Wednesday, October 12, 2005

How Stupid Do Republicans Think We Are?

[[C A M P A I G N S]] * The answer is extremely. And they want to keep us stupid, by repackaging flawed conservative proposals (privatizing Social Security, tax giveaways to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, etc.) in language that convinces the “common man”--the one onto whose shoulders an increasing amount of the nation’s debt has been shifted ever since 2000--to ignore White House and congressional scandals, dismiss skyrocketing government budget deficits, and forget the Bush administration’s inexcusable, stumbling response to Hurricane Katrina, and believe instead that he’s better off now than he was five years ago. Drink the Kool-Aid folks, GOP strategists say, and you’ll feel better.

Courtesy of Mark Nickolas’ hard-hitting blog,, comes word of a communications playbook, prepared for 2006 Republican office seekers by GOP pollster Frank Luntz, that has fallen into Democratic hands. Everything you need to know about the Bush party’s cynical approach to campaigning and the basement level of its respect for the U.S. electorate is shown in the subhead of Luntz’s e-book:

In the world of GOP obfuscators, apologists, prevaricators, and cronies, every day is September 12, 2001. The belief is there’s nothing that can’t accomplished by relating it to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Every time George W. Bush finds himself down in the polls or on the losing side of a legislative battle, he trots out the old saw about how “everything changed after 9/11” ... and so we have to swallow Medicaid cuts, or restrictions on our civil liberties, or a $200 million price tag for infrastructural repairs along the Gulf Coast. In a section of Luntz’s playbook titled “The Ten Communications Keys of a Stronger, Healthier Economy,” the pollster advises GOP candidates that:

September 11th changed everything. So start with 9/11. This is the context that explains and justifies why we have $500 billion dollar deficits, why the stock market tanked, why unemployment climbed to 6% and why we are still in a rebuilding mode. Much of the public anger can be immediately pacified if they are reminded that we would not be in this situation today if 9/11 had not happened, and that it is unfair to blame the current political leadership or corporate America for the consequences of that day. ...

Without the context of 9-11, you will be blamed for the deficit. The deficit is a touchy subject for both Republicans and Democrats--your supporters are inherently turned off to the idea of fiscal irresponsibility, and Democrats see nothing but hypocrisy. The trick then is to contextualize the deficit inside of 9-11 and the war in Iraq, which Republicans sometimes do, but not early enough in the answer. ...

Link the war on terror to the economy. As the emotional reaction to 9-11 subsides, it is important to remind Americans of the more tangible impact the events of that day continue to exert on their wallets and pocketbooks. It’s clear that they understand this even if it is something they themselves would rather not articulate.

But the cynical Republican approach to pulling the wool over Americans’ eyes doesn’t stop there. Luntz goes on to recommend that GOP candidates appropriate national symbols--the U.S. flag, the French-made Statue of Liberty, and the American Bald Eagle--for their exclusive use; stop talking about the end of Big Government (“Americans have come to accept and expect some positive role for government in making things better [we lost that one])”; blame deficits and the escalating national debt--more than $2 trillion higher now than when Bush took office--not on the prez’s tax cuts, but on overspending by the government in D.C. (even though Republicans are the government in D.C., and Bush still hasn’t vetoed a single spending bill); blunt talk of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or elsewhere by “address[ing] your concern for the environment”; and refuse to allow Democrats to recast “values” and “faith” outside of a religious context (“Several speakers at the Democratic convention addressed the value of faith--but without overt religious appeals. In fact, they specifically attacked those who speak of religion or spirituality, an indirect assault on much of the GOP base. A majority of swing voters do not attend church weekly, and this appeal was, well, appealing...”).

The sad part of all this, of course, is that a certain blindered proportion of Americans inevitably fall for such excuses and ass-protecting arguments, despite evidence of their erroneousness. However, with Bush administration outrages mounting (have Karl Rove or Scooter Libby been indicted yet?), Democrats seem convinced they can counter GOP prattle by railing in unison against the Republican Party’s “culture of corruption.” Which is why they’re planning an early release of “their platform and the major policies they will promote on the campaign trail next year,” according to the D.C. paper Roll Call. And with independents strongly favoring Dems over GOPers for 2006 (read more about that here and here), Frank Luntz’s advice to Republican pols and wannabes that they hoodwink their way into office may spell their return to minorityhood.

ADDENDUM: And the bad news for Bush just keeps on comin’. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that, “though it has been weeks since Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast; since gas prices began spiking to record highs; and since Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq, held her antiwar vigil outside President Bush’s Texas ranch, ... the fortunes of the Bush administration and the Republican Party have not yet begun to recover.” For the first time in this poll, the prez’s approval rating “has sunk below 40 percent”--to 39 percent--“while the percentage believing the country is heading in the right direction has dipped below 30 percent.” What’s more, “with 13 months until the 2006 congressional elections, 48 percent say they prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress, compared with 39 percent who want the Republicans to control Capitol Hill. In fact, that nine-point difference is the largest margin between the parties in the 11 years the NBC/Journal poll has been tracking this question.” Oh, and just 29 percent of respondents say that Harriet Miers is qualified for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

READ MORE:Democrats See Dream of ’06 Victory Taking Form,” by Robin Toner (The New York Times); “For GOP, Election Anxiety Mounts,” by Charles Babington and Chris Cillizza (The Washington Post); “Democrats Are Advised to Broaden Appeal,” by Robin Toner (The New York Times); “O’Reilly: ‘If Rove Gets Indicted, That Could Bring Down the Bush Administration’” (Think Progress); “Do Democrats Need Their Own Gingrich?,” by Terry M. Neal (The Washington Post); “Dean Aims to Overhaul Democrats,” by Ron Fournier (AP).

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