Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
February 23, 2005

Soap or Hot Sauce?

Frank Luntz, a consultant for the Republican party, has prepared the "New American Lexicon",  "Learning from 2004 ... Winning in 2006". It includes some fascinating insights. (Kos has a download-link for the 8 MB file.)

Policy goals, like ANWR drilling, get phrased, not formed, along the most positive return  in polls. Communication - not content, words - not intent, are the keys for politicians to win elections.

The appendix lists "The 14 Words Never to Use" and their appropriate Newspeak phrasings. The question now is how to learn them. Do dirty words call for soap or hot sauce?, Karl Rove may ask.

To avoid your mouth being washed or burned, start learning Mr. Luntz' "How to talk like a Republican" lesson today.

Government Washington
Privatization / Private Accounts Personalization / Personal Account
Tax Reform Tax Simplification
Inheritance / Estate Tax The Death Tax
A Global Economy / Globalization / Capitalism Free Market Economy
Outsourcing Taxation, Regulation, Litigation, Innovation, Education
Undocumented Workers Illegal Aliens
Foreign Trade International Trade
Drilling for oil Exploring for energy
Tort Reform Lawsuit Abuse Reform
Trial Lawyer Personal Injury Lawyer
Corporate Transparency Corporate Accountability
School Choice Parental Choice / Equal Opportunity in Education
Healthcare "Choice" "The Right to Choose"

Posted by b on February 23, 2005 at 13:00 UTC | Permalink


In the same way, William Lutz, a professor of English at Rutgers University author of The New Doublespeak: Why No One Knows What Anyone's Saying Anymore. in it he exposes Newt Gingrich's campaign committee, GOPAC, whom published a handbook for Republican candidates. One section was titled "Language, a Key Mechanism of Control." Please note his use of the term "control." Gingrich recommended that Democrats always be described in words such as anti-flag, anti-family, anti-child, bizarre, cheat, coercion, corrupt, decay, destructive, devour, hypocrisy, intolerant, liberal, lie, pathetic, selfish, sick, they and them, and even traitors. Such people are not to be reasoned with, they are to be crushed. When there was a loud protest, Gingrich later withdrew the "traitors" term. It is a sign of the continuing degeneration of political debate that DeLay and other Radical Right draft dodgers have shown no such hesitations.For Republicans, Gingrich urged continual association with words such as care(ing), children, choice/choose, citizen, commitment, common sense, courage, crusade, dream, family, freedom, liberty, moral, peace, pro- (issue): flag, children, environment, reform, strength, success, tough, truth, vision, we/us/our. Dichotomize, then seize the good words, and people find it difficult to think clearly about what you are saying.

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Feb 23 2005 14:21 utc | 1

that is not communication; it is programming - brainwashing - social engineering - propaganda

"true communication is an exchange of information" -russell means

"communication is only possible through the sharing of associations derived from certain conventional contexts among those who wish to communicate" -roy wagner, the invention of culture

"communication is only possible among equals" -robert anton wilson, prometheus rising

"communication can alone create a great community" -john dewey, the public and its problems

Posted by: b real | Feb 23 2005 16:02 utc | 2

More advice from the Luntz paper:
- Define fairness as "equality of opportunity".
- Start and end with accountability. It matters most.
- It is my belief that if you get the tone correct, the right words will surely follow.
- The flag is in many ways an American Rorschach test - the inkblot upon which Americans project their ideals of America.
- "My opponents seems to appreciate HOLLYWOOD VALUES. I guess I'm more old fashioned. I appreciate American values"
- Don´t talk about Tax-Cuts, talk about Tax-Hikes (the danger of tax hikes.

and on and on and on.
If you want to learn the bits that work for the GOP, and if you want to counter them, take the time to read this stuff.

Posted by: b | Feb 23 2005 17:03 utc | 3

In the end, I think these tactics work less in painting (for people who are paying half-attention at best) what one side is for than in painting what the other side is against.

The last 3 years have made it clear (again) that it's much easier to get a crowd energized with fear of and anger at the "opposition" (as if the Democrats have been a real opposition party - oy) than it is to get a crowd energized over the details of an actual plan.

I mean, really, who the hell gets excited over tort reform. But when it becomes a matter of 'those bastards' blocking the way to {insert god-loving, tradition-wrapped, homespun phrase here}, plenty of folks will be ready to take to the streets.

For now, the right is much more scared and angry - about so many things - than the left, which is mostly just scared of the right. Maybe it will take their killing some of us before we're scared and angry enough to fight back. I suspect we're headed for that either way.

Posted by: mats | Feb 23 2005 17:25 utc | 4

What our own talking heads need to do, in the short run, is learn the 14 phrases, and then re-frame them every time they're used. As in:

"When -- says 'Washington,' what s/he really means is GOP special interest groups."

"When -- says 'Free Market Economy,' what s/he really means is letting mega-corporations exploit the poor."

"Lawsuit Abuse Reform" = zero corporate accountability

"Illegal Aliens" = squashing the American dream

"Personal Injury Lawyer" = corporate accountability lawyer

and so on.

Every time someone on their side tries to use one of these phrases, we should be ready to re-frame it--cut the speakers off in mid-sentence and "interpret" them. We can't stop them from saying this stuff, but we can disrupt the propagandizing process before their memes take root in people's minds. We need to do more than that, of course, but that's one step we can take.

P.S. Hi, Jerome. :)

Posted by: Leslie in CA | Feb 23 2005 17:43 utc | 5

Leslie? You have a call out in the lobby, it's a Dr. Dean.

Posted by: management | Feb 23 2005 17:56 utc | 6


Plenty of us are being killed, and have been for the past 40 years, quietly, discreetly. And I am extremely angry about it too.

Posted by: rapt | Feb 23 2005 17:58 utc | 7

Well, you know, the revolution will be complete when the language is perfect.

Posted by: slothrop | Feb 23 2005 18:02 utc | 8

Leslie - Hi! Good to see you around here. Stick around!

Posted by: Jérôme | Feb 23 2005 18:13 utc | 9

Very good ideas, Leslie!!!

Posted by: Groucho | Feb 23 2005 18:53 utc | 10

And Berhard:

Great topic. This is the area where elections and hearts and minds are won and lost.

The Dems in America have got to start playing the same game--with a vengeance.

Posted by: Groucho | Feb 23 2005 19:22 utc | 11

Yes leslie, call Dr. Dean. Someone has to do opposition research. the only one that seems to have ideas is David Green from New York University and that is only the use of the words "regressive republicans."

Why isn't the dem party doing research in the opposite direction to counter this language. Every sane person knows that when framed in a populist progressive manner the dems would win every time. But they have been captured by the DLC and the beltway and have lost their way. Thus, middle America became disgruntled with the dems, and the rethugs with their race bating, gay bashing etc filled the vacuum.

Luntz is a hack and should be called on the carpet by the dems for his propaganda. But besides Boxer, the dems have no balls.

Posted by: jdp | Feb 23 2005 19:26 utc | 12

Another nice titbid from the Luntz paper:

"Cutting wasteful Washington spending" had always had greater emonital appeal than "balancing the budget." This is still true today. Americans still believe the primary cause of the deficit is wasteful Washington spending, not the tax cuts. So tell them: "Americans arn´t taxed too little. Washington spends too much."
(original emphasis)

Or in my words:
"Hey folks - imagine - these idiots still believe this shit that the tax cuts make no budget problem. Keep on telling them the spending is the problem (but don´t tell them that we do the spending, and when we make the tax cuts for the rich permanent we will say we are against tax-increases)."

Posted by: b | Feb 23 2005 19:34 utc | 13


At the insect level of parole, individual uses of language, combating cultural hegemony is noble, but futile. The mass mediation of culture, not individuals, "frames."

Only two means are available to confront the tyrrany of the cultural apparatuses: 1) regulation: this includes everything from antitrust, fairness doctrine enforcement to public arts funding. Seminal documents concerning the problems of media ownership concentration and democracy can be found in the Hutchins' Commission Report of 1947 and both Carnegie Commission Reports on public broadcasting. 2) expropriation of the means of mass communication via uses of new media and the relentless and insouciant destruction of intellectual property.

Posted by: slothrop | Feb 23 2005 19:43 utc | 14

b real

it is interesting - in a recent interview with the vice president of cuba on counterpunch - he was extremey dismissive of the industrial & financial power of u s imperialism - he thinks as i do that it is dying - but what he dis say was theat the means of communication are an apparatus that the empire has perfected & is in essence powerful inferred from what he sd capable of reproducing power & you are right to cite means about our communication - for me the three c's - communication -context-community - they can be defeated

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Feb 23 2005 19:52 utc | 15

Nothing's going to change until the "unseen hand" of Adam Smith kicks in. I have been expecting that to happen for at least ten years now. Unfortunately we will have to face it soon just like the dirty thirties. The fence building ownership feudal system will hit the wall. Especially since it's all on credit anyway. Sooner than later, fat ass America will realize there is no easier softer way. The rest of the world will not forgive America's 'trespasses'. A house built on deceit is a house built on sand. That's a 'Fundamental' truth.

Posted by: pb | Feb 23 2005 20:29 utc | 16

Here is a quote i think comments Mr. Luntz's strong words of advice to all those haughty fellows on the right.

A man is supple and weak when living, but hard and stiff when dead. Grass and trees are pliant and fragile when living, but dried and shrivelled when dead. Thus the hard and the strong are the comrades of death; the supple and the weak are the comrades of life.
Therefore a weapon that is strong will not vanquish;
A tree that is strong will suffer the axe.
The strong and big takes the lower position,
The supple and weak takes the higher position.

(Tao The Ching, folio 76)

Mr. Luntz engages in one great tour de force of corrupting the language of american politics (even more) in an effort to keep his people in power. What makes this work so interesting is not so much the anecdotal details of the mastery of destructive rhethorics displayed, but that it shows how deep the divide is in american society between those in power and the rest.

For the republicans to engage into this kind of thing in order to stay in power is testimony to how oblivious they are to the interests and needs of the country and people they purport to represent.

Posted by: name | Feb 23 2005 21:58 utc | 17

" Every sane person knows that when framed in a populist progressive manner the dems would win every time."
You're drinking the Pirates KoolAid. The xDems win when they return to becoming Dems - i.e. they deliver economically. But the Pirates have taken over the party & they're just stealing everything like the Rethugs. People are being bankrupted, see no way out & are frightened & enraged. The Rethugs give voice to their rage - they offer scapegoats. xDems offer Nothing.

In short, it's not about the language, it's about the Reality of People's lives.

If you doubt this, listen to Tom Franks. He said Kansas Dems. started voting Repug 'cuz Dems. became xDems - stopped supporting an economic agenda that helped them. By echoing the party line about this"framing" bullshit, you're allowing yourself to be diverted from discussing the only thing that matters, the thing that is Not Ever Ever Allowed to Be Spoken - look @kos & Atrios/Billmon. In fact, the Only reason to look at their bullshit is to see if they are attacking Pirate Economics. I watch - absolutely not!! "Atrios" even calls it "free-market"/"free-trade" & says he supports it, occas. w/a bit of tweaking.

Posted by: | Feb 23 2005 22:14 utc | 18

Alistair "Fucking" Campbell is to blame for giving Bliar the language to stay alive.

Luntz is just plagiarizing.

Posted by: Cloned Poster | Feb 23 2005 23:00 utc | 19


At the macro level, you are right about the steps that need to be taken; reversing the trend of media consolidation and reinstating the Fairness Doctrine are of vital importance.

But at the micro level, every little thing we do matters. To reiterate, the point is not to achieve linguistic dominance with our countermemes, but to interfere with the current unopposed propogation of GOP memes--to create cognitive dissonance in the minds of viewers and listeners, which would open a space (however small) for entertaining other thoughts. Many people want, and would respond to, a different message than the GOP is sending, but in the lack of any alternatives being presented the wingers win. As Dean says, we must show up everywhere, every time.

"Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little." -Edmund Burke

"Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it." -Gandhi

Posted by: Leslie in CA | Feb 24 2005 1:13 utc | 20

At 5:14 PM, if you read my comment, I lament the capture of the dems by the Democratic Leadership Council and complain how the economic agenda that was the dems has been toossed to the side, Ask anyone on this site, I advocate the re-distributtion of wealth. I am a class warrior.

I don't care what Atrios and Kos say. Atrios could be a dlc lackey, I don't care. Until someone, in the late 1800s sence, without the racist undertones, appeals to the economic interest of the average man in a way that is not divide and conquer like the rethugs (they only skewer issues to confuse subjects) we, the US, will be a wholely owned subsidiary of corporate interest. Its time to break the yoke of slavery to the Bushie campaign donors.

It's time to frame the issues for the everyman.

Posted by: jdp | Feb 24 2005 1:23 utc | 21


I'm down w/ you, brother.

Which channel do I turn to?

Posted by: slothrop | Feb 24 2005 1:45 utc | 22


I know. I do what I can. I've been working on my parents since I was 8. Now, my Dad doesn't say "spic" and no longer believes the banks are controlled by "jews." But the fact that my parents' little american middle class dream was shredded by healthcare costs, does not register in their minds the experience of oppression. All they are certain about is poverty is personal failure. They both just shake their heads and blame themselves. Their self-hatred is depthless. They're "good people."

Posted by: slothrop | Feb 24 2005 1:57 utc | 23

You know I always find it interesting, in disussions with lefty/pwog activists of various stripes, that when debate is kindled or action planned someone always says, "But we have to be nice."

We have to be nice. We have to be non-confrontational. We have to persuade people via charm, not pound them with blame or guilt. We have to be not-extreme, not-threatening, not-angry, not-loud, not-rude -- and we must never, ever, ever suggest that our way of doing or being is better than another person's. We must make sure to be likable and let them know that they are OK with us, we're just "offering them more choices," never criticising their current ones. We have to defuse tension, pat heads, hold hands, cater to delicate egos -- including the delicate egos of people with thousands of times more money and power than ourselves. We will "lose influence" and "alienate potential supporters" if we yell at anybody.

And yet, for 30 years, the radical Right has succeeded past all imagining by: blaming, confronting, insulting, being loud, rude, negative, frightening people, passing judgment, dividing, alienating, and all the rest. Sure is working well for them.

Not saying that I wish to behave like 'em -- not exactly -- and I'm not thrilled about any further coarsening (if that were possible) of our public discourse. But I wonder at what point pwog activists will figure out that hiding behind evasiveness, mealy-mouthedness, euphemism, and obsessive evasion of confrontation is not going to work much change in the world.

At some point murder has to be called murder, theft has to be called theft, villainy has to be called villainy, and stupid non-adaptive futureless behaviour has to be called stupid non-adaptive futureless behaviour...

Posted by: DeAnander | Feb 24 2005 3:16 utc | 24

And continuing your line of thought DnA:

At some point we might even have to pass the sharp knife across their throats, metaphorically speaking, of course.

Posted by: Groucho | Feb 24 2005 3:34 utc | 25

It took me a bit to "get" Bernhard's clever reference in the title, and I'm suprised that nobody has mentioned it so far. I didn't have time 'til now. Soap in the mouth or hot sauce on the tongue. Very nice, Bernhard. Yes. We must all mind what we say, or else the bad parent will punish us.

The musical "Oklahoma": You mind your phraseology!

Posted by: Kate_Storm | Feb 24 2005 4:42 utc | 26

Just back from a meeting with some good friends where we discussed the latest doubleplus good words.

The substance of our conversation was that the important thing was to "call bullshit" when someone started spouting those words. The question was raised about whether or not we might be mistaken for inconsequential PC-mongerers. We agreed that PC is when you try to identify yourself and your image by words. Calling bullshit is different because it always addresses how the words get the issue wrong (not how the words are themselves somehow wrong). I suspect we will have to be good about calling BS with a sense of humor, just to crack open those clamshell minds a bit when the laughter comes out. Still, my friends and I are resolved to provide each other oases of solidarity against the hours of social rending we experience every day. So we're ready to do our insignificant bits.

I expect a few of them will be visiting here. Solidarnosc.

Posted by: Citizen | Feb 24 2005 6:23 utc | 27

PS - I noticed "citizen" was one of those words Luntz wants to claim for his pirates. Amazing, you can actually smell the murder on his breath.

Posted by: Citizen | Feb 24 2005 6:28 utc | 28

@jdp and DeAnander
I am a class warrior
Right on jdp! If people don't think we have a
caste system in this country it is because of "trained incapacity". As Thorstein Veblen pointS out, authority figures train their members or practitioners to see certain aspects of a problem, but in so doing those practitioners become trained to not see other aspects of a problem. While many are just now feeling the effects of being down-wardly mobile. The elite justify it with a "blameless cupidity" also a Veblenism.

De: You know I always find it interesting, in disussions with lefty/pwog activists of various stripes, that when debate is kindled or action planned someone always says, "But we have to be nice." one way to counter act that what Anthropologist Laura Nader calls "HARMONY COERCED" "Coercive harmony has often accompanied large-scale social movements, including Western colonialism, Christian missionary work, and globalization"(Nader Chronicle of Higher Education, 7/13/2001, Vol. 47 Issue 44, pB13, 1p.

When I looked at legal reform in the United States, I also found harmony being used as a control, this time by the powerful. In the 1970's, something called alternative dispute resolution was born. It was a reform movement in response to the new cases (proponents of the movement called them "garbage cases") that were entering the courts after the social turmoil of the 1960's -- cases about civil rights, environmental and consumer rights, Native American and gender issues, and so forth. The movement favored compromise over adversarial procedures, harmony over social justice"(Nader Chronicle of Higher Education, 7/13/2001, Vol. 47 Issue 44, pB13, 1p. She goes on to say what is happening right now is "corporate fundamentalism" or "corporate colonialism" "Corporate secular fundamentalism shares some of the traits of religious fundamentalism: conviction of righteousness, certainty of the truth, intolerance of difference, evangelising zeal and a paranoid mindset."

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Feb 24 2005 6:59 utc | 29

Luntz doesn´t have a chapter about war and foreign policy. I wonder why not.

There is one about energy "independence", which is just an argument for more nuclear powerplants, that touches a bit on Saudi bashing, but thats it.

I wonder who writes the linguistic of Foreign Policy. Perle?

Posted by: b | Feb 24 2005 7:47 utc | 30

b - the linguistics of energy are simple - always talk about supply, never about demand. Always look for ways to produce more (to satisfy the relentless demand), never for ways to adapt demand (to the eventually shrinking supply)

Posted by: Jérôme | Feb 24 2005 12:14 utc | 31

@Jérôme - thats part of it. But that paper also plays down alternative energies putting them far into the future while argumenting for many new nuclear plants and ANWR drilling, ahhmm "exploration". You should really read that part.

Posted by: b | Feb 24 2005 12:23 utc | 32

Uncle $cam--and the current corporate manifestation of that is the forced arbitration language included in most boilerplate consumer contracts from large companies.

jdp, DeAnander, Citizen: Absolutely. We must call bullshit (part of what I meant by my earlier posts), and we must actually, not just rhetorically, take up the cause of social and economic justice.

Posted by: Leslie in CA | Feb 24 2005 17:49 utc | 33

@Leslie, yes, I think that was what I meant -- at some point, instead of saying patiently, "Yes well I see your point of view, but..." I think we should "call bullshit." There are points of view that I can't see and I don't particularly want to pretend that I can -- the pt of view that the lives of little brown people are worthless compared to American lives, for example, the pt of view that the poor are expendable and hyperaccumulation by the rich is the appropriate ultimate goal of civilisation, the insane fantasy that planetary resources are infinite. I don't see a way to be "nice" about opposing those views. A hearty cry of "oh, bullshit," or "at long last, Sir, have you no shame?" seems more appropriate than the endless effort to be "nonjudgmental".

And no, Groucho, I wasn't thinking about knives, only about words -- and public theatre.

Posted by: DeAnander | Feb 24 2005 18:57 utc | 34

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