Luntz's "Occupy" Advice Reveals GOP Weaknesses — And One Major Strength

December 02, 2011 9:14 am ET — Alan Pyke

Chris Moody's reporting on right-wing word masseuse Frank Luntz's advice to Republicans on how to talk about Occupy Wall Street has lit up the political parts of the internet, and for good reason. With Occupy calling renewed attention to the mountain of evidence that supply-side economics has failed the vast majority of Americans, Luntz is telling the GOP how to avoid the hard work of reassessing their economic policy positions.

Instead of all that introspection, he recommends changing the words they use to talk about the same old ideas. Don't say "capitalism," say "economic freedom." Don't say "tax the rich," say "take from the rich." Replace "middle class" with "hardworking taxpayers" so that voters who have figured out the GOP doesn't work for the middle class don't laugh at you.

This is what Luntz does. Whether on immigration or the estate tax or health care or financial regulatory reform, Luntz pops up to offer sanitized, focus-grouped code words to save Republicans when right-wing ideas are losing the public debate. His interventions have proven very effective, so while this report proves Occupy has successfully reshaped the economic conversation, progressives also have to take Luntz's involvement as evidence that the argument is far from won. In particular, here's one element of the OWS word doctoring revealed yesterday that suggests Republicans retain the upper hand in a crucial way:

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."

That's the central deception Republican free-market fundamentalists have pushed relentlessly since the beginning of the Obama presidency. Most of Luntz's advice amounts to, 'Retreat! Empathize! Retreat!!' But on the provably false claim that Washington Democrats are to blame for the economic hardship imposed by Wall Street greed and deregulatory naivete, Luntz says Republicans should keep the pressure on. The core deception about the financial collapse is alive and well, and Luntz sees it as a sort of magic bullet for conservatives hemmed in by Occupy's success.

Republicans know they don't have to acknowledge that the economy is (slowly) growing when so many are still struggling. But they're seeking to sidestep the entire question of Wall Street's culpability in the creation of those hardships, because otherwise they'll appear to be defending Wall Street. That's not a good look.

Yet it's also an irrefutable reality. Congressional Republicans have been Wall Street's chief Washington defenders ever since the financial crisis began unfolding (and the chief recipients of Wall Street money since Dodd-Frank passed). Luntz knows this better than most. He was the one who told Republicans to kill Democratic efforts at reforming Wall Street by linking the reforms to the term "permanent bailout."