MONDAY, JULY 31, 2023
Empires, democracies die: Stretching back about thirty years, liberals have tended to view Frank Luntz in a highly unfavorable light. Some elements of this capsule bio help explain why that is:
Frank Luntz (born February 23, 1962) is an American political and communications consultant and pollster, best known for developing talking points and other messaging for Republican causes. His work has included assistance with messaging for Newt Gingrich's Contract with America...He advocated use of vocabulary crafted to produce a desired effect, including use of the term death tax instead of estate tax...
Luntz was a long-time Republican wordsmith. On the other hand, there was what he said about Candidate Gore's convention speech way back in August 2000.
We watched the speech from high in the rafters, then proceeded to the BBC trailer for an interview from across the pond. While we waited for our session to begin, one of the TVs was tuned to MSNBC, where Brian Williams and his gang of four were engaged in the standard trashing of the gruesome address by Gore.
The scripted pundits took their turns saying how awful the speech had been. At this point, Luntz rushed onto the MSNBC set to report what he had heard during his nightly session with undecided voters.
Gore's speech had been "a home run," Luntz excitedly said. If we're remembering correctly, he said that he had never seen a convention speech produce such favorable polling.
(We were never able to acquire transcript or tape of the somewhat comical session, in which the Republican operative dropped a bomb on the mainstream / liberal trashing of Candidate Gore.)
So it went as the "liberal press corps" worked to punish President Clinton and his handpicked successor. Four years later, Luntz praised the 2004 convention address by Candidate Bush, saying it had yielded "the second strongest positive reaction I’ve ever had to a speech. Only Al Gore in 2000 did better."
Luntz may have been a Republican operative, but he was willing to report what the numbers said. Yesterday, he appeared on C-Span's Washington Journal with a warning for the nation.
We think his warning was worth recording. Here's the key part of what he said:
LUNTZ (7/30/23): I'm so glad you invited me. I started as a Republican. I got 2016 wrong because I looked at the exit polls.
I don't get much wrong, and we're yelling at each other now, condemning each other now. And we collect our news, not to inform us, but to affirm us—and democracies last till they don't.
The Egyptians thought they couldn't be beaten. The Turks, the Ottoman empire, the great German empire, British, Portugese, French? Countries come and they go. China had a dynasty. Who is to say that America lasts?
I am seeing the fissures and fractures in America. I see it in the education system. Not just the grandparents, the grandkids are getting the message to yell at each other and be abusive to their teachers because they see their parents acting this way toward politics and it is breaking this country.
"Democracies last till they don't," Luntz said, echoing many others. "Who is to say that America lasts?"
Way back when, Luntz worked as a consultant to Gingrich. That's where a great deal (though not all) of the yelling and name-calling started.
We don't quite know what Luntz meant by his remarks about the education system. But the otherization to which he referred could end up "breaking the country." In our view, that outcome is especially likely if Candidate Trump wins again, as he most certainly could.
Back in 1999 and 2000, the mainstream press corps was engaged in a long-running war against (Clinton, Clinton and) Gore. To this day, this obvious bit of American history has gone almost wholly undiscussed.
With the cooperation of virtually everyone, what happened in the mainstream press corps stayed in the mainstream press corps! Today, as tribal demonization grows, our failing democracy is in an extremely dangerous place, much as the chastened Luntz said.
In our view, our own blue tribe is part of this problem. More on this topic all week.