When the reigning wordsmith of the Republican right says that he is “frightened to death” by Occupy Wall Street, there must be a compelling reason for him to admit his fear. Such was the confession of Frank Luntz, famed pollster and consultant whose advice has been sought by Fox News, Newt Gingrich and many other leaders in the political and corporate worlds. Speaking before the Republican Governors Association in Florida this week, Luntz went on to warn its members that the public wants to raise taxes on the wealthy, deeply distrusts Wall Street, and even thinks capitalism is “immoral.”
“I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death,” said Luntz, who has served as the brains behind much Republican messaging for two decades. “They’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.”
As the preeminent exponents of capitalism without regulation or responsibility, right-wing Republicans believe that any other worldview is unnatural — even though most of the world rejects their ideology. Both Luntz and his powerful listeners clearly worry that the “Occupy” movement has shifted our own national debate from their favorite topics of debt, deficits, and cutbacks to less convenient subjects like income inequality and abusive power.
Indeed, the GOP governors sought out Luntz – who popularized “death tax” as a buzz phrase to denigrate estate taxes – so he might help them answer hard questions about the disparate burdens and benefits borne by the 99 percent and the one percent. Perhaps because he assumed that nobody else was listening, Luntz told the governors what he really thinks.
Fortunately, political reporter Chris Moody was present for his lecture and reported Luntz’s remarks on the Yahoo Politics website, under the headline “How Republicans Are Being Taught To Talk About Occupy Wall Street.” What Luntz seemed to be telling the governors was that they would be better off evading, misdirecting, and soft-peddling rather than directly responding to those tough questions. According to Moody, he expressed his angst over the Occupy movement’s influence on American attitudes toward corporations, taxes, and the relative sacrifices made by the wealthy and the middle class.
Rather than explain how the Republicans can justify their insistence on protecting Wall Street bankers and other malefactors of great wealth, or their refusal to levy higher taxes on those most able to pay, or their desire to cut unemployment benefits and public payrolls, he merely urged them to say they “get it” when they encounter the angry Occupiers. Tell them to direct their anger toward Washington instead of Wall Street, he said, and more specifically toward the president: “You should occupy the White House, because it’s the [Obama] policies over the past few years that have created this problem.”
To resist tax hikes on the wealthy, he said, Republicans should talk about “hardworking Americans” and complain that the government is “taking” from those fine people, without ever talking about “taxing the rich,” which most voters favor.
Much of this is simply Republican boilerplate, as Greg Sargent suggested on the Washington Post site. But for Luntz to admit that he is concerned about the rhetorical power of the Occupy movement means he considers its impact real, whether or not he confides such a discomforting truth to Fox News viewers. Asked by the The National Memo to explain why he thinks Occupy’s message is gaining ground, Luntz declined to elaborate, adding only: “I wanted to challenge the audience and wake them up.” Maybe no further comment is needed.