Fear, Hope and Policy

Frank Luntz, the public relations specialist extraordinaire, who has remodeled the languange, if not the policy, of the Bush administration, has pointed out the vital significance, not only of fear, but of hope.

Whether the power of words is employed for good, or for less admirable goals, this observation has had a profound impact upon the marketing of Bush administration policies.

A significant amount of documentation of Mr. Luntz's advice to the Bush administration is now available on the internet for the inquisative.

This includes:

  • his June, 2004 memo on how to talk about Iraq ( Rule #1:   “9/11 changed everything” is the context by which everything follows.  No speech about homeland security or Iraq should begin without a reference to 9/11”)

  • his 2002 memo on how to talk about the environment

  • current talking points for the 2006 election cycle, including the "14 Words Never to Use"

In his 2002 memo , Luntz advised Republicans to exploit the last 'window of opportunity' for Republicans to argue that the science of global warming is uncertain. He wrote: "The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science."  ( page8

Interestingly, this advice was preceeded by this advise (page2),  "...the first (and most important) step to neutralizing the problem and eventually bringing people around to your point of view on environmental issues is to convince them of your sincerity and concern."

And, "(Absolutely do not raise economic issues first.) Tell them a personal story from your life..." (page 1)

Mr. Luntz excels at advising how to address issues with carefully crafted language.  His domain is not that of policy. Specifically relating to issues of concern to women, Mr. Luntz proclaimed,  "I do not subscribe to the notion that we must change our substance .... Listening to women and adapting a new language and a more friendly style will itself be rewarded if executed effectively and with discipline."

Less this sound cynical, Mr. Luntz was quoted in the Guardian 3/4/03, “A compelling story, even if factually inaccurate, can be more emotionally compelling than a dry recitation of the truth... The facts are beside the point. It's all in how you frame your argument.”

Marketing Hope

In "Let Them Eat Words", Deborah Tannen describes Luntz's strategy as "Stun Them With Fear, Lure Them With Hope", illustrated by this statement of Luntz, "Politics remains an emotional arena, and television has made fear a very salable commodity. But fear alone is not enough. The commodity Americans most desire -- and the one in shortest supply -- is hope."

After "9/11 Changed Everything.", Mr. Luntz's #2 talking point ("Before you can talk Iraq, you must talk about Homeland Security")  pertains to "Prevention": "...it's equally important to paint a vivid - but not too graphic - picture of what you hope to prevent in the future.  Prevention is a positive, optimistic, hopeful concept...."

And Mr. Luntz believes in repetition.

"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…”--Frank Luntz, in a Frontline PBS interview, 11/9/04

"The American people have notoriously short attention spans – and they do not always see the big picture unless it is unveiled to them..." - from hisJune, 2004 memo, page 2

George W. Bush has absorbed Mr. Luntz's lessons well.
“See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.” George W. Bush, 5/24/05

Linguistic expertise has undoubtably played a large role in the George w. Bush's electoral success.

How one might address Americans who believe the administration has been more successful using language for the purpose of manipulation, than at constructing effective policy consistent with our values, is an entirely different question.

In the words of spinmeister Frank Luntz, "I'm not going to let you twist the words, because if I say to you that you can sell a politician the way you sell soap-and it may even look that way from the outside-that says to Americans that they shouldn't respect politicians."

Please read our fair use policy and legal notice.
Comments or questions may be emailed to webmaster@www.republicansforhumility.com