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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Strategist to GOP Governors: 'I'm so Scared of This Anti-Wall Street Effort'

One of my favorite arguments from the conservative side is that the wealthy deserve their wealth because they worked harder for it. While I don't doubt that a hedge fund manager puts in long hours, I do doubt that a single one of them anywhere in the world works harder than your average bricklayer on any given construction site. If the Republican formula of hard-work-equals-wealth were true, I'm guessing that construction workers, migrant farm workers, dock workers, soldiers, etc. would be at the top of every Forbes list and hedge fund managers, CEOs, mortgage company execs, money traders, etc. would be collecting food stamps.

Which is why this advice from conservative spinmeister Frank Luntz strikes me as so off-the-mark:

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."

At least he's being somewhat realistic. But when a Republican says they stand for the middle class, I'm not thinking, "I'm not sure about that" -- I'm holding my sides and laughing. Think of Mitt Romney talking about "the 80 to 90 percent of us in this country," as if he's just some ordinary fella who decided to run for president and not a bona fide member of the 1%.


Of course, the problem with Frank Luntz isn't that he's bad at what he does. The problem isn't even that he's good at what he does. The problem with Frank Luntz is what he does. And what he does is take the truth and twist it like a balloon animal until it's unrecognizable. When every Republican says the exact same thing over and over and over ("We gotta stay the course!"), that's Frank at work.

And Frank Luntz is hard at work. Not harder than a shipyard welder, but harder than your average one-percenter.

The Republican Governors Association met this week in Florida to give GOP state executives a chance to rejuvenate, strategize and team-build. But during a plenary session on Wednesday, one question kept coming up: How can Republicans do a better job of talking about Occupy Wall Street?

"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."

Luntz offered tips on how Republicans could discuss the grievances of the Occupiers, and help the governors better handle all these new questions from constituents about "income inequality" and "paying your fair share."

In fact, he told the governors that they shouldn't use the word "capitalism" at all. Sounds bad. They should use the terms "economic freedom" or "free market" -- as if either of those things actually exist. Economic freedom isn't there for the vast majority of Americans, currently experiencing the wonders of downward mobility. And "free market" only works if you make "free" a synonym for "rigged."

Other advice from Luntz; don't say government "taxes the rich" -- because everyone actually wants that -- instead, "talk about government taking the money from hardworking Americans." Sorry, had to laugh again there. Let's just ignore that Republicans want to cut Medicare and Social Security to fund continued top-heavy tax cuts -- that is, they want to take money from actual hardworking Americans, so the rich can continue to take a free ride. It's a pretense that they're against the redistribution of wealth, nothing more.

The takeaway from all this is, of course, that Luntz is "frightened to death" of Occupy Wall Street and believes it's "having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism." This is probably what Republicans are saying behind closed doors. In front of the cameras, they're all "Oh, they don't have a message" and "I don't think even they know what they want" -- and then they dial up Frank Luntz to tell GOP governors how to deal with the movement. Mouths say one thing, actions say another. And actions speak louder than words.

Another takeaway here is that Republicans are busy trying to figure out how to get their constituents to agree with them, rather than the other way around. In typical GOP fashion, they see things bass-ackward. They don't represent the voters, they try to get the voters to represent them. Constituents don't tell Republicans what their concerns are, Republicans tell constituents what to be concerned about. The people serve the party, not the other way around. It's your job to be part of the big rightwing noise machine, so that Republicans can be elected to represent Republicans. I suppose you could call that a form of democracy, just not a very good one.

At a certain point this is going to stop working. Not for everyone, but for enough. It doesn't even work on everyone now. Sooner or later, they're going to twist and bend and pull that balloon animal to the point that it pops. And all the Frank Luntz spin in the world isn't going to help after that.


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