Transcript: Frank Luntz, Jan 22 2007
Dr. Frank Luntz; his new book Words That Work - It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear.
Thom Hartmann interviews Frank Luntz January 22 2007
[Thom Hartmann] We have with us Dr. Frank Luntz; his new book Words That Work - It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear. Frank Luntz, welcome to the program.
[Frank Luntz] It's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
[Thom Hartmann] There are a lot of people, myself included, who have worked in the advertising and marketing industry for years and years who go out of their way to avoid particular clients or not do particular types of work because they have problems or issues with the morality of misleading people. How you rationalize things like converting the estate tax into the death tax?
[Frank Luntz] Ah, that one's easy. What causes that tax to be applied?
[Thom Hartmann] Well, there's a better question. What is that tax? If I have $5 million and I decide to give it to one of my kids, the first $10,000.00 is tax free and everything after that is taxable. The inheritance, you know, in fact, it's taxable, fully taxable as income. If I die, that event forces that transfer of that wealth, but it's taxable actually at a much lower rate right now. But it's still, it's my inheritance that's being passed along. It's the transfer of assets from one person to another. It can happen whether a person is alive or dead.
[Frank Luntz] If I die. That's the key word. If I die. That tax never happens, 0% of the time, unless what?
[Thom Hartmann] No, that tax happens 100% of the time when a person transfers their assets from one person to another.
[Frank Luntz] It's not called a death tax if you transfer your assets. It's only called a death tax when you die.
[Thom Hartmann] Right, if you do it when you die you actually get a lower tax rate than if you do it while you're alive.
[Frank Luntz] When you die. That's why it's a death tax.
[Thom Hartmann] No come on, let's be honest here, it's a death tax because your polling found that people were more supportive of it when you called it a death tax than when you called it an inheritance tax.
[Frank Luntz] It's why the Democrats created Medicaid as part of the Medicare package, because they realized people couldn't tell the difference between the two, even though the two programs are completely different.
[Thom Hartmann] So…
[Frank Luntz] It's why Armed Services was called what it was, and so I got in there.
[Thom Hartmann] So you're suggesting that any time language is used to deceive people that's OK if it accomplishes your goals.
[Frank Luntz] No, it's an issue of the same people, George Lakoff, I assume you've had him on your show.
[Thom Hartmann] I know George Lakoff.
[Frank Luntz] George Lakoff does what I do. I don't think he does it as well, but he does what I do.
[Thom Hartmann] I would suggest to you that he doesn't, that George Lakoff, give me an example of George Lakoff using language to deliberately confuse people as opposed to illuminate them.
[Frank Luntz] He had another name for the death tax that I thought was absolutely ridiculous; I'm trying to remember what it is. It's actually in the book somewhere. This is a guy who actually says to Democrats that they need to do what I do. And this stuff is in his book. And by the way, I read his book. It's interesting to me to watch how people who probably listen to your station will completely reject what comes out of the Republicans rather than trying to learn from it. Every time Lakoff produces a book, I buy it. Every time that Pelosi speaks on CNN or MSNBC or ABC, NBC, CBS, I watch it. I watch an hour of C-SPAN. I don't watch the Republicans speaking, I watch the Democrats speaking, so that I can understand from their perspective. Go on Huffington Post today.
[Thom Hartmann] You know, in your book, George Lakoff, err, George Lakoff! Frank Luntz, how did we get off on that? In your book, Frank Luntz, "Words That Work", you suggest that the complete works of George Orwell are writing this, reading this essay "Politics and English language" by George Orwell, Orwell says in that essay, "Modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words…" to produce "sheer humbug," basically.
Again, you know, back to, you've suggested that the word gaming should be used instead of the word gambling. Gaming is what you do when you're playing ScrabbleTM; gambling is what you do when there's money on the table. Again, why should language which conveys a different meaning to people be used when ultimately the goal is economic?
[Frank Luntz] And your problem is with all of the people who go to Las Vegas?
[Thom Hartmann] No, my problem is with the use of language for economic purposes.
[Frank Luntz] Everyone calls it gaming, now; everyone but you. The meaning has been part, if you read the book, it's been part of the lexicon now for 20 or 25 years. You're arguing over something that happened decades ago. I'm just merely describing the process by which it happened.
[Thom Hartmann] But…
[Frank Luntz] It's not an issue with language. I understand why people do. And by the way, there are clients who I have refused to work for because I did not morally believe. I've stayed out of the social issues because I don't want to get in, I don't think that any kind of messaging or language is helpful in that. I think most of the debates there are very destructive and very harsh and I don't want any piece of it.
[Thom Hartmann] But issues where it comes to protecting the, or advancing the interests of the very wealthy and the very powerful in this country just fine with you. Is that because you believe in them or because they pay better?
[Frank Luntz] Let me say, I love democracy and I love the free market system because I think it works for almost everybody including you.
[Thom Hartmann] Democracy and the free market system are two different things, you realize; one is a political system, the other's an economic system.
[Frank Luntz] You get a chance to do this interview because we have freedom of speech. You get a chance to be on the air because someone around you is making a profit. I assure you, if the owner of your station were losing money day after day, and not making it someplace else, you won't be on the air. That's the great thing about the free market system.
[Thom Hartmann] I'm an advocate of both democracy and capitalism too; we're not gonna find any disagreement there. The question is, do you advocate for the most powerful and wealthy interests in this country, for example the Walton family who largely funded this whole death tax thing, do you advocate for them because you believe in their cause; you believe that there should be an oligarchy essentially in the United States, or do you do it because they pay better than anybody else?
[Frank Luntz] Do you think there's something wrong with Wal-Mart? Is that what you're telling me?
[Thom Hartmann] I am suggesting that the heirs of the Walton family financing a campaign to change the language around the inheritance tax so that the average person, who will never be affected by it, is caused to think that they'll be affected by it. Yes it's fundamentally immoral.
[Frank Luntz] And what Wal-Mart does, and how it treats its employees, you're going to tell me is immoral.
[Thom Hartmann] I haven't brought up that issue. What I'm suggesting is what you're doing with regard to the inheritance tax, what you did with regard to the inheritance tax, calling it the death tax is fundamentally immoral. And I'm curious how you rationalize that; if you rationalize that as, "Well, you know, they pay the bills really well and I need the money and I want to raise my kids and have a good family", or that you think is the right thing to do?
[Frank Luntz] Because it's the death tax; because you're taxed when you die. And it bothers you so much that that term has really made its way into the public lexicon, because people looked at it and examined it and said, "You know what? The tax only happens when people die; therefore I think it's a legitimate way". And now let me surprise you. I don't work with the Walton family. I'm one of the people who works for Wake-Up Wal-Mart, because I have an issue with the way the Wal-Mart corporation behaves. I don't think they treat their employees correctly. I think their employees should get health care. I think that their time should not be moved from morning to night arbitrarily. I think that people have a right to a private life beyond what they work for in the public.
I support the Nature Conservancy. I've done environmental work to ensure that are still open spaces in America and that everything isn't built up.
[Thom Hartmann] And Hitler loved dogs. I mean. You know, we can…
[Frank Luntz] So what you're saying is, I could never do enough for you because you've made a judgment because you don't like some of the language I've done.
[Thom Hartmann] What I'm saying is that the things that you're most famous for and the things you brag are those - the Contract with America…
[Frank Luntz] And you don't even give me a chance to speak. That's the amazing thing.
[Thom Hartmann] Well, when you're filibustering me and, you know, we only have 2 minutes left, by your definition.
[Frank Luntz] I've done four interviews this morning and I've done about 15 on this book and you have spoken longer in your questions than any other person that has interviewed me, including NPR, and by the way, including Air America, which I know you support.
[Thom Hartmann] Which I'm actually syndicated by. Perhaps I should consider that a badge of honor; I'm not sure. You said you had ten minutes. If you want to make this a 30 minute interview I'll let you filibuster me at length.
[Frank Luntz] I don't, because I've got other stations that are more interested, instead of putting forward their point of view, they're more interested in learning more about the book.
[Thom Hartmann] Well, I'm really curious to find out how you, when you're taking these positions, justify it yourself. Do you really believe it or is it about being paid?
[Frank Luntz] I absolute believe in, as I said, which I know you don't, I believe in the free market system and I'm going to help those companies that employ millions of Americans. I'm going to help them be successful in selling their products, in selling their services. I'm going to make more things available to more Americans, more job opportunities and I don't believe in the government and so, much of the stuff that I do is very hostile to government control. I believe in the free market when it comes to health, I believe in the free market when it comes to employment and those are the things that I work for in my political work. And in my corporate work I choose to work for corporations that I believe in, and I won't work, in fact work against those corporations that I don't, such as Wal-Mart.
[Thom Hartmann] OK. Dr. Frank Luntz, his book "Words That Work - It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear". Frank Luntz, thanks for being with us this morning.
[Frank Luntz] My pleasure.