GOP pollster Frank Luntz speaks to The Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco. November 6, 2009. Photo by John Zipperer.
Republican strategist Frank Luntz told a Commonwealth Club audience in November 2009 that Californian supporters of gay marriage had made a mistake by choosing the word marriage in their fight against the anti-gay-marriage referendum Proposition 8. "If you want to resolve this issue in a way that some of you want to resolve it, take out the word marriage," he explained. "If I were advising those on the Left who want equality in marriage as they define it, then don't say the word marriage, and you will get it, because the American people believe that marriage is between a man and a woman and that's what they think. But: They are hostile, openly hostile to discrimination."
Luntz, who makes his living dissecting what Americans tell him they believe and suggesting ways for political groups to get their message across to the public, said that the way an argument is framed can be all the difference in whether Americans accept it. "My issue with those on the far Right and those on the far Left is that, You don't want to win, you just want to shout, and you never get anything through as a result."
In other words, words matter.
Now, Luntz is weighing in on the efforts to re-regulate Wall Street, an effort championed by another recent Commonwealth Club speaker, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. But Luntz is advising folks who worry that the effort to impose more regulation on the financial services industry will hobble private business.
Over at Huffington Post, Sam Stein writes that Luntz has authored a memo telling opponents of reform to frame the reform effort as being chock-full of all those bad words that make Americans recoil: bank bailouts, lobbyists, loopholes, and bureaucracy. "Washington's incompetence is the common ground on which you can build support," Stein quotes Luntz's memo.
At the bottom of Stein's article is a window for reading the entire Luntz memo, so you can read it and make up your own mind if it will be useful in the policy debate.
Commonwealth Club members will be able to read an excerpt of Luntz's speech in the February/March issue of The Commonwealth magazine, out this week.