CNN's John Roberts challenged GOP pollster Frank Luntz for his role in using "charged language" and fomenting right-wing anger at health care reform.
September 30, 2009

CNN's John Roberts challenged GOP pollster Frank Luntz for his role in using "charged language" and fomenting right-wing anger at health care reform.

Heather: This was a typical softball interview from John Roberts where he didn't hit Luntz the way I would have if given the chance to ask him how he feels about selling his soul for a buck and giving the Republicans their talking points on the health care debate. That said, I think Roberts is the first person I've seen in the MSM to actually ask the man if he should feel any responsibility for whipping up the anger at these town halls. You would never see that question asked of Luntz over at ClusterFox that he loves to call home. It's a question that should be asked of him with some real follow up more often.

ROBERTS: From town halls to tea parties, a lot of people across the country are really ticked off. Last week in our special series "Mad as Hell," we looked at the sources and potential solutions for all of that national anger.

Our next guest has advised the Republican Party and other clients on hot-button issues like health care, issues that so many Americans are riled up about. Frank Luntz is a pollster, communications expert and author of the new book, "What Americans Really Want, Really."

Frank joins us now with some new insight on the outrage. Insight on the outrage. Good play on words there. So people in America, are they really angrier than they ever have been?

LUNTZ: They are, 72 percent of Americans define themselves - we took a survey - of 6,400 people. That's five times the typical CNN media poll. Seventy- two percent of Americans are mad as hell, and they're not going to take it anymore.

ROBERTS: Seventy-two percent.

LUNTZ: And they're mad at politics because they think there's no accountability in Washington. They're mad at business because they think that their employers don't respect them. And they're mad at Hollywood for the coarseness of the culture. So you've got all three things going on at the same time, and they don't find a solution to it.

ROBERTS: Let me quote from your book here because you say, "It's not necessarily what's so important is not necessarily that Americans are mad as hell. What matters more is that they're not going to take it anymore. Americans have hit a tipping point with Washington, and moreover, its political parties."

So we're at this tipping point. What does that mean for the country? You gave us kind of the background of what people are mad at. Why are they add at all of this, and what is this tipping point?

LUNTZ: They feel like the politicians aren't listening to them. And those elected officials who canceled their town hall meetings, boy, did they make a mistake. I wrote this book and I added that extra "Really" to what Americans really want because the definitions of this anger, the elites don't understand.

They think the town halls are an aberration. The people you should be listening to at the town halls are not those who are yelling in the front, it's those that are grumbling in the back because there are tens or hundreds of thousands of people that have come to these town hall meetings that have never participated in politics before. They're going to vote in 2010.

I've offered a lexicon for them to be more effective in this book because in the end, the shouting really doesn't move people. They need to know how to communicate more effectively. And it's not just politics. It's also in the workplace. There are the three rules of how not to get fired. Three things you should not be saying. And I'll make them read the book.

There's even fear for our kids. Two more statistics. Fifty- seven percent of Americans belief that this country will be worse for their children than it was for them. And only 33 percent believe that the next generation will have it better than them.

ROBERTS: A question that I have about all of this anger is how much of it is organic, and how much of it is ginned up by the opposition to try to give democrats a hard time? President Clinton was on "Meet the Press" with David Gregory yesterday and said that the vast right-wing conspiracy in America is still very much alive, maybe not as strong as it was during his time in office, but still extremely virulent.

LUNTZ: He doesn't get it because these are not Republicans who are going to these town halls. These are not Republicans that are angry. More often they're independents that reject both the Republicans and the Democrats. They're dead center politically, and they've had enough of both political parties. That would be point one.

And point two is, until they feel like someone's listening to them and someone cares about them, they're going to remain agitated. And I do believe they'll participate. But just to be angry doesn't solve anything. We're afraid for our children. We're afraid that they're going to get addicted to drugs. That we're afraid that they're going to drink. We're afraid that they'll have bad circumstances in their life. And that's what makes us so nervous.

ROBERTS: You mentioned the town hall meetings during August on the health care debate. That's where we saw the anger in full foment. Now, you wrote a memo to the Republican Party, giving them suggestions on how to oppose the health care plan, suggested that they use phrases like "It's a bailout of the insurance industry," "Washington takeover of the system." And so all of these words were out there. So my question to you, Frank, is did you help contribute to this anger?

LUNTZ: What is the first page of that memo, that you must support health care reform. This is exactly what the American people would say. We need to cover those people who aren't covered.

ROBERTS: But when you use charged language like that, are you not contributing to the anger?

LUNTZ: Because what Americans are asking for is a slow and steady reform of the health care system, not something radical. And the politicians in Washington aren't listening. We believe that our health care system is the best in the globe. And we don't want to change that. And there's language in here - and by the way, you want to know what Americans really want?

ROBERTS: Some people would argue that the delivery of health care in this country is the best in the world but the way that you get to it, through insurance, is certainly not a model for anybody.

LUNTZ: 85 percent of Americans are satisfied with their health care. I think that says a lot.

ROBERTS: But there are a lot of uninsured people in this country.

LUNTZ: That's why I wrote this book because I wanted to correct the misinterpretations. If you want to know if you're the majority or minority, if you want to know what public really, really thinks, this is the place to go.

ROBERTS: The book is called "What Americans Really want, Really" from Frank Luntz. Frank, it's great to see you.

LUNTZ: All right. Great tie.

ROBERTS: Thank you. You too. Good to have an opportunity to have you on this morning.

LUNTZ: Thank you.

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