Luntz Warns GOP on Occupy Wall Street, “Don’t Say Capitalism” Because Americans “Think Capitalism Is Immoral”

Frank Luntz, arguably the GOP’s top messaging strategist, said Wednesday:

“I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death. They’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.”

So just as he did with his infamous 2003 global warming warming memo — which taught conservatives how to sound like they care about the issue while opposing all action — Luntz has some key advice for Republicans on how to pretend to care about regular people while continuing to screw them over.

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Amazingly, “Yahoo News sat in on the session,” where Luntz went through his spin at the Republican Governor’s Association on “How can Republicans do a better job of talking about Occupy Wall Street?”

Here are key do’s and don’ts from Luntz:

  • Don’t say ‘capitalism.’
  • Don’t say that the government ‘taxes the rich.’ Instead, tell them that the government ‘takes from the rich.’
  • Republicans should forget about winning the battle over the ‘middle class.’ Call them ‘hardworking taxpayers.’
  • Don’t say ‘government spending.’ Call it ‘waste.’
  • Don’t ever say you’re willing to ‘compromise.’
  • The three most important words you can say to an Occupier: ‘I get it.’
  • Out: ‘Entrepreneur.’ In: ‘Job creator.’
  • “Climate change” is less frightening than “global warming”
  • Don’t ever ask anyone you want them to ‘sacrifice.’
  • Always blame Washington.

Yes, and some in the media still try to apportion blame equally between Democrats and Republicans for the toxic state of American politics.

George Orwell, in his famous 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” wrote that

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Democrats do sometimes misuse the language and create euphemisms. All politicians do. But it is Luntz and his legion of conservative followers who have twisted the English language beyond recognition. They are the true Orwellians. The GOP parrot him as if they were reciting lessons in grammar school (see, for instance, Luntz’s memo, “The Language of Healthcare 2009,” which became the GOP playbook for attacking reform).

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Is there any nonsense phrase that has been repeated to death this year more than “job creator” — in spite of the fact that for all of the wealth GOP policies have showered on the wealthy they didn’t actually create any net jobs under President Bush?

And yes, I put “Climate change” is less frightening than “global warming” into the list above even though it is from Luntz’s 2003 climate memo. I included it because conservatives continue trying to blame “the left” for supposedly changing the name from “global warming” to “climate change” (see Debunking the dumbest denier myth: ‘Climate Change’ vs. ‘Global Warming’). For the record, while I would normally be inclined to recommend progressives say the exact opposite of whatever Luntz recommends for conservatives, there is way too much conflicting analysis to suggest that one of those terms is somehow more effective than the other. Feel free to use both.

How powerful are Luntz’s memos in the energy/climate debate (he wrote one on energy in 2005)? Just think how many people who want to sound like they care about the issue follow his advice and talk about breakthrough technology as the only answer — see Bush climate speech follows Luntz playbook: “Technology, technology, blah, blah, blah.” As Business Week noted at the time “what’s most striking about Bush’s Apr. 27 speech is how closely it follows the script written by Luntz earlier this year.”

Returning to Luntz’s Occupy Wall Street advice, his comments on capitalism are the most revealing and important for progressives.

The fact that Luntz doesn’t like the word “capitalism” isn’t new. It has long been on his “Republican Playbook” list of “words never to use” along with things like “drilling for oil.” Yes, GOP parrots are instructed to say “Exploring for energy” because “drilling for oil” paints a bad picture in people’s minds of “an old-fashioned oilrig that gushes up black goop.” Go figure!

And so Luntz wrote back in 2005:

Capitalism reminds people of harsh economic competition that yields losers as well as winners. Conversely, the free market economy provides opportunity to all and allows everyone to succeed.

See how easy it is. Simply change the words you use, and everybody wins. Except, of course, 99% of the people have figured out that everybody doesn’t win when the game is rigged.

But I was certainly surprised Luntz admitted the following with the media present Wednesday:

“I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death,” said Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist and one of the nation’s foremost experts on crafting the perfect political message. “They’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism”….

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.”

Wow!

So the public thinks capitalism is immoral. The thing to understand about Luntz is he never makes such pronouncements without having done extensive polling and focus groups.

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Capitalism is, in theory, amoral, but it has become immoral in practice because many of its most successful practitioners are immoral (like the Kochs) and because the 1% can buy influence with governments to rig the rules in their favor.

I certainly believe that our current form of capitalism will be humanity’s ruin if conservatives keep blocking any serious carbon price and carbon-mitigation effort (see “Is the global economy a Ponzi scheme?” and “The Other 99% of Us Can’t Buy Our Way Out of the Impending Global Ponzi Scheme Collapse”).

The fact that Luntz says the public thinks capitalism is immoral suggests that message is a powerful one, which is no doubt why Occupy Wall Street and the 99 percent are striking a chord with so many people.

How more blatant could Luntz be about his crass manipulation: “I’m trying to get that word removed.” Luntz is the embodiment of Orwell’s thought police.

In this case, I don’t think he can get conservatives to stop saying “capitalism,” since that is the altar many of them worship at. In any case, progressives must not let Luntz win on this one.

Luntz’s manipulation knows no bounds:

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…. 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.

Seriously.

What Luntz and the conservatives figured out is that since the media are not acting as referees anymore, but mostly as play-by-play commentators or simply stenographers, politicians can say whatever they want and then do whatever they want. So, sure, say you “get it” to the Occupy crowd and then keep pushing “solutions” like tax cuts for the rich job creators, that will only worsen income inequality.

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Rather than decrying these tactics, it remains critical for progressives to learn that words matter. I have written a great deal about rhetoric over the years — see “Why scientists aren’t more persuasive” — and do intend to publish my book on that subject next year. So I’ll end with some old advice of Luntz’s:

There’s a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again and again, and about the time that you’re absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time.

Capitalism. Capitalism. Capitalism. Capitalism. Capitalism. Capitalism. Capitalism. Capitalism. Capitalism. Capitalism.

I think people are finally hearing it.