Bad GOP Messaging? Try Doublethink


John Stewart of The Daily Show, whom I consider (in conjunction with Stephen Colbert) to be our country’s Jonathan Swift, had surprisingly positive words for Fox News Network the other night. True, his compliment had a hitch in it. He did accuse them of Orwellian doublethink. But at least he praised them for being remarkably transparent about how they are try to recast unpopular Republican positions.

At issue is the GOP’s current attempt to refurbish its image given its plummeting ratings. As Stewart pointed out, many in the party don’t see their problem as their positions on gays, immigration, guns, women’s reproduction, entitlement cuts, and taxes on the rich. Rather, they see their problem as one of “messaging.” As Fox newscaster Gretchen Carlson and spinmaster Frank Luntz declared in an interview, adjusting “language errors” could bring the public back to the GOP.

Luntz, Stewart explained, is the man who advocated calling the “estate tax” the “death tax. Instead of describing legislation as “relaxing pollution standards,” we should name it “the Clear Skies Act.” To turn the public against Obamacare, don’t talk about “the public option”—talk about “the government option.”  But before sharing what Stewart’s clip from Fox News revealed the other night, it’s worth revisiting how doublethink works in 1984.

[Winston’s] mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself – that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.

That pretty much describes Luntz’s suggestions in the Carlson interview:

Language error
Smaller government

Luntz’s Suggested Adjustment
More effective and efficient government

Language error
Control growth of Medicare and Social Security

Luntz’s Suggested Adjustment
Save and strengthen entitlement programs

As Stewart pointed out, Elmer’s Glue would probably sell less well if it still carried its original name, “Elmer Richardson’s Horse-Boiling Emporium.”

Then he imagined how Luntz would label recent Republican proposals in blue states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia to change the way that electoral votes are distributed, changes that could have given Romney the presidency in the past election. Here’s Stewart:

Now of course, some would call a proposal like that cheating.  Because that’s what it is.  But why not take a page from the Luntz playbook here?  The language error is “cheating.”  Let’s adjust that to “winning through process innovation.”

Or even,

“Ethics-modulated democracy improvement.”

Orwell would be impressed.


(Thanks to Rachel Kranz for alerting me to the Daily Show segment)

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