But I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.
“So from today forward, YOU are the language police. From today forward, these are the words NEVER to say again.” Dr. Frank Luntz, author of The Luntz Republican Playbook
For some time now, I’ve been advocating that Democrats and other progressive leaders take a page from the Republicans and start using more effective language when they give interviews to reporters and talk to voters. For some reason, no one seems too interested.
Maybe it’s because nobody much cares what I think, which is only reasonable I guess. Or maybe they don’t like the idea of copying Republicans. Or maybe they think that adapting the terminology you use in communicating with others is somehow dishonest. Although anyone with a brain routinely adapts their terminology when speaking to children, parents, spouses, bosses, cops and judges.
On the outside chance that they just need some concrete examples of what I’m talking about, the following ten items are Dr. Luntz’s recommendations to Republicans about words never to use, with some of his suggested alternatives, and some of my suggested alternatives.
1. Never say ‘capitalism.’ Instead say ‘free market economy.’
Agreed. Democrats should never say ‘capitalism’ either. At least, not without modifiers. Instead, use the term ‘zombie capitalism’ or, even better, ‘bandit capitalism’ whenever we refer to the Big banks, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Wall Street and all multinational corporations of any stripe. Everybody hates those guys anyway, so most people are happy to have you compare them to the mindless undead and criminal marauders. When the opposition refers glibly to a ‘free market economy,’ remind your audience that Republicans hate government regulation, so what they really have in mind is an unregulated free market economy, which is just another term for bandit capitalism.
Then use the opening to drive a wedge between the Greedheads and the Bible-toters by re-purposing the story of the loaves and fishes as a capitalist morality tale. A Capitalist Jesus would have made a killer profit selling the same loaves and fishes over and over again to the starving multitude … sort of like tranches in CDO derivatives. Then, according to Republican economic theory, otherwise known as magical thinking, His Holy Windfall Profits would miraculously trickle down to the poor. Instead, Jesus TOOK the property of successful members of the starving multitude and GAVE IT to others less thrifty and disciplined like some kind of early socialist. And, really, how Christian is that?
2. Don’t say that the government ‘taxes the rich.’ Instead, say that government ‘takes from the rich.’
Agreed. Except that Democrats should say that government ‘takes from everyone‘ — not just the rich — and that the rain falls on the just and unjust alike … but it falls more on the fat man than the skinny man. Because he’s fat.
3. Republicans should forget about winning the battle over the ‘middle class.’ Call them ‘hardworking taxpayers’ instead.
Agreed. Republicans should forget about winning the battle for the middle class, because their policies since Reagan have driven more half of the middle class into the lower class and in that sense the GOP has already won that battle.
Democrats should point this out constantly. And Democrats should always use terms like ‘the shrinking middle class’ and ‘the middle class in crisis.’ Another good meme to use would be ‘Republican successes in their War on the Middle Class have resulted in one-third of all American children now living in poverty, one-fifth of American households are now food insecure, etc.’ All of these are good alternative constructions for the very good reason that they also happen to be true.
4. Don’t talk about ‘jobs.’ Instead, talk about ‘careers.’
Agreed. Democrats should only talk about ‘careers’ too. We need to point out that during Republican administrations and their War on the Middle Class 30 million Americans who once had ‘careers’ got ‘jobbed’ by GOP policies based on trickle-down economics and outsourcing and many were given new careers as jobless and homeless people.
5. Don’t say ‘government spending.’ Call it ‘government waste.’
Correct. But Democrats should point out that Republicans think government waste includes mortgage-interest deductions for homeowners, income tax deductions for dependents, low-interest loans and grants for college students, veterans’ health care and education benefits, unemployment benefits for the jobless, health care and food support for children in poverty; and earned benefits like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for the elderly. Incidentally, Democrats should ALWAYS refer to the safety net programs as EARNED BENEFITS, never as entitlements, which Republicans use with robot-like consistently since it makes them sound like expensive government give-away’s that should be eliminated. Or at least privatized by their bandit capitalist friends on Wall Street.
Whenever someone in the media uses the term ‘entitlements,’ you should fix them with a withering glare and say, “Did you mean to say, Earned Benefits?”
6. Don’t ever say you’re willing to ‘compromise.’ Instead say you’re willing to ‘cooperate.’
Agreed. Democrats should never say that we are willing to compromise either. That’s chicken talk for girly men. We should say instead that we are willing to cooperate, but on the basis of mutual concessions (which is the same thing as compromise). Point out that to cooperate without making any concessions is what two tots throwing sand at each other from opposite sides of the sandbox do. Then say, “Without some concessions from Republicans, voters can expect continued polarization and gridlock.”
7. The three most important words you can say to a female voter is: ‘I hear you’ or ‘I get it.’
Absolutely right. But Democrats should go a bit further. First say, ‘I hear you.’ Then say, ‘I get it.’ Then — to avoid coming off as a vacuous, patronizing dink — say: “We need to work together to counter Republican policies of economic, social and gender violence in their unending War on Women.” Then cap it off with, “Count ME on YOUR side.” That’ll get ‘er done for ya.
8. Out: ‘Entrepreneur.’ In: ‘Job Creator.’
Right. Let’s everybody knock-off all that entrepreneur talk. It’s sounds way too brainy and French and possibly even sinful, like other things deemed “French” in American post-WWII vernacular. (Dear Lord, have those people no shame? Remember, God is always watching and sees everything you do, even when you’re sure no one is around.) Instead, Democrats should always refer to the ULTIMATE job creators — American consumers. Then use it as an opening to talk about the Republican’s successful War on the Middle Class. For example, “We know that Republicans are skilled job creators, because whenever they’re in power American wage-earners, small businesses, students and families all get thoroughly jobbed.”
9. Don’t ever ask anyone to ‘sacrifice.’
Correct. Terrible word that, sacrifice. We need to stop all that naughty bad talk about ‘sacrifice’ and instead talk only nice good talk about ‘succeeding’ and ‘success.’ For example, “We’re all in this together so it’s ONLY FAIR that we should all SUCCEED or fail together. That’s why we need to tax the bejeezuz out of the Investor Class, because for the last 35 years they’ve been SUCCEEDing beyond all dreams of avarice at the expense of the rest of us, who actually produce the goods and services we all use. For more than three decades there’s been a massive redistribution of wealth from the middle-class to the Investor Class. It’s long past time for the rest of us to do some SUCCEEDing too.”
10. Never say ‘government.’ Instead say, ‘Washington.’
Without doubt. We should say, “Republicans hate Washington. They want and expect Washington to fail. They work hard to make sure Washington fails. So sending a Republican to Washington is like giving an arsonist a gallon of gas and the keys to the Fire Station.”
From Eric Ferguson: I found Luntz’s book online. http://www.yuricareport.com/BushSecondTerm/Luntz.pdf Apparently it had gotten around at first as just an image, and some bloggers transcribed it into a searchable PDF. Glancing through it, I noticed Luntz warning Republicans that 2006 could be as bad as 1986. At least some of his advice was ignored as I recall, and I also recall 2006 being worse for the GOP than 1986. I guess Republicans also haven’t worked out how to win midterms other than don’t be the presidential party.