During his press conference on Friday, President Obama pondered why the GOP's "number one priority, the one unifying principle in the Republican Party at the moment is making sure that 30 million people don't have health care." But in attributing the 40 Affordable Care Act repeal votes, the threats to shut down the government over Obamacare funding, the tens of millions of dollars in misleading ads and another summer of town hall rage to the GOP's "ideological fixation," the President was only partly right.
At its core, the Republicans' scorched-earth opposition to Obamacare has never been so much about "freedom" or "limited government" or any other right-wing ideological buzzword as it has been about political power, pure and simple. Now as for the past 20 years, Republicans have feared not that health care reform would fail the American people, but that it would succeed. Along with Social Security and Medicare, successful health care reform would provide the third and final pillar of Americans' social safety net, all brought you by the Democratic Party. To put it another way, the GOP was never really concerned about a "government takeover of health care", "rationing", "the doctor-patient relationship" or mythical "death panels," but that an American public grateful for access to health care could provide Democrats with an enduring majority for years to come
Is our Village Media really so stupid, so full of their own punditry that they don't see what's happening before our very eyes?
It seems so. Here's Sen. Club for Growth Toomey introducing this absurd concept the day after the so-called "fiscal cliff" deal was reached. In this interview, he leads off by saying "Republicans should be able to tolerate a 'temporary, partial government shutdown' in order to get what they want on the debt ceiling.
Um, no. Steve Benen caught this right away after John Cornyn echoed the stupidity in a Thursday op-ed. Here's what Cornyn said in an op-ed that Matthew Yglesias rightly called "Orwellian":
It may be necessary to partially shut down the government in order to secure the long-term fiscal well being of our country, rather than plod along the path of Greece, Italy and Spain. President Obama needs to take note of this reality and put forward a plan to avoid it immediately.
Just at a surface level, this is ridiculous -- to prevent possible trouble in the future, Cornyn intends to cause deliberate trouble now? But even putting that aside, I'm not sure if the senator understands the nature of the controversy. Failing to raise the debt limit -- that is, choosing not to pay the bills for money that's already been spent -- doesn't just "partially shut down the government," it pushes the nation into default and trashes the full faith and credit of the United States.
Toomey seems to think we can just stop paying some bills and pay others in order to stave the wolves off at the door. He's wrong, of course. Let's not forget that the last debt ceiling standoff cost us one rating agency ding which didn't result in any real penalties. The same would not be true of a second occurrence.
Republicans are trying to confuse people by conflating the budget continuing resolution and the sequester with the debt ceiling. Sadly, they will succeed if our reporters don't start correcting the intentional misimpression. It's clear that Frank Luntz has given Republicans their talking points and they are running with them.
It's the job of Republicans to obfuscate and confuse the issues. It's the job of the press to make the facts clear, just as Steve Benen did in his post on Friday. That means that David Gregory, Howie Kurtz, George Stephanopoulis and the rest of the Villagers cannot continue to simply let these threats of a 'partial, temporary government shutdown' be conflated with the debt ceiling increase, which has nothing to do with ongoing, already appropriated spending.
Here are your talking points, Villagers, from someone who is not Frank Luntz:
Failure to raise the debt ceiling will blow Republican hopes of spending cuts out of the water, because interest rates will immediately rise. In other words, failing to raise the ceiling will place the United States in the same position as Greece and other European countries as the United States becomes awash in higher interest rate payments.
The debt ceiling and the budget resolution are NOT the same and should not be treated the same.
The sequester and the budget resolution are negotiable; the debt ceiling is not.
Hammer at the facts instead of letting opinion govern the debate.
One of the things that was very difficult for me when I made reentry to civilian life after working on a high-powered campaign was how oblivious most voters are to the sophistication of the political and corporate messaging machine. People simply didn't believe me when I tried to discuss it. See, most people see themselves as invulnerable to that type of programming, and it's easier to pretend it doesn't exist. The fact that Frank Luntz is still working is proof enough, isn't it? The owners will use every tool they can to win:
You're going to hear a lot about "shared sacrifice" from the NHL in the days and weeks to come. That's the word from inside a secret emergency PR focus group, in which a top Republican Party strategist tested pro-ownership messages on a captive audience of hockey fans. One of those fans shared the documents with us, for a sneak preview of the propaganda campaign the NHL will be unloading on the public as the lockout drags on. Here's a look at the bullshit on the menu before the league serves it to you.
* * *
"When I say 'the NHL,' what's the first thing that comes to mind?"
That's how 30 people were greeted as they filed into a comfortable, well-lit room in a nondescript office building in a DC suburb Friday evening. They were there not because they were genuinely eager to give their opinions on the lockout, but because they were being paid—$100 for three hours of their time, three hours' worth of feedback to help the NHL shape its message to get the public back on its side.
As the lockout claimed its first games last week, the NHL hurriedly turned to the experts on shaping public debate: Luntz Global, the multinational market research firm that proudly proclaims, "It's not what you say, it's what they hear." CEO and founder Frank Luntz is one of the Republican Party's chief strategists, and he appears regularly on CBS and Fox News as an analyst. But his biggest impact has been behind the scenes. He's played a key role in framing the GOP's message over the years. When global warming was recast as "climate change," that was Frank Luntz. When the estate tax became a "death tax," that was Frank Luntz. When the Affordable Health Care for America Act was held up as "a government takeover," that was Frank Luntz, too.
[...] Luntz Global bills itself as leaders in "language research, creation, and innovation," and language is at the forefront of Frank Luntz's strategy. (Words That Work is the title of his book.) After a discussion or a video, Luntz would disappear behind the one-way mirror, presumably to check the results of the dial testing. Then he would re-emerge, and ask participants to listen to him give a speech as if he were an NHL executive. His speech would use the key terms that rated well with dial testing, and repeatedly hammer them home.
From the content of these speeches, one participant gleaned the phrases and concepts the NHL might use going forward. The league is eager to portray individual players as not in step with the union, claiming that the majority of them don't believe or don't buy into the rhetoric used by Donald Fehr and NHLPA leaders, and that they just want to play hockey. "The players are not the enemy," the NHL may very well tell you. "The union is the problem."
As for the owners' slogan, one laughable phrase kept coming up: "Shared sacrifice."
"Maybe we asked for too much at first," Luntz's mock-NHL-exec speech went, "but we're willing to give. The NHLPA has to be willing to give as well, if we're going to give the fans back their hockey. There's no way we're going to do this without both sides bringing something to the table."
Geeze, it sounds like the Obama administration is using Luntz, too! "Skin in the game" and "shared sacrifice," anyone?
The NHL is losing the publicity war. While most fans categorize the negotiations as the rich vs. the richer, there's almost no sympathy for Bettman and the owners for promulgating their third lockout in 18 years. That's a perception they're desperate to change. While concessions will come at the bargaining table, the court of public opinion will dictate which side feels the most pressure to compromise. And, of course, when hockey does come back, the league doesn't want fans to feel so bitter that they stay away from the game. That's where Luntz's research fits in. Most fans, ignorant to the ins and outs of revenue sharing and the like, just want hockey back. It's within the league's power to win the PR war, and portray the NHLPA as the villains behind the work stoppage.
As the research session came to an end, the group was asked to respond again to the first question from their packets. On a scale of 1 to 10, whom did they side with, players or management? One participant gauged the mood in the room, and spoke with his fellow guinea pigs afterward.
"No question," he says. "The group had a much better opinion of the owners."
Warning: This Penn and Teller video is not suitable for work!
I don't know about you, but I've had enough of Republican policy architects appearing on the airwaves as if they were dispassionate bystanders. And Frank Luntz is perhaps the worst (see here, here, here and here). He doesn't simply measure public opinion - he molds and shapes it. So I think it's important to contact CBS News and tell them what we think of hiring someone with a history of such rotten, anti-American agendas:
CBS News has reportedly hired Frank Luntz, the Republican strategist and pollster best known for helping Republicans craft often-deceptive messaging to torpedo liberal policies. In his post announcing the move, Politico media reporter Dylan Byers writes that Luntz will "make a number of appearances across the network between now and Election Day." Luntz's hiring comes only a few months after New York Times Magazine contributor Robert Draper reported that Luntz orchestrated a 2009 meeting where prominent Republicans formulated a plan to win back Congress and the White House.
In his book Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives, Draper reported that Luntz "organized a dinner" on Obama's inauguration night featuring a handful of "the Republican Party's most energetic thinkers." The attendees -- which included current vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan -- reportedly emerged from the nearly four hour dinner "almost giddily" after having agreed on "a way forward." According to Draper, the Republican plan involved showing "united and unyielding opposition to the president's economic policies," with an eventual goal of defeating Obama and taking back the Senate in 2012:
Luntz had organized the dinner - telling the invitees, "You'll have nothing to do that night, and right now we don't matter anyway, so let's all be irrelevant together." He had selected these men because they were among the Republican Party's most energetic thinkers - and because they all got along with Luntz, who could be difficult. Three times during the 2008 election cycle, Sean Hannity had thrown him off the set at Fox Studios. The top Republican in the House, Minority Leader John Boehner, had nurtured a dislike of Luntz for more than a decade. No one had to ask why Boehner wasn't at the Caucus Room that evening.
[...]The dinner lasted nearly four hours. They parted company almost giddily. The Republicans had agreed on a way forward: Go after Geithner. (And indeed Kyl did, the next day: "Would you answer my question rather than dancing around it - please?")
Show united and unyielding opposition to the president's economic policies. (Eight days later, Minority Whip Cantor would hold the House Republicans to a unanimous No against Obama's economic stimulus plan.)
Begin attacking vulnerable Democrats on the airwaves. (The first National Republican Congressional Committee attack ads would run in less than two months.)
Win the spear point of the House in 2010. Jab Obama relentlessly in 2011. Win the White House and the Senate in 2012.
"You will remember this day," Newt Gingrich proclaimed to the others as they said goodbye. "You'll remember this days as the day the seeds of 2012 were sown." [Do Not Ask What Good We Do, pp. xvi-xix]
The inauguration night dinner was also reported in Election 2012: The Battle Begins by Real Clear Politics reporters Tom Bevan and Carl Cannon.Now, less than four years after this meeting, CBS will be inviting Luntz onto their airwaves as an "analyst."
Smart move! Mayors Against Illegal Guns hired Frank Luntz to poll a sample made up of 50 percent NRA members, and found a real split between their support for sensible gun laws - and that of the rabid NRA leadership. It will be oh-so-interesting to hear what the usual talk-radio suspects have to say about this:
Mayors Against Illegal Guns today released the findings of a survey by GOP pollster Frank Luntz showing that NRA members and gun owners overwhelmingly support a variety of laws designed to keep firearms out of dangerous hands, even as the Washington gun lobby prepares to spend unprecedented millions supporting candidates who pledge to oppose any changes to U.S. gun laws. The poll also dispels the myth among many Washington pundits that there is a lack of public support for common-sense measures that would help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and keep Americans safe. Among the survey’s key findings:
87 percent of NRA members agree that support for 2nd Amendment rights goes hand-in-hand with keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.
There is very strong support for criminal background checks:
74 percent support requiring criminal background checks of anyone purchasing a gun.
79 percent support requiring gun retailers to perform background checks on all employees – a measure recently endorsed by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms industry.
NRA members strongly support allowing states to set basic eligibility requirements for people who want to carry concealed, loaded guns in public places. By contrast, the NRA leadership’s top federal legislative priority – national reciprocity for concealed carry permits – would effectively eliminate these requirements by forcing every state to allow non-residents to carry concealed guns even if they would not qualify for a local permit.
NRA members support many common state eligibility rules for concealed carrying:
75 percent believe concealed carry permits should only be granted to applicants who have not committed any violent misdemeanors, including assault.
74 percent believe permits should only be granted to applicants who have completed gun safety training.
68 percent believe permits should only be granted to applicants who do not have prior arrests for domestic violence.
63 percent believe permits should only be granted to applicants 21 years of age or older.
The NRA rank and file also supports barring people on terror watch lists from buying guns (71 percent) and believe the law should require gun owners to alert police to lost and stolen guns (65 percent).
With the Affordable Care Act having passed constitutional muster, Republicans are once again targeting the Internal Revenue Service in order to deny funding for the ACA's implementation. Hoping to repeat the GOP's successful 1990's war on the agency, Republicans like Maine Governor Paul LePage are resurrecting terms like "the new Gestapo" to slander the IRS, and even suggesting “they’re headed in the direction of killing a lot of people.”. Of course, LePage's grotesque smear isn't just disturbingly wrong on its face. It also suggests that in 2006 Mitt Romney must have unleashed a goose-stepping Massachusetts Department of Revenue after the passage of his virtually identical Bay State individual mandate.
As you will recall, the Affordable Care Act is forecast by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to reduce the U.S. national debt. It does this in part through $500 billion in new tax revenue over 10 years. But as it turns out, penalties for noncompliance with the individual mandate to purchase insurance represent only a small fraction of those funds. The CBO estimates only 4 million people (less than 2 percent of the population) will pay that penalty, producing just $65 billion in the first decade of the law.
Which is very similar to the experience in Massachusetts, where six years ago Governor Romney signed what MIT professor and adviser Jonathan Gruber called "the same f--king bill." Enjoying the consistent support of Bay State residents by a 2 to 1 margin, the bill Governor Mitt Romney signed into law lowered the uninsured rate from around 10 percent to a national low of two percent. In March, a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) showed that universal coverage in Massachusetts is indeed making people there healthier. And as it turns out, only 48,000 Bay State residents out of a population 6.6 million opted to pay the penalty ranging from $228 to $1,212 a year rather than acquire health insurance under Mitt Romney's version of the individual mandate. That's less than half the national rate projected by the CBO.
Romney "supported it on the state level. Which means if you didn't like it in Massachusetts, you could move to another state," Rubio said on Bloomberg Television. "What are people supposed to do? Leave the United States now because of Barack Obama's brilliant idea to stick the IRS on millions of people? More importantly, the state of Massachusetts doesn't have the IRS. The IRS will follow you. Do people understand what this means?"
In his Saturday radio address, Maine Republican LePage claimed that he does. As the Portland Press Herald reported:
LePage said the court decision has "made America less free."
"We the people have been told there is no choice," he said. "You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo -- the IRS."
Asked if he had a sense of what the Gestapo did during the Second World War, LePage said, "Yeah, they killed a lot of people." Asked whether the IRS "was headed in the direction of killing a lot of people," LePage answered: "Yeah." (audio here)
If that kind of incendiary rhetoric sounds familiar, it should. Because back in the 1990's, Congressional Republicans used it to undermine both the Internal Revenue Service itself and the tax revenue it is supposed to collect.
Let me stipulate this up front: I don't hate anyone. There are people I dislike. There are people I scorn. There are people I believe have lost the right to ever have a national platform again. But "hate" is a word I reserve for concepts, not people. I hate willful ignorance and bigotry (which I find go hand in hand); I hate liars, endless wars, poverty, the exploitation of those perceived as being different or weak, your typical bleeding heart liberal stuff.
But people are different. It is the simplistic mind that thinks that people can be neatly categorized into all bad or all good. Dick Cheney and I are far more sympatico on gay rights than arguably President Obama and I are. Even Adolf Hitler had a girlfriend who adored him and was willing to die with him. Clearly, there are aspects of lovableness in even the most repellant of human figures.
What I’m hoping the lesson is: People are complex and can hold different views and still be moral actors — essentially the message that Jon Stewart talked about during his Rally for Sanity.
Maybe you already grasp that concept, because you have good friends or loving relatives with beliefs that are wildly divergent from your own. But I tend to think my experience is more typical: I lived in a little bubble surrounded by people who think more or less like me. And when I considered people with opposing viewpoints I would turn into a fabulist, concocting an entire narrative of who they were and what they were like — and what they were like was yucko. Because I was not really interacting with them. I just thought I was, because, hey, look, there they are on the TV, or there’s that guy’s post in the comments section. But that stuff doesn’t count. Meeting people counts. Talking counts.
So yes, I love to loathe people, but my “Daily Show” experience complicated all that and sort of spoiled my fun. When I’m exposed to views that I dislike, I try to remind myself of the human being behind those views and to cut that person some slack. I hope that they would do the same. I think we should all fight hard for what we believe in, but I’d like to put in a request for some general slack cutting – especially as we move deeper into what is sure to be a very heated campaign season.
I see a fairly big and erroneous assumption in Rubens' realization. What I (and I suspect, Rubens) define as "moral actors" do not necessarily match up with how Paul Ryan defines it. And moreover, one can be the cuddliest, most lovable person in personal interactions, but if one advocates or implements actions that hurt people, what measure matters the most? I have met the same deathly earnest liberals that Howard Kurtz want Rubens to bring up for the sake of equivalence, but their lack of humor or personal jerkiness is mitigated in my mind because they're advocating for things that are for the common good. If anyone should have some slack cut, it's them.
This is the banality of evil that Hannah Arendt warned about. And (sadly, ensuring that no one from this site ever gets on Reliable Sources) that includes Howard Kurtz. His entire media career is based on not looking at the consequences of actions, but of the messaging. He clutches his metaphorical pearls over news anchors getting upset over getting talking points but never considers that the interviewee was not answering the questions posed to him. He becomes indignant at Al Sharpton covering the Trayvon Martin shooting because he flew down to Florida to support Trayvon's parents and call for an investigation, but says nothing at the Fox News influence and coordination of tea party events. Each and every column he did for the Washington Post and does for the Daily Beast glosses over the very real and very evil ramifications and consequences of these actions in exchange for more self-important navel-gazing of oh-so-clever journalists who don't even bother to place their reporting in context or fact check their subjects.
It's all well and good that Howie doesn't hate Mike Rubens. I'm sure Rubens will be comforted by that. But I hate what Kurtz does every day, because it's hurting the country.
Ordinarily this segment would be sort of a "meh" segment. After all, Sean Hannity and Frank Luntz gleefully celebrating Americans for Prosperity's dishonest ad is more or less de rigueur for the likes of Fox News. It gives AFP a free airing of their ad for the Hannity audience and then gives Luntz a chance to reinforce the lies. We've seen it a thousand times before and we'll see it a thousand times before November has come and gone.
But when you look at this segment and the ad in concert with the FEC ruling I received this morning, it really does shed some light on how these organizations who are not supposed to lobby, but only spend money on "issues", get away with what they do.
FEC ruling 2012-11 (PDF) was requested on a rush basis by Free Speech, an "unincorporated non-profit organization" in Wyoming. At least one of the three people who comprise this organization are affiliated with the Wyoming Liberty Group. Free Speech wants to run ads with scripts like this:
Across America, millions of citizens remain uninformed about the truth of President Obama. Obama, a President who palled around with Bill Ayers. Obama, a President who was cozy with ACORN. Obama, a President destructive of our natural rights. Real voters vote on principle. Remember this nation's principles.
President Obama supported the financial bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, permitting himself to become a puppet of the banking and bailout industries. What kind of person supports bailouts at the expense of average Americans? Not any kind we would vote for and neither should you. Call President Obama and put his antics to an end.
The FEC could not come to an agreement on the first script as to whether it fell under the definition of "express advocacy." They determined that the second script did fall under that definition specifically because of the sentence "Not any kind we would vote for and neither should you," which they determined to be a call to vote against President Obama. That is specifically prohibited.
The fact that they couldn't make a determination on the first one should tell you everything you need to know about why Americans for Prosperity and other organizations get away with what they do, and why people like Frank Luntz are so valuable to the effort. Any ordinary listener would clearly understand that an ad that uses language like "palled around with Bill Ayers" or "Real voters vote on principle" is calling for viewers to vote against the President. But because they do not actually use the words "vote for," the ads are in limbo at worst, or permissible at best.
There's something wrong with this picture. Let's have a look at the Americans for Prosperity ad, which Luntz and Hannity crow is the most "tested ad" of the current election cycle thus far. I take that to mean that they've run it a few zillion times across YouTube, Facebook and in GOP mailing lists to see what the reception is.
Factcheckers have already debunked the ad, but facts don't matter in ads like these. If they did, John Kerry would have been President in 2004. Here's the script for this ad:
We talk about the "Death Tax" and not the "Estate Tax." Two little words—"Death Panels"—were capable of nearly derailing the best thing that's happened to health insurance in this country in decades. Harvard-educated President Obama is universally considered "elite," while Yale-educated George W. Bush is considered "down home."
Many Democrats buy into the old saw that the Democratic party has had a history of "tax and spend" policies that needs to change or be lived down somehow. Until the Occupy movement brought the topic front and center, even most Democrats accepted the notion that businesses were "job creators" and worried more about distracting the opposition from this "fact" than debunking it for the lie it actually is.
Unfortunately, this is because Democrats have failed to speak in a language strong enough to rebut Republicans who have defined who we are and what we want, in a way that doesn't even remotely reflect an iota of the truth, and instantly conjures up the negative in the mind of the listener.
Here are some examples from Luntz's handbooks, of how the Republican party has been taught to frame the way they talk:
Don’t say "bonus!"
Luntz advised that if [corporations] give their employees an income boost during the holiday season, they should never refer to it as a "bonus."
"If you give out a bonus at a time of financial hardship, you’re going to make people angry. It’s 'pay for performance.'"
Don't say that the government "taxes the rich."
Instead, tell [people] that the government "takes from the rich."
"If you talk about raising taxes on the rich," the public responds favorably, Luntz cautioned. But "if you talk about government taking the money from hardworking Americans, the public says no."
This sleight-of-tongue has managed to manipulate at least half the country into believing things that simply are not true. And this type of language mash-up has been so successfully drilled into the vernacular, that Democrats have been hard-pressed to come up with a simple and just-as-effective way to expose the lies beneath them.
For two decades, Republican opponents of health care reform have turned to a tried if untrue talking point. In 1994, GOP strategist Bill Kristol warned that "the Clinton Plan is damaging to the quality of American medicine and to the relationship between the patient and the doctor." Twelve years later, President George W. Bush proclaimed, "Ours is a party that understands the best health care system is when the doctor-patient relationship is central to decision-making." Then in 2009, GOP spinmeister Frank Luntz told Republican obstructionists in Congress to "call for the 'protection of the personalized doctor-patient relationship.'"
Now with their ever-more aggressive nationwide crusade against Americans' reproductive rights, Republicans are determined to undermine the very doctor-patient relationship they pretend to cherish. Across the country, GOP anti-choice leaders are requiring procedures women don't need and their physicians don't want. And now in states like Arizona and Kansas, Republicans seeking to prevent abortion services are demanding doctors lie about them.
This week, the Arizona Senate voted 29 to 9 for a "wrongful birth bill" that would shield physicians from malpractice claims if they withhold vital information from their patients. As the AP explained:
Those are lawsuits that can arise if physicians don't inform pregnant women of prenatal problems that could lead to the decision to have an abortion.
But if Arizona Republicans want their state to join 9 others in encouraging that sin of omission, in Kansas anti-choice GOP legislators want doctors to participate in a sin of commission.
There, Governor Sam Brownback and his GOP allies don't merely want to raise taxes on women seeking abortions, even in cases involving sexual assault or a life-threatening pregnancy. Now, Republican legislators want state law to require that physicians mislead their patients about the non-existent link between abortion and breast cancer:
Kansas state lawmakers heard testimony this week saying there is a link between abortion and breast cancer. The testimony in front of the committee on Federal and state affairs came from Dr. Angela Lanfranchi, an oncologist specializing in breast cancer. The committee did not hear any other testimony before drafting H.B. 2598.
That link has been firmly rejected by organizations including the American Cancer Association and the National Cancer Institute, which concluded that "abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer." (Nonetheless, the Bush administration repeatedly claimed otherwise on federal government web sites aimed at teenagers and pregnant women. As a 2006 Congressional investigation found, 20 of 23 federally-funded "pregnancy resource centers"—facilities often affiliated with antiabortion religious groups—incorrectly told women "that abortion results in an increased risk of breast cancer, infertility and deep psychological trauma.")
But Republican governors and state legislatures aren't just requiring doctors to lie to their patients about real birth defects, bogus cancer risks and unproven claims about "fetal pain." (In Idaho, Jennie Linn McCormack was briefly charged with having an illegal abortion under that state's fetal pain law barring the procedure after 20 weeks.) Now, Texas, Virginia, Alabama, and other states are demanding that women seeking abortions undergo and pay for medically unnecessary ultra-sound tests their physicians oppose.