It's called cognitive dissonance, and nothing has really prepared Frank for these "WTF" moments, when all but the most terminally brainwashed wake from their political stupor, wipe their eyes and say, "Wait! We gave these rich guys and their minions everything they wanted, and we're still fucked? The money's really not trickling down? Oh Jesus, they're pissing on our heads!"
It never even occurred to Frank that actual events could override his right-wing Matrix programming, and his subjects would begin to question the official version of... well, everything. What he describes -- "The people in his focus groups, he perceived, had absorbed the president's message of class divisions, haves and have-nots, of redistribution" -- is laughable. He thinks people got this message from Obama?
My sides ache from laughing. That conclusion alone tells you just how far from astute the man is.
Frank needs to pull his head out of his butt, because the sleeping giant is awake now. You hear that, Frank? It's the sound of several million pissed-off Americans who've been out of work for years, whose college-educated kids can't get jobs, who no longer have retirement funds and who are busy cleaning up after the climate change disasters you and your employers keep telling us aren't real.
It's the sound of Americans who, shivering in -40 temperatures, are saying to each other, "There is something really wrong here -- and it's not us."
I could feel sorry for him, I suppose, but I don't. He dedicated his life to serving the plutocracy and it's beginning to dawn on him, somewhere deep in his reptile brain, that he might have picked the wrong side. No, we won't win tomorrow, or even next year, but the train has finally left the station and people aren't going to swallow this nonsense again for a long, long time.
The crisis began, he says, after last year's presidential election, when Luntz became profoundly depressed. For more than a month, he tried to stay occupied, but nothing could keep his attention. Finally, six weeks after the election, during a meeting of his consulting company in Las Vegas, he fell apart. Leaving his employees behind, he flew back to his mansion in Los Angeles, where he stayed for three weeks, barely going outside or talking to anyone.
"I just gave up," Luntz says.
"I didn't work on Mitt Romney's campaign. It just sucked, as a professional. And it killed me."
His side had lost. Mitt Romney had, in his view, squandered a good chance at victory with a strategically idiotic campaign. ("I didn't work on the campaign. It just sucked, as a professional. And it killed me because I realized on Election Day that there's nothing I can do about it.") But Luntz's side had lost elections before. His dejection was deeper: It was, he says, about why the election was lost. "I spend more time with voters than anybody else," Luntz says. "I do more focus groups than anybody else. I do more dial sessions than anybody else. I don't know shit about anything, with the exception of what the American people think."
It was what Luntz heard from the American people that scared him. They were contentious and argumentative. They didn't listen to each other as they once had. They weren't interested in hearing other points of view. They were divided one against the other, black vs. white, men vs. women, young vs. old, rich vs. poor. "They want to impose their opinions rather than express them," is the way he describes what he saw. "And they're picking up their leads from here in Washington." Haven't political disagreements always been contentious, I ask? "Not like this," he says. "Not like this."
Luntz knew that he, a maker of political messages and attacks and advertisements, had helped create this negativity, and it haunted him. But it was Obama he principally blamed. The people in his focus groups, he perceived, had absorbed the president's message of class divisions, haves and have-nots, of redistribution. It was a message Luntz believed to be profoundly wrong, but one so powerful he had no slogans, no arguments with which to beat it back. In reelecting Obama, the people had spoken. And the people, he believed, were wrong. Having spent his career telling politicians what the people wanted to hear, Luntz now believed the people had been corrupted and were beyond saving. Obama had ruined the electorate, set them at each other's throats, and there was no way to turn back.
Why not? I ask. Isn't finding the right words to persuade people what you do? "I'm not good enough," Luntz says. "And I hate that. I have come to the extent of my capabilities. And this is not false modesty. I think I'm pretty good. But not good enough." The old Frank Luntz was sure he could invent slogans to sell the righteous conservative path of personal responsibility and free markets to anyone. The new Frank Luntz fears that is no longer the case, and it's driving him crazy.
Listen carefully, Frank. It's the sound of your own brain, trying to beat the truth into your thick skull.