Communications consultant Frank Luntz

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Communications consultant and pollster shares the top issues that will be on Americans’ minds when they go to the polls in November.


Tavis: Frank Luntz is a veteran communications consultant and best-selling author whose books include Words That Work and What Americans Really Want…Really. Frank, good to have you back on this program.
Frank Luntz: It’s always a pleasure.
Tavis: So the president. Milwaukee earlier in the week on Labor Day, jobs, jobs, jobs. Ohio later in the week, jobs, jobs, jobs. We’ll come in a moment to the conversation about why he kept on John Boehner so hard, calling him by name repeatedly, but what about this populace rhetoric now of jobs, jobs, jobs?
Luntz: It’s why I don’t understand how he got distracted with the mosque. It’s why I don’t understand why he does a White House speech on Iraq and Afghanistan. The American people have two focuses in mind: jobs and the deficit, the debt and wasteful.
And it’s still hard to believe with only 50 days left – well, a couple more – between now and the election how things could have gone so wrong for him and for the Democrats in Congress when you and I sat here several times between the election and now and the opportunities for him were so great. He had transcended partisan politics. He had transcended ideology.
The American people wanted him to succeed and they hated the Republican Party. Now with about 50 days to go, Republicans are winning every generic ballot by eight or ten points. People are now absolutely convinced that Republicans will win the House of Representatives and even the Senate. Obama’s approval rating is in the low 40’s. I would almost throw it back.
What went wrong? I really feel that he lost touch, that he forgot the people who put him into office and that he became ideological rather than pragmatic.
Tavis: So much there to pick apart. Let me start with –
Luntz: – those aren’t words that pick apart (laughter). I know where this is going.
Tavis: Exactly. First of all, when you say that Americans are concerned about jobs, number one, I get that. But then you say, number two, concern about the deficit and wasteful spending. Let me split that. I can accept the argument that Americans are concerned about wasteful spending, but there ain’t no evidence nowhere, Frank, they’re concerned about the deficit.
I mean, as a matter of fact, Obama and company are in trouble about that approach now, that somehow we need to pay down the deficit rather than have a stimulus plan that puts people back to work. So where’s the evidence that we’re concerned about the deficit at this moment?
Luntz: Nobody wants stimulus. Nobody wants more spending. What they want is accountability and personal responsibility and they want Washington to say what it means and mean what it says and stop pushing all this money out there.
I do a lot of work on the issue of anger and it bothers me tremendously that we’ve become such an angry country. A business that I work for, MouseMail, had me do a survey of parents. It’s not just the economy that frightens them and it’s not just politics. It’s about being unable to control what happens to their children today because of technology and unable to promise them a better future tomorrow because of all the things that are happening.
So they created this technology that allows parents to make sure that bad emails don’t get to their kids, but they can’t create a technology – no one has – to ensure that the American dream is as alive for the next future as it is for ours and that’s where the anger comes in and that’s what he lost.
I remember in the rallies before Election Day, I saw thousands of kids and I don’t mean 18 to 21-year-olds. I’m talking 12, 14, 16-year-olds. Parents took their children to attend Obama rallies because they wanted to show him the future of America, and those same parents now are so afraid for their children, that their kids won’t have a better quality of life than them.
Tavis: But how preposterous is it that the people, the party, in fact, who got us into this mess, who have been obstructionist every step of the way on trying to get us out of the mess, so much so they’ve been labeled the Party of No –
Luntz: – by Barack Obama.
Tavis: How is it – Barack and others – but how is it that the party that got us in this mess, that’s fought to keep us in the mess, now may be very well the people who we hand the keys to come November?
Luntz: And that key reference is the one that Obama’s using. You’re following the talking points perfectly.
Tavis: Oh, please.
Luntz: I know because –
Tavis: – I am not on the Obama talking point list, as you well know.
Luntz: Yes, I agree with that.
Tavis: Okay.
Luntz: But here’s the problem. The American people don’t like Republicans, but they don’t like Democrats even more. They’re going to be going to the voting booth going, “I don’t not want to vote for them, but there’s no way in hell that I’m voting for the Democrats again.”
That’s what is so upsetting that there is nobody that we have faith in now. Our trust in schools has diminished, our trust in the media has diminished, our trust in politics and Wall Street and business, in corporations, everything is falling. We don’t trust anyone anymore, so we turn insular. We focus more on our families and we try to dismiss all that’s going on out there. So separate Republicans from Democrats.
By the way, the GOP did spend too much and the GOP is somewhat responsible for all that happened. Who’s going to fix it? We don’t want more spending. We don’t. We don’t want more corruption and we see that in Washington.
I don’t know where you stand on Charlie Rangel, but come on. The Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee doing the things that he did? Whether he knew it was breaking the law or not, if you get elected to office, aren’t you supposed to uphold the higher standard?
Then I watch Obama who is supposed to be the first post partisan president mentioning John Boehner by name six times? He’s become as partisan as any president in my lifetime. I don’t understand this.
Tavis: Respectfully, were Obama and Rangel here, they would say, “And Frank Luntz, you are the one. We all saw the leaked memo. You are the one who were advising the Republicans how to spin this argument to fight against financial regulation reform.”
Luntz: Because it wasn’t building trust and confidence. It was creating another bailout fund. You also know that – and this is one of the reasons why the Democrats voted against it – that bailout, the public says no to Republicans and Democrats alike. Why are Republicans getting defeated in primaries? Because they voted for the bailout. Why are Democrats losing in primaries? Because they voted for the bailout.
In that financial legislation that was acknowledged by Democrat leaders, there was a fund in there that would allow yet another bailout. We don’t want to bail out Wall Street. We want to help Main Street. We want to help average, hardworking Americans that tune in to watch this show and be informed.
Tavis: I’m with you on the point about many Americans being against the bailout. There’s no debate about that.
Luntz: It’s 80 percent.
Tavis: The point is, though, when you’re advising Republicans how to spin an argument in opposition to financial regulation, which Americans do want – when I asked you about regulation, you flipped to talking about bailout. That ain’t what I asked you.
Luntz: But I talked about the specific legislation, which is what you’d want me to do. You want me to be detailed. By the way, that’s one of the problems on cable news. All the cable, they put on one side and you don’t see enough of the other side. This is, by the way, I’m gonna give credit to Fox. There are a hell of a lot more Democrats on Fox than you find Republicans on MSNBC. We need for our news to be informed, not just affirmed.
The problem is, I’m afraid that we’re watching news and gathering information just to confirm what we already believe rather than being open-minded in trying to collect information in. That’s another one of the great problems we have. But to respond specifically, there had to be oversight of Wall Street, which there wasn’t, and the Bush administration should absolutely be held accountable.
But when you create so many rules and regulations in 2,000 pages of legislation, you don’t know what the unintended consequences of those are. The people who are passing the legislation didn’t even know the details in them and they were changing them in the last 24, 48 hours because all these lobbyists were coming in.
The one thing that you and I probably agree on is that we don’t need lobbyist legislation. We want legislation that has a positive long-term impact. We want to make sure that there’s the right amount of oversight and accountability. We want to punish those who did something wrong –
Tavis: – we agree –
Luntz: – but we don’t need 2,000 pages. How long is the Bible?
Tavis: We agree on this –
Luntz: – how many pages is the Bible?
Tavis: We agree on this, I think. I hope we do, at least. The financial regulation reform that passed was not tough enough for me. There was not enough teeth in it for me. Maybe we agree on that, number one.
What we don’t agree on, I don’t think that Fox is any better than MSNBC. I think MSNBC is no better than Fox. They’re both in the business of spinning and counter-spinning and both of them stink in that regard, as far as I’m concerned.
Luntz: And yet the American people in watching those two networks have clearly chosen Fox over MSNBC not because of some intellectual bias, but because at least you can get both sides. You may not always like the host, but you can get both sides.
Tavis: Frank, I don’t believe that you believe that the folk who watch Fox watch it because they’re going to get a fair and balanced point of view. That ain’t why they watch Fox. You don’t believe that.
Luntz: Neither does the crew because they’re laughing all back there.
Tavis: (Laughter) Let me ask you right quick. What’s gonna happen on these Bush tax cuts? I mean, what’s going to happen here?
Luntz: If they’re framed to Bush tax cuts, they probably aren’t extended.
Tavis: Right.
Luntz: Look, I give George Bush credit. He accomplished a lot when you consider that English was his second language – pause for laughter. But the American people look at this and say, “How are you gonna create jobs when you’re taxing people who create those jobs?”
Can you name me a single job other than an accountant and an IRS agent, another job that’s created when you raise taxes on people? It’s not an issue of extending tax cuts. This would be the biggest tax increase at a time when our economy is still constricted.
I’ll tell you this. If I’m a moderate Democrat, I would support an effort to prevent tax increases now for one year because you never, ever, ever raise taxes in a recession.
Tavis: Right quick, how bad is it gonna be in November for Democrats? Are they gonna lose both Houses?
Luntz: I will go on record saying they lose the House and that the Senate right now, if you made me, better be 51-49 Democrat. We’re in California right here. I believe that the Barbara Boxer race determines who wins the majority in the Senate.
Tavis: Wow. Who’s gonna win that? Fiorina or Boxer?
Luntz: It is too close to call. They’re both very good debaters. They’re both very intense. Fiorina, if she spends the money that she has, she’s got a 50-50 shot. If she just tries to do it by taking other contributions, Boxer’s one of these people who can will themselves to intensity.
Tavis: Oh, yeah. She always comes back.
Luntz: Yeah. She’s like a bobble-head. You just can’t knock her down. Don’t let me get in trouble for that one.
Tavis: (Laughter) Yeah, yeah. I’m putting that on YouTube immediately. “Frank Luntz calls Barbara Boxer a bobble-head.”
Luntz: It’s been nice knowing you all (laughter).
Tavis: (Laughter) Yeah, exactly. Nice having you on.
Luntz: Pleasure.
Tavis: Good to see you.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm