Thursday, December 1, 2011

What's in a Name?


It's hard to admit, but I never really cared all that much for my name. I honor it because the one who named me is someone I dearly love and cherish. Over the years, I have taken on nicknames, and nom de plumes that I believe represent who I am more accurately than my given name.

I suspect that I'm not alone. I wouldn't be shocked to learn that there's been more legal name changes, more uses of substitute names, aliases, and sobriquets, than there are actual baby names in books designed to help you give your newborn the perfect name in combination with a given surname.

Shakespeare may have been the first to ask the question, using the voice of Juliet in his tragedy, Romeo and Juliet: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet."

Nevertheless, there's one who may disagree with Shakespeare. One who has built a career on changing the names of things, guaranteeing that even the sweet smell of a rose may lose its attractive fragrance, if only an appropriate name may be found, and applied.

That someone is Frank Luntz, political consultant and pollster.

Wikipedia says in part the following about Luntz in a brief bio:

Luntz's specialty is “testing language and finding words that will help his clients sell their product or turn public opinion on an issue or a candidate.”...

Luntz frequently tests word and phrase choices using focus groups and interviews. His stated purpose in this is the goal of causing audiences to react based on emotion. "80 percent of our life is emotion, and only 20 percent is intellect. I am much more interested in how you feel than how you think." "If I respond to you quietly, the viewer at home is going to have a different reaction than if I respond to you with emotion and with passion and I wave my arms around. Somebody like this is an intellectual; somebody like this is a freak."


If you conclude from this that Luntz' goal is to shape the perception of others using the persuasive power of words that are charged with just the right emotions, and invoking just the right imagery, you'd be right. Just so that no one will mistake his aim, Luntz gives this description of his methodology:

Luntz discussed his use of the term, "energy exploration" (oil drilling). His research on the matter involved showing people a picture of current oil drilling and asking if in the picture it "looks like exploration or drilling." He said that 90 percent of the people he spoke to said it looked like exploring. "Therefore I'd argue that it is a more appropriate way to communicate." He went on to say "if the public says after looking at the pictures, that doesn't look like my definition of drilling—it looks like my definition of exploring—then don't you think we should be calling it what people see it to be, rather than adding a political aspect to it all?" Terry Gross responded: "Should we be calling it what it actually is, as opposed to what somebody thinks it might be? The difference between exploration and actually getting out the oil—they're two different things, aren't they?"

Recently, Luntz made headlines again, this time before the Republican Governors Association, and on the subject of the Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS):

The Republican Governors Association met this week in Florida to give GOP state executives a chance to rejuvenate, strategize and team-build. But during a plenary session on Wednesday, one question kept coming up: How can Republicans do a better job of talking about Occupy Wall Street?

"I'm so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I'm frightened to death," said Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist and one of the nation's foremost experts on crafting the perfect political message. "They're having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism."

Luntz offered tips on how Republicans could discuss the grievances of the Occupiers, and help the governors better handle all these new questions from constituents about "income inequality" and "paying your fair share."

Yahoo News sat in on the session, and counted 10 do's and don'ts from Luntz covering how Republicans should fight back by changing the way they discuss the movement.

1. Don't say 'capitalism.'

"I'm trying to get that word removed and we're replacing it with either 'economic freedom' or 'free market,' " Luntz said. "The public . . . still prefers capitalism to socialism, but they think capitalism is immoral. And if we're seen as defenders of quote, Wall Street, end quote, we've got a problem."

2. Don't say that the government 'taxes the rich.'
Instead, tell them that the government 'takes from the rich.'
"If you talk about raising taxes on the rich," the public responds favorably, Luntz cautioned. But "if you talk about government taking the money from hardworking Americans, the public says no. Taxing, the public will say yes."

3. Republicans should forget about winning the battle over the 'middle class.'
Call them 'hardworking taxpayers.'
"They cannot win if the fight is on hardworking taxpayers. We can say we defend the 'middle class' and the public will say, I'm not sure about that. But defending 'hardworking taxpayers' and Republicans have the advantage."

4. Don't talk about 'jobs.' Talk about 'careers.'
"Everyone in this room talks about 'jobs,'" Luntz said. "Watch this."
He then asked everyone to raise their hand if they want a "job." Few hands went up. Then he asked who wants a "career." Almost every hand was raised.
"So why are we talking about jobs?"

5. Don't say 'government spending.' Call it 'waste.'
"It's not about 'government spending.' It's about 'waste.' That's what makes people angry."

6. Don't ever say you're willing to 'compromise.'
"If you talk about 'compromise,' they'll say you're selling out. Your side doesn't want you to 'compromise.' What you use in that to replace it with is 'cooperation.' It means the same thing. But cooperation means you stick to your principles but still get the job done. Compromise says that you're selling out those principles."

7. The three most important words you can say to an Occupier: 'I get it.'

"First off, here are three words for you all: 'I get it.' . . . 'I get that you're angry. I get that you've seen inequality. I get that you want to fix the system."
Then, he instructed, offer Republican solutions to the problem.

8. Out: 'Entrepreneur.' In: 'Job creator.'

Use the phrases "small business owners" and "job creators" instead of "entrepreneurs" and "innovators."

9. Don't ever ask anyone to 'sacrifice.'
"There isn't an American today in November of 2011 who doesn't think they've already sacrificed. If you tell them you want them to 'sacrifice,' they're going to be be pretty angry at you. You talk about how 'we're all in this together.' We either succeed together or we fail together."

10. Always blame Washington.

Tell them, "You shouldn't be occupying Wall Street, you should be occupying Washington. You should occupy the White House because it's the policies over the past few years that have created this problem."

BONUS:
Don't say 'bonus!'

Luntz advised that if they give their employees an income boost during the holiday season, they should never refer to it as a "bonus."
"If you give out a bonus at a time of financial hardship, you're going to make people angry. It's 'pay for performance.'"


Christians are told that the devil is always busy, but I suspect that the devil has nothing on Republicans. They never seem to rest, never seem to take a break from the battle, continually devising ways to defeat their mortal enemy--Democrats.

It could be that Democrats are strategizing to the same extent as Republicans, deploying some of the same undermining, deceptive practices, but I doubt it.

Republicans are a breed apart, calculating and devious to a flaw, not reticent to do whatever it takes to maintain a political edge--and no detail is too small to exploit, whether it's descending upon liberal blogs with a swarm of anonymous locusts to attack liberals and the president, coordinating their attacks with the use of ALEC, or attempting to enact voter suppression laws, "[s]weeping new laws — including an end to same-day registration and cuts to early voting — could disenfranchise millions of voters in 2012."[1]

If we're to defeat a Republican take over of this country, we need to know the party's methods, and work harder than they do to impose a political ideology that works for the 99 percent as well as the 1 percent.

You can be sure: Republicans are willing to use legislation, our language, and our emotions--and not so much our intellect--to achieve their ends. We don't have to operate in the same fashion as they do, but we do have to be willing to expose their tactics, and deploy a counterattack to their attacks, lest the whole nation ends up in an oversize body bag.



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7 comments:

Redeye said...

"We don't have to operate in the same fashion as they do, but we do have to be willing to expose their tactics, and deploy a counterattack to their attacks, lest the whole nation ends up in an oversize body bag."

Amen! The problem is that takes leadership, something we (collective) are sorely lacking.

What's in a name you ask? How about the Tennessee Titans? Did you know that was the what the KKK called themselves when they organized in guess where....Tennessee. And let's not forget about them there Washington Redskins. :)

Great post!

msladydeborah said...

I learned by listening to the late Barbara Jordan that having a command of the language is powerful.

There's been a shift in how language is used and it has been occurring for decades. I have had to teach myself the contemporary terms just to look for a new career placement opportunity.

The obvious key for countering the attempt to cover up what is truly ugly about this system, is to use their language and then break it down into reality points.

Black Diaspora said...

"The problem is that takes leadership, something we (collective) are sorely lacking."

This nation is at a crossroad. This next general election is more pivotal to our collective survival than any that has preceded it.

It behooves our "collective" leadership to make sure that the American people know what's at stake, and are viewing the world, and our troubled times, through lenses that aren't smudged with images and emotions designed to distort and obfuscate.

Black Diaspora said...

msladydeborah said...
"I learned by listening to the late Barbara Jordan that having a command of the language is powerful."

In the right hands, words can be as "powerful" as a nuclear blast or a tectonic shift in the earth's crust.

Hitler's rise in pre-World War II Germany is owning in part to his rhetorical skills and ability to fire up an audience.

To no one's surprise, it didn't take Republicans and Tea Partyites long to associate Obama with these Hitlerian qualities.

And it didn't stop there: They associated his nearly mesmeric hold over an audience to the supposed power that's attributed to the anti-Christ.

"The obvious key for countering the attempt to cover up what is truly ugly about this system, is to use their language and then break it down into reality points."

You're right: It has to be systematic and thoroughgoing, and done with the same persistence with which it's being deployed by those on the Right, if it's to be effective in countering their campaign of misinformation.

Greg L said...

>>>Luntz frequently tests word and phrase choices using focus groups and interviews. His stated purpose in this is the goal of causing audiences to react based on emotion. "80 percent of our life is emotion, and only 20 percent is intellect. I am much more interested in how you feel than how you think." <<<<

Another good thought provoking post BD. I’ve been thinking about this about this post for a bit before responding. Here’s what I think:

Humans are highly open to suggestion through our emotions. I recall reading how certain colors and shapes evince certain emotions and much of what’s marketed to us is designed to appeal to either our emotions or to shape our perceptions. I don’t like to shop in Walmart for a number of reasons, but I had occasion to visit a few days ago and was struck by the number of signs festooned around the store proclaiming low prices. You literally couldn’t look anywhere in the place without your glance hitting upon one of these signs. Although not quite as overboard, Dunkin Donuts does the same thing with all of its signs up that “America runs on Dunkin”. I’m sure if we stop and think about it, most of us can recount any number of situations where we’re bombarded with messages appealing either to our emotions or to imprint upon our subconscious certain thoughts. This is all in an effort to shape our perceptions and to create a reality that doesn’t exist. In the meantime, the reality that actually does exist remains unaddressed.

Basically, our behavior has been shaped around consuming and that doesn’t require much thought or intellect over than to compare how something makes you feel. So if a Lexus makes you feel better than a Chevrolet, you go with that even though logic would dictate that since both are going to provide transport, it makes more sense to go with the less expensive option. The fact of the matter is that if logic and intellect were the primary drivers behind decision making, there’d be a great many things that would never be accepted and the realities that actually exist would be those we’d be dealing with rather than those which have been created. Logic and intellect don’t mix well with mindless consumerism, so the first behavior that must be shaped is to around getting us to discard them as a basis for decision making. Once that’s done, we no longer use them as filters through which we perceive reality.

continued...

Greg L said...

Since we’re a nation of consumers, it stands to reason that the political class has something to sell to us as well and this is what I see in Luntz’s statement above. They want to suspend reality and substitute something else in its place as a basis for people to vote on. This is also the reason why our political discourse is so partisan and charged with emotion. I’m convinced that’s by design and while I used to believe that the republicans are solely responsible for this, recent events have led me to believe that they’re no longer working alone in this regard. I may have related this before. Our nation’s political discourse reminds me of a WWF match where the audience is both enthralled and outraged at what their perceived bad guy does while their perceived good guy seems to lose. The audience gets even more outraged when the bad guy hits the good guy with a set of brass knuckles while the referee always seems to never see it because his back is turned dealing with something else. Of course, once the show is over, the referee, the bad guy and the good guy are in the same room chumming it up and dividing the spoils courtesy of the money paid by the audience “consuming” the entertainment. Of course, outside of the match is where reality really is, but no one is dealing or talking about that.

The failure to use logic and reason to perceive reality is quite dangerous. It’s like not having the depth perception to perceive the approach of an on rushing train as your car sits on the tracks. It’s like being fascinated by the fire lapping up your stairs while not realizing that you’re in mortal danger. Such is the state of affairs in America where perceptions are shaped while our senses are dulled to the reality around us.

Black Diaspora said...

@Greg L: "This is all in an effort to shape our perceptions and to create a reality that doesn’t exist. In the meantime, the reality that actually does exist remains unaddressed."

Luntz is the sole standout in this process, but there's an army of psychologists and behaviorists on the payrolls of corporations to do what Luntz' is noted for: perception bending.

How does this differ from mind control and thought manipulation? Why aren't there laws against this sort of thing?

This control and manipulation can do more harm than false advertisement--which, as you know, has legal implications--but the media have done little or nothing to expose it.

"The fact of the matter is that if logic and intellect were the primary drivers behind decision making, there’d be a great many things that would never be accepted."

For one, the voting populace would stop voting against their interest; and for two, we'd stop the insane purchasing of multiple items, when one or two will serve just as well--each home housing three and four cars, a pickup, dirt bikes and motorcycles, a motor home, and 4 or more t.v. sets.

"Of course, once the show is over, the referee, the bad guy and the good guy are in the same room chumming .... Of course, outside of the match is where reality really is, but no one is dealing or talking about that."

You're right of course. I have long suspected this kind of collaboration between Democrats and Republicans, where both political entities know with unwavering certitude: They can only survive by appealing to their respective bases.

Knowing this, both parties agree to disagree--each party made to appear that the political or legislative outcomes that were hammered out behind closed doors were forced or coerced, when in fact they were part of a broader agreement that the voting public is never privy to.

"The failure to use logic and reason to perceive reality is quite dangerous. ... Such is the state of affairs in America where perceptions are shaped while our senses are dulled to the reality around us."

Well stated. The danger is heightened when this manipulation of perception, and this dulling of reality are done in an environment created just for that purpose--the Frank Luntz-ing of America, where he, and others like him, get paid handsomely to deceive the masses, and distort their reality--all with the hope of advancing a hidden agenda.