By Paul B. Farrell
Forget politics. The 99%, the Occupy Wall Street movement, is not about politics. But politicians don’t get it yet. The Dems sure don’t. And while Bill O’Reilly says the movement is already dead, insider Frank Luntz thinks OWS is not only very alive, but getting dangerously bigger. In fact, he’s very “scared” for his clients.
Warning: Will somebody please tell Luntz Occupy Wall Street is not about politics? This is class warfare, a revolution about economic inequality, not about political parties, political policies and political solutions … and it’s not going away any time soon.
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Luntz is a conservative pollster so he’s making it all about politics. But he’s missing the point, and misleading his clients. Luntz is author of some great books like “Words That Matter” and “What Americans Really Want…Really.” And in my opinion, he’s one of the America’s best behavioral economists.
But his pitch at last week’s Republican Governors Association meeting in Florida suggests he not only doesn’t understand the 99%, he’s misleading 29 state governors with Words That Will Backfire when the occupiers in the encampments see through Luntz’s attempted manipulations.
Fortunately, Yahoo News columnist Chris Moody attended this week’s governors meeting and kept some fabulous notes: During Luntz’s talk last week, one question kept coming up: “How can Republicans do a better job of talking about OWS movement?” Luntz solution: 10 new slogans that may do more harm than help for his clients.
What’s the big problem? Luntz is blunt: “I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death.” Why the fear? Because Luntz is convinced the OWS movement is “having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.”
Politics isn’t the problem, it’s economics, inequality, class warfareFolks, the real problem from the occupiers’ perspective is the inequality gap between the Super Rich and the 99%. It’s economics. It’s behavior. It’s the unfairness of our democracy when the incomes of the 1% increased 265% in the past generation while the incomes of the 99% stagnated.
So inventing 10 new “Words That Matter” is dangerous for these governors, because the occupiers are smart enough to pick up not only the insincerity of the rhetoric, but a growing awareness of the widening inequality gap.
It’s time to tell Luntz to forget politicians, redeliver his message to their Super Rich donors. They should be “very scared,” not the politicians. Why? Because they have a lot to lose. And not just new taxes.
As I predicted a few months ago in “Tax the “Super Rich or Riots Will Rage in 2012” just before OWS launched, the Super Rich better expect a renewed Arab Spring-style revolution here in America in 2012, if they simply ignore the demands of the movement. Read “Tax the Super Rich or riots will rage in 2012.”
We were tracking the OWS plans long before it’s launch. In “Occupy Wall Street will lay siege to U.S. greed” I called it a “global game-changer.” And it will continue long after the 2012 elections, no matter who wins. In fact, after that OWS column at their launch, one of their leaders wrote: “You are the first writer to really understand what is at stake and to persuasively explain it to everyday Americans.” Read “Occupy Wall Street will lay siege to U.S. greed.”
And yet, it seemed so obvious. Though not to guys like Luntz who still can’t see the inequality gap is where it was in 1929. But you don’t have to be a genius to figure out what happens next: A catastrophic market crash followed by an economic depression.
Still, all this has nothing to do with politics. Not back then. Not now. So here’s how Luntz’s 10-strategy playbook should be annotated for the Super Rich who are the real powers behind Luntz’s political clients.
We began with what Yahoo News reporter Chris Moody heard Luntz tell the 29 governors about how to “fight back by changing the way they discuss the movement.” My re-edits shift the focus to the real problem, the growing economic class war between the Super Rich and the 99%. Hopefully to improve the dialogue. Listen:
1. Capitalism is a bad word, don’t say itLuntz admits: “I’m trying to get that word removed and we’re replacing it with either ‘economic freedom’ or ‘free market’.” He admits the public “prefers capitalism to socialism, but they think capitalism is immoral.” But don’t mention “capitalism?” Impossible: Capitalism is in the genes of these conservative governors. Has been since Adam Smith, the “Wealth of Nations” and 1776.
Deny capitalism exists? They’ll sound hypocritical to both occupiers and their base.
2. Taxing the rich is bad. Say government’s taking from the richClever, say “taking” not “taxing.” This word play will backfire: Luntz admits “If you talk about raising taxes on the rich,” polls show most voters want to tax millionaires. So shift the focus: Say government’s “taking the money from hard-working Americans?”
Luntz is too clever with his Words That Work. He’s also ignoring the fact that billionaires like Buffett, the new Patriotic Millionaires and others see a need for new tax revenues to feed the recovery.
3. Never say middle class: Call them hard-working taxpayersLuntz admits that most Americans know the governors are not defending the middle class. He also knows polls show most Americans don’t trust the Republicans to fight for the middle class. But the advantage shifts when the buzzwords become “defending hard-working taxpayers.”
Warning: New buzzwords without new policies will ring hollow to many occupiers who are unemployed, lost benefits, lack job prospects or can’t find a new job for their training.
4. Stop talking about jobs, instead talk about careersLuntz apparently has a very low opinion of the intelligence of occupiers. Folks, the word jobs just is not going away because of our 16% rate of underemployment. And yet Luntz asked his audience: “Everyone in this room talks about jobs,” but who wants a job? Raise your hands, he asked. “Few hands went up.”
But then “he asked ‘who wants a career?’ Almost every hand was raised. So why are we talking about jobs?” I wonder how many of the 99% laughed at that cruel joke. It really is “the economy stupid.” We really need jobs.
5. Never say government spending, it’s government wasteLuntz’s polling apparently tells him that most Americans are not against government spending, on them. But call it government waste, because that “makes people angry.”
6. Compromise is bad. Never admit you’re willing to compromiseThe “no-new-taxes” pledge is a must for these 29 governors. Luntz warns: “If you talk about ‘compromise,’ they’ll say you’re selling out.” Your base “doesn’t want you to ‘compromise … replace it with ‘cooperation.’ It means the same thing. But cooperation means you stick to your principles but still get the job done. Compromise says that you’re selling out those principles.”
Unfortunately, the public, especially the 99%, see past the jargon into today’s economic reality, and an “unprincipled” failure to “cooperate.”
7. Tell occupiers, ‘I get it, you’re angry, we’ll fix it.’ Sound sincereLuntz definitely has chutzpa: “Here are three words for you all: ‘I get it.’ … ‘I get that you’re angry. 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.” What, more solutions? Better ones? Different from the solutions the 99-percenters believe are the problem?
Warning: America’s problem is not about politics. Not Republican political solutions. Nor Democrat. Too self-destructive. No, this is not about politics. This is a class war, a new American Revolution. Luntz’s sweet talk won’t convince governors. Nor their base. Nor the OWS who’ve been conned too often. So please get it. The 99% will smell the insincerity.
8. Entrepreneur or innovator are bad words, say job creatorFrom a purely behavioral economic standpoint this one is guaranteed to have unintended consequences and backfire. America’s global competitive thrust is driven by innovators and entrepreneurs. Imagine telling Silicon Valley they’re now just “small-business owners” and “job creators.” That’s guaranteed to make them wonder if these 29 states actually support America’s desperately needed “innovation” and “entrepreneurship.”
9. Never ask anyone to sacrifice, especially not millionairesLuntz admits that “there isn’t an American today … who doesn’t think they’ve already sacrificed. If you tell them you want them to ‘sacrifice,’ they’re going to be pretty angry at you.” Solution? Luntz says “talk about how ‘we’re all in this together.’ We either succeed together or we fail together.”
Afterwards? Once back home in their states, see who still gets the tax breaks … who’s forced to make concessions … who’s still “sacrificing” in a world of politicians who signed that “no-new-taxes-for-the-rich” pledge.
10. Blame Washington, and never take responsibilityNo, Luntz does not get the OWS movement yet. These guys are natural enemies. Governors are also in a class war with occupiers. Yet Luntz tells them to tell the 99-Percenters: “You shouldn’t be occupying Wall Street, you should be occupying Washington … occupy the White House because it’s the policies over the past few years that have created this problem.”
Warning, the 99% have long memories, they recall the Bush years, the massive war spending. They remember the 2008 meltdown. They see Wall Street greed unabated, their spending hundreds of millions fighting reforms. They know this is not about politics.
America is in a class war, the Super Rich versus the 99%. And the occupiers are not going away, vanishing into the cold winter nights. They’re already planning their version of an Arab Spring in 2012.
Finally, a little bonus … never, never say bonus!Luntz also warned his state governors not to use the word bonus if they give staffers any extra money this holiday season. Why? The rest of America is sacrificing. “If you give out a bonus at a time of financial hardship, you’re going to make people angry.” Reframe your bonuses, call them “pay for performance.”
Yes, Luntz remains one of the greatest behavioral economists ever. He could rewire, debug and reprogram individual and collective brains with just a few verbal flip-flops.
Here’s what I said in 2007: “Luntz is the guy who reframed much of the political rhetoric since 2000: In this new fantasy land ‘oil drilling’ magically becomes ‘energy exploration,’ the ‘estate tax’ becomes the ‘death tax,’ ‘logging’ becomes ‘healthy forests initiative.’
But after Wall Street’s 2007 meltdown, a new battlefield emerged. And unfortunately, Luntz just keeps fighting his old “War of Words” on familiar turf. Except now it’s class warfare. And Luntz is losing.