Luntz and Words: Winning Combo to Return to Indiana

The mission of Columbia Journalism Review is to encourage and stimulate excellence in journalism in the service of a free society. But, like quite a few individual members of the media today, there appears to be a strong — make that overwhelming — liberal lean.

CJR takes pollster and communicator Frank Luntz to task for his role in advising health care reform opponents. Luntz apparently coined "government option," which was less popular than the "public option" terminology preferred by reform supporters. CJR notes that Luntz "has had a long career fashioning language that helps his Republican clients."

Sure, Luntz has been more closely associated with GOP interests, but he’s also angered Republicans with some of his work on environmental language. The bottom line: don’t take shots at Luntz; just credit him for what he brings to the table. An excerpt of the CJR article is below.

We interviewed Luntz for BizVoice magazine in 2008; he was the special guest at the Indiana Chamber’s Legislative Reception/Dinner in 2010 and will return with new information and insights on March 16, 2011. Whether you agree or disagree with his take, you won’t want to miss what he has to say.

Back to the CJR and its unbalanced report:

Word came that Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon had directed his staff to avoid using the phrase “public option” to describe a proposal hotly debated during the health reform debate. That option, proposed by Yale political science professor Jacob Hacker and embraced by some—but not all—of the progressive advocates, would have injected a real element of competition into the insurance industry. 

The public option was not to be. After months of equivocation, the president threw it under the bus in his efforts to placate the insurance industry, the hospitals, and the doctors, who were hardly fans of something that could lower their profits and incomes.

Now we learn that Frank Luntz, the Republican wordsmith extraordinaire, was at work behind the scenes to craft the language that public plan opponents could exploit.

Last year, Campaign Desk pointed out that Luntz was busy selecting the “right” language months before it looked like the public option had legs. In a twenty-eight page document called “The Language of Healthcare 2009” that became public in the spring of that year, Luntz advised making government the bogeyman. He told Republicans to use words like “politicians,” "bureaucrats,” and “Washington” to fight health reform. He suggested that they use the phrase “government takeover” rather than “government run” or “government controlled.” … We advised journalists to describe what the public option would do, rather than just pass along Luntz-tested terminology.

It’s hard to say whether Luntz’s focus group-tested language succeeded in fomenting the dislike for health reform now registered by the pollsters. For months, polls showed that large segments of the public liked the idea of a public option, and still do. 

Luntz Memo on Finance Reform Draws Attention

I had an opportunty to talk briefly with Frank Luntz in preparation for his post-Legislative Reception appearance before an Indiana Chamber audience of business and legislative leaders on February 16. He promises new polling data on just what the public thinks of the business community and updated language for companies to utilize to emphasize their contribution to community well-being.

Outside of that conversation, Luntz is being credited (or disparaged, depending on your view) for his role in fighting financial regulatory reform. A recent report included the following:

Republican message guru Frank Luntz has put together a playbook to help derail financial regulatory reform.

In a 17-page memo titled, "The Language of Financial Reform," Luntz urged opponents of reform to frame the final product as filled with bank bailouts, lobbyist loopholes, and additional layers of complicated government bureaucracy.

"If there is one thing we can all agree on, it’s that the bad decisions and harmful policies by Washington bureaucrats that in many ways led to the economic crash must never be repeated," Luntz wrote. "This is your critical advantage. Washington’s incompetence is the common ground on which you can build support."

Luntz continued: "Ordinarily, calling for a new government program ‘to protect consumers’ would be extraordinary popular. But these are not ordinary times. The American people are not just saying ‘no.’ They are saying ‘hell no’ to more government agencies, more bureaucrats, and more legislation crafted by special interests."

On the specific issue of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, Luntz argued that opponents should stress the high-cost of creating an additional regulatory body in addition to the damaging effects it will supposedly have on "small business owners" (as opposed to, merely, small businesses).

"Owning a small business is part of the American Dream and Congress should make it easier to be an entrepreneur," wrote Luntz. "But the Financial Reform bill and the creation of the CFPA makes it harder to be a small business owner because it will choke off credit options to small business owners."

More than 300 Hoosiers have purchased their tickets to hear Luntz in person. It will be most interesting.

Luntz Will Speak; You Should Listen

When people talk, Frank Luntz listens. And then Luntz discusses what he heard and what he wishes had been spoken — and many powerful and influential people pay close attention.

Luntz is a top political pollster and communications professional. But he delivers his message in a very "common man and woman" sense. In fact, when I had a chance to interview him for our BizVoice magazine about 18 months ago, he was munching on a salad after contributing to the state’s economy by dropping a few dollars in one of our riverboats. He said he never could have imagined the opportunities he has had, but then quickly demonstrates why world political leaders and many more have called upon his services.

Luntz returns to Indiana on February 16. An Evening With Frank Luntz, a special dinner program, follows the Indiana Chamber’s annual Legislative Reception. Both are at the Westin in downtown Indianapolis. Luntz’s latest bestseller — What Americans Really Want … Really: The Truth About Our Hopes, Dreams and Fears — will be one of the topics, but expect much more. You won’t be disappointed. Order your tickets or tables today.

Join the Legislative Reception Party

Do you like music, cocktails and conversation? Then join us at the 2009 Legislative Reception, "Rockin’ the Statehouse 2." Here are the deets (details, not mosquito repellent):

When: Wednesday, March 11, 5-7 p.m.

Where: Indianapolis Marriott downtown; 350 W. Maryland St.

Cost: $95 (complimentary for legislators)

Register: Sign up online or call Lisa or Ann at (800) 824-6885

Special thanks to our dedicated sponsors: Lincoln Financial Group; Altria; Cook; Zimmer; Indiana Michigan Power; IceMiller; Delta Dental; Lilly; Roche; ProLiance Energy; and Bose.

Topping the Legislative Social Calendar

After nearly 11 years here at the Indiana Chamber, I can honestly say that the organization does more than a few things well. One of the best is throwing a party — whether it’s the November Annual Dinner celebration, the May Best Places to Work in Indiana recognition or, in this case, the Legislative Reception.

Legislators and members of the state administration make it a point to show up and interact with the business and community leaders from around the state. Food, drink and meaningful conversations are aplenty.

Rockin’  the Statehouse 2 is the 2009 theme. The Indianapolis Marriott Downtown is the site for the March 11 event. Don’t miss it. Register today.