Remember when Republicans had a messaging machine that Democrats could only dream of? Those days are over. But they’re not over because Republicans lack discipline on messaging, as Republican spin master Frank Luntz posited in a New York Times column and they’re not over just because Obama uses better language.
Those days are over because the GOP’s extremism gave the public a peek behind the curtain, and because the Obama Democrats finally found a way to impart their values in simple phrases.
After wisfully suggesting that Republicans won’t take his advice and instead will try to rebrand the same angry sneer they’ve been so unsucessfully selling as if they were selling soap and not “trust”, Luntz bemoans the President’s messaging machine:
Never mind that the fiscal cliff legislation Obama just signed has more than $40 in tax increases for every $1 in cuts or that Social Security and Medicare are hurtling toward insolvency. And it doesn’t matter that the president says he will not negotiate over the debt ceiling; thanks to his effective messaging, it is Republicans who are being blamed for intransigence.
Notice how Luntz never admits that balanced cuts would cut into defense spending? This is one reason Republicans are failing — even their pollsters and spin masters exist in a bubble that they can’t seem to get out of. Luntz blames Republicans for not being disciplined with their “message” (you can “message” “trust”, eh? So 2002) and says Obama is winning the debt ceiling debate even though Obama refuses to negotiate with Republicans.
The truth is that the debt ceiling has never been a thing to hold hostage or negotiate over, and that’s why the President won’t negotiate over it. That is also why the Treasury said they will not mint a trillion dollar coin. Raising the debt ceiling to pay the bills Congress already spent is a constitutionally mandated job of Congress – so if Republicans want to ignore that duty, they’ll have to face the public. Oh, and also Wall Street. Yeah. That will go well for the party of “job creators” and “business”.
Luntz says Republicans should strive to be more than just the party of “small businesses and job creators”. Newsflash: The Republican Party is not the party of either, or else a) their policies would benefit small business but they don’t, and b) the trickle down tax cuts to the rich would have created jobs by now, but they haven’t.
Luntz suggests that Republicans start saying they are fighting for “American taxpayers” instead of “job creators”. But Republicans are not fighting for American taxpayers; in fact, the people/corporations Republicans fight for often do not pay taxes at all.
House Republicans just spent weeks refusing to give the middle class (American tax payers) a tax break unless the rich got one too. The policies of the GOP do not go with the language Luntz is suggesting. This used to work, but in the age of the Internet (i.e., fact-checking), it’s not working so well anymore.
Luntz laments that Obama stole this line from Republicans, “If you work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to get ahead.” (Note to Luntz: it’s called the American work ethic and Republicans only owned it in their own minds.) But the question now is, which rules is Luntz referring to? Perhaps he’s unaware that it is precisely the resentful people who did play by the rules who got burned by banks/Wall Street (neither of which were playing by the “rules”).
Republicans have done nothing but fight for the right for those institutions to keep ripping off the American taxpayer. Republicans call it “less regulation” in order to “create jobs” – but in reality, it’s nothing more than a Randian experiment gone horribly and predictably wrong. The proof is in the American taxpayers’ wallet, their portfolio, and the value of their home versus their mortgage.
After praising Paul Ryan as a man of “serious ideas and specific answers” (this is the guy who never did do the math for his budget), Luntz writes, “Instead of entitlement reform or controlling the growth of Medicare and Social Security, talk about how to save and strengthen these programs so they are there when voters need them. After all, they paid for them.”
Has he not read the Ryan budget? Or is it that Luntz still believes his own spin? It’s tough to connect language to policies when the language does not fit the policies at all. You are not “saving” Social Security or Medicare when you are privatizing it. Why is it that Republicans never want to have an honest discussion about their policies, but instead rely upon tricky, deceptive language in order to fool the public about their intent?
Luntz suggests that while Republicans were bickering Obama took his case to the people and this is why the public thinks Republicans only care about the rich. Luntz never addresses the fact that the Republican policies only benefit the rich. Seriously. His remedy is for Republicans to use better language – to stop showing disdain for the President before showing respect to the public. (Good luck with that, Luntz – contempt and disdain are the Republican Party’s tell. See Eric Cantor’s smirk.) Luntz also believes that Obama used language like “fair share” while never getting specific about what this meant, which allowed the voters to project their ideas on to Obama’s language. In reality, Obama was very specific about his tax plan.
Luntz gets it right here:
Changing course starts with a values-based approach, and that means talking to Americans about accountability, personal responsibility and freedom — and linking those values to GOP policies.
And then proceeds to never link this to actual policies, but to suggest Republicans change the question. He suggests they replace “pay their fair share” with “should the government take more?” If by “take more” he means honor our commitment to our seniors, the disabled, our veterans and our hungry children, YES. That’s the answer Luntz doesn’t understand. Those American taxpayers he’s pretending to love? They want to take care of the above list of citizens. They think we should try corporations giving up a few subsidies and at least paying their taxes before we reach into Grandma’s pocket to steal her Medicare, or leave our veterans without jobs and proper healthcare.
The problem is not Republicans’ language. The problem is that no matter what language they use to couch their callous, reckless, already debunked policies, the public can see through it. That is the problem.
Luntz does suggest Republicans stop the all-guns-all-the-time orgy of irresponsibility regarding gun laws, and he points out that Romney’s language regarding “immigrants” was not helpful. He suggests compassion in the language, but what about the policy? Psst — Luntz, your contempt and disdain for the American taxpayer is showing. They aren’t that stupid. Really. You can stop calling it “self-deport”, but when you show nothing but contempt for a voting block, chances are they’re going to get wise to you eventually.
It’s not the shell, it’s the egg inside of the shell that’s damaged. Rebranding Humpty Dumpty with happy language isn’t going to cut it.
Frank Luntz powered the Republican Party to deceptive victory for years, but even he can’t put the GOP back together again.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.