Thursday, May 28, 2009

What a Luntz

It’s hard to imagine a bigger putz -- or a more appropriately named person -- than Frank Luntz. Though it seems he works for Republicans these days, I first came to know him when he appeared to be a nonpartisan charlatan on various cable shows, introducing things like those “dials” that focus groups use to judge every nanosecond of a debate. (“The crowd clearly didn’t like McCain’s use of an indefinite article there.” That kind of ingenious thing.)

Mostly, he’s a self-proclaimed “language person,” the kind who turns “global warming” into “climate change” and such. Samantha Bee of The Daily Show once said, “Luntz has made a brilliant career spraying perfume on dog turds.”

You can’t say Luntz lacks chutzpah. He once argued that the term “Orwellian” describes the good guys: “To be ‘Orwellian’ is to speak with absolute clarity, to be succinct, to explain what the event is . . .” Uh, right.

Last weekend, he was interviewed in the New York Times by Deborah Solomon. Check out these two useful exchanges:
Who paid you to write the health care memo?
It’s not relevant.

Where did you grow up?
Who cares?
Thanks for showing up, Frank. I hope we didn’t wake you.

Luntz works most often for the conservative side, but chipping away at the integrity of language has deep precedent all along the spectrum. I think about political correctness, and George Carlin’s charting of the evolution of the term shell shock (“Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables. Almost sounds like the guns themselves.”) as it morphed into battle fatigue to operational exhaustion (“Sounds like something that might happen to your car.”) and finally to post-traumatic stress disorder (“Still eight syllables, but we've added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon.”)

When is your next book coming out?
In September. It’s called “What Americans Really Want … Really: The Truth About Our Hopes, Dreams and Fears.”

It’s better without the subtitle, which detracts from the wit of the two “really” ’s.
Well, I wrote “Words That Work,” and the subtitle is “It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear,” and that is the most important single line I have ever written.
The most important single line he’s ever written was “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.” I've written better lines on grocery lists. (For example: "Get frozen chicken fingers.") Luntz's best-ever effort is just a slightly repackaged, more cynical version of “tell them what they want to hear,” which was spoken by whichever caveman first mastered speech. For this, Luntz gets big bucks? With this guy on retainer, it's no wonder 98% of politicians sound like morons.

Lastly, we get:
Are you married?
No. I may have perfected the language that gets people to vote certain ways, and buy certain products, but I haven’t perfected the language to get some woman to buy me.
It might not help that, if the picture accompanying his interview is any indication, Luntz allows himself to be dressed by a blind, gay circus clown.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re Luntz and his guff afraid, be really afraid. Too many Americans really want to hear it.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Kraig Smith said...

So what you're REALLY saying is that you have a less than perfect feeling about him.

In the next week or two the Met will finally be making good on its promise of "staff headcount reductions." I've been told by a reliable source that this means "letting people go."

**Bonus** The authentication code for posting this was "inglisms" which could very well be a term to describe such nonsense.

5:34 PM  
Blogger Emily said...

Just wanted to let you know that I've been laughing about this post for the past week. I might actually start to enjoy DS's column if it included your commentary.

7:37 PM  

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