The Language Police: Gettin Jiggy with Frank Luntz
Published on Saturday, February 26, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
The Language Police: Gettin’ Jiggy with Frank Luntz
by Nancy Snow
If you need any more confirmation that America is the numero uno propaganda nation, look no further than the GOP language meistro Frank Luntz, who has produced a memorandum of “The 14 Words Never to Use.” Thanks to the Internet and the blogosphere, we mere mortals can get our grubby mitts on what the conservative elite persuader Luntz is doing to scrub our brains free of individual thoughts.
Luntz teases, “This memo was originally prepared exclusively for Congressional spouses because they are your eyes and ears, a one-person reality check and truth squad combined…However, by popular demand, I have included and expanded that document because effectively communicating the New American Lexicon requires you to STOP saying words and phrases that undermine your ability to educate the American people. So from today forward, YOU are the language police. From today forward, these are the words never to say again.”
Parents and teachers, cover the ears and eyes of the young ‘uns, because this could get ugly. You may have to throw out those Dick and Jane readers and start anew. Consider the first word expunged from our memory—government. It’s such a bad word to Luntz that it must be replaced by Washington. “The fact is, most Americans appreciate their local government that picks up their trash, cleans their streets, and provides police and transportation services. Washington is the problem.” This is why he tells members of Congress (and their spouses!) to remind voters that Washington is the boogey man, Washington is the problem, Washington has regulations, Washington taxes. Hmm. Something seems fishy here. Does this mean our own President hates his government job in Washington? If Washington is the problem, then why doesn’t the President, who represents Washington, just step aside and let the people rule themselves? I may be overthinking the Luntz lexicon.
But wait, there’s more! Never say privatization in reference to social security. It evokes images of fat cats on Wall Street picking our pockets. Reserve privatization for everything else related to the social good and collective security (education, health care, trade, criminal justice). The better choice is personalization and personal accounts. This sounds like ‘We The People’ have more control over our private, oops, I mean personal lives. Luntz explains: “Personalizing Social Security suggests ownership and control over your retirement savings, while privatizing it suggests a profit motive and winners and losers. BANISH PRIVATIZATION FROM YOUR LEXICON.” [Author’s note: only in reference to social security and nothing else. Privatization good, government bad.]
Another zinger Luntz offers is to NEVER say global economy/globalization/capitalism. That’s right. Never refer to the way things really are. Instead, refer to the way you’d like things to be and make that your reality. Luntz warns, “More Americans are afraid of the principle of globalization than even privatization. The reason? Globalization presents something big, something distant, and something foreign.” And I thought he was talking about my Aunt Virginia’s fruitcake. So what to use? Free market economy, free market economy, free market economy! Capitalism is a major no-no because it reminds us of a world of winners and losers. And of course we’re not supposed to think about our pocketbook realities. Better to tune in to ESPN and find out the only winners and losers we need to care about--who’s going to make it to the Sweet Sixteen during March Madness.
CNN’s Lou Dobbs won’t like this but Frank Luntz just can’t stand that word outsourcing either. “We should NEVER use the word outsourcing because we will then be asked to defend or end the practice of allowing companies to ship American jobs overseas. Rather, we should talk about the ‘root cause’ why any company would not want to hire ‘the best workers in the world.’ And the answer: ‘over-taxation, over-regulation, too much litigation, and not enough innovation or quality education.’ Because it rhymes, it will be remembered.”
Getting the picture? We need to stop using the language of what happens to real people and replace it with the language of the corporation, which has no purpose other than profit and no conscience. Luntz is particularly jiggy with trade language. He implores us to stop using “foreign” or “global” and replace it with “international.” Foreign is just too scary to patriotic nativists. In his memo, “The Eleven Steps to Effective Trade Communication,” he says that wordsmiths must appeal to America’s greatness. “Americans love being told we’re the best, that we’re number one. We will do anything—ANYTHING—to remain number one, and will oppose anything that undermines our superiority. It is essential in any discussion of trade to declare that we are ‘the greatest economic power in the world’ and that ‘we will remain the greatest economic power in the world only so long as we continue to do business with other nations.’” Anyone who opposes “international” trade should be called a “defeatist” for giving up the fight to be number one. There’s just a tiny step further here to calling anyone who questions the fairness and justice of certain trade agreements as, dare I say it, “un-American” or even “anti-American.”
The ultimate irony is that Luntz points to a foreigner (my bad) internationalist Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger as the poster he-man for the most effective way to discuss the American economy’s relationship with trade: “To those critics who are pessimistic about our economy, I say: Don’t be economic girlie men.” Luntz tells us to pump up American exceptionalism, just like Arnold, and “talk about the economy, but talk about it in terms of perseverance, stamina, and WINNING.”
So remember, do six reps of You Own It, It’s Personal, It’s Your Choice in the Free Market Economy Where Everyone’s An International Trade Winner. DO NOT READ BETWEEN THE LINES.
Nancy Snow (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an internationally-minded author, citizen and academic who teaches courses in propaganda and persuasive communications at Cal State Fullerton and the University of Southern California. She thanks Frank Luntz via the Internet for this exercise in brainscrubbing.