonsense they were spouting would reflect not just on them personally but on Iowans and on Republicans.

Read my full article, published on POLITICO on Febraury 19, 2011.

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A decade ago, while I was still a registered Republican and working for GOP wordsmith Frank Luntz, I was witness to the early phases of the conservative effort to demonize Nancy Pelosi. Just as conservatives attacked Howard Dean for his “latte-drinking, Volvo-driving, Hollywood-loving” liberalism, the right successfully made Pelosi the scapegoat. It was a rheotircal project 10 years in the making.

Read my full article here, published on November 16, 2010.

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