Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
As we head into a presidential election year, Dante Alighieri’s famous inscription on the Gate of Hell seems appropriate. Once again, Frank Luntz –Republican pollster, strategist, consultant, and cunning linguist – is setting forth the rhetorical recommendations that will be used in shaping the talking points used by Republican candidates all across the nation, from those seeking the Presidency, to those seeking seats in the House or the Senate, to those seeking seats in state legislatures and even city councils. Dante’s epic poem comes to mind because operators like Luntz have always been with us, even in the 14th century, where they were just as reviled as they are now.
It was Luntz who famously dubbed the inheritance tax the “Death Tax.” This phrase, which makes the government appear so petty that it would take the money of dead people was adopted by virtually all Republicans and used to secure the votes of millions of Americans who will never have to pay such a tax. It did, however, make it more difficult for the government to provide services that benefit all of those very same Americans.
All of the current Republican presidential candidates are promising to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act, aka “Obamacare.” It does not matter that Presidents, by themselves, have no authority to repeal anything, this idea is very popular among the Republican base because they have been taught to believe that the healthcare act was a “government takeover.” It was nothing of the sort, but Luntz recommended that phrase to be used by Republican politicians, which they all dutifully did.
In what has to be one of the most brazen assertions of rhetorical criticism, Luntz has even redefined the term “Orwellian“:
To be “Orwellian” is to speak with absolute clarity, to be succinct, to explain what the event is, to talk about what triggers something happening… and to do so without any pejorative whatsoever.
Luntz is at it again. He is wisely advising Republican politicians not to criticize the Occupy Wall Street protesters but to simply appease them by saying “I get it, I understand your frustration.” Entrepreneurs are now to be referred to as “Job Creators,” even though they’ve been uncreating jobs for the last ten years. “Capitalism,” which is understandably being questioned, should now be called “economic freedom,” even though its current formulation for the 99 percent is “indentured servitude.” According to Luntz, “Government Spending,” should now be referred to as “Government Waste,” paved roads, education for our children, safe neighborhoods, and healthcare for the poor and elderly be damned.
Dante knew exactly where in Hell Luntz belongs. Of his nine circles of ever-increasing depravity, Dante places those who knowingly commit fraud in the next to last circle. Among them are corrupt politicians and those who advise them. According to Dante, the only thing worse than fraud is treachery, which is assigned to the ninth circle. Among the several characters in the ninth circle are Cain (not Herman Cain – he’s appears to be guilty of lust, which places him in the only slightly bad second circle) and Judas Iscariot. Cain, who is famous for killing his brother Abel, committing humanity’s first murder, and lying about it.
We all know what Judas did.
So, the best that can be said about Frank Luntz is that although he’s bad, he’s not quite as bad as Cain or Judas. I wonder how he might spin that.
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