Are The Dems (Finally) Learning From Luntz?
Long before the current health care debate got underway, the Democratic Congressional leadership could have done itself a huge favor by getting reacquainted reading George Orwell's famous essay on politics and the English language. In an increasingly Orwellian world, the great writer is there to remind readers that yes, words do, in fact, matter.
(AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
So it was that soon after the elections, when Democrats first began talking about health care reform, they ran into resistance from conservatives and many independents who hated the sound of a "public option." Could you blame them? Talk about monikers from hell. When people heard the term, I bet they had little notion what it meant.
The Republicans, who seem a lot savvier than the Democrats when it comes to this, were able to suggest sinister scenarios where distant bureaucrats would wind up dictating terms and conditions to hapless consumers.
For example, House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) just yesterday called the plan as "a freight train of mandates, taxes and bureaucracy." House GOP Leader John Boehner (Ohio) summoned every potential boogeyman he could think of as he labeled the bill a "monstrosity."
"It's going to kill jobs with tax hikes and new mandates in it and it's going to cut senior's healthcare benefits," he said. "If all that isn't bad enough, the mandates on states are going to bankrupt states that already have huge financial problems to deal with."
Translation: Government diktats will produce more unemployment, higher taxes, and less money for grandma. (Goodbye Norman Rockwell, hello Commissar Nogoodnikchev.)
This is straight out of the Frank Luntz playbook. A pollster who has advised Republican politicians on language issues over the years, Luntz who is credited with helping develop the terminology for the `Contract with America" has a knack for renaming policies in ways that motivate the Republican base (and beyond.) The short list includes coming up with the term "death tax" as a substitute for "estate tax" or "inheritance tax," "energy exploration" instead of "drilling" and "climate change" instead of "global warming."
Putting lipstick on a pig? You bet but isn't that what politics is all about. The liberals only wish they had a Luntz in their corner. If they had, there's no way they would have wound up with a clunker like the public option.
Considering all that, it's still remarkable how many people continue to support the inclusion of a government-run health insurance program (65 percent in favor versus 26 percent against, according to a late September CBS News/New York Times poll.) But with the end game on health care reform finally coming into view, the Democrats are getting somewhat smarter about naming conventions. In talking about the public plan, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has begun referring to the "consumer option" or the "competition option."
That's a more appealing way to describe the public option, though it's unlikely Democrats will drop the former nomenclature entirely. A staffer from Pelosi's office explained that Congress is just too far down the road to drop "public option" from its lexicon. "Certainly, words do matter. But it takes a long time to rebrand something. If we were just starting out now, that would be something else."
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