Monday, January 6, 2014

What exactly is a "Frank Luntz"?

Okay, I'm being facetious with that question. I know who Frank Luntz is--though I've never met the man--and I know what he does. He's a political consultant and pollster-for-hire who made his bones working for Newt Gingrich and the Republican Party in the mid-1990's. His specialty is what might be called "message shaping," as he uses focus groups and polls to determine the most effective way, the most effective language, to get a politician's or a political party's message across to the voters. Since then, he's worked for various other Republicans, as well as for conservative-style politicians in some other countries. But mostly, he's been something of a mainstay on FoxNews, particularly around election time when he's called on to run focus groups for the network.

And I guess, on some level, he must be pretty good at what he does because he's been getting paid very well for a while now. Apparently, he also does similar work for corporations and the like, helping shape messages for them, too. He's written a number of books on this topic, though I must admit I have never read any of them and most likely never will.

Still, I don't mean to cast aspersions on the man. I really don't. He has a niche, he has marketable skills and the talent to market them. And he's done that, quite successfully.

That said, I really don't care what Frank Luntz thinks about anything. I don't care what his personal politics or political views are in the least. I certainly don't care if the 2012 Election plunged Luntz into a state of depression, to the point that he has been unable to work, has lost faith, and has essentially "given up."

Molly Ball has a piece out at the Atlantic on Luntz and the current state of his life. In it, she details how upset Luntz was after Romney's loss to Obama in 2012, how he apparently believes the loss was avoidable, and how there's something different now in the political discourse:
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."
Ball goes on to note how Luntz actually blames Obama for all of this, and I'm mildly sympathetic to this point of view, but only insofar as I see how effective the Administration has been at using class warfare to its advantage. To suppose it has actually changed the character of the population as whole is beyond ridiculous. But there's no reason to go down that road here. The above is meaty enough for my purposes.

For while I certainly hoped Romney would win the 2012 Election and at times thought he had a chance to do so, I'm smart enough to know that it was always an uphill battle for Romney. He was deeply flawed as a candidate (though certainly not as a person, in my opinion). And he was matched up against a President who was still very, very popular, a President who basically had most of the mainstream media in his pocket, at least for the Election. So this idea of Luntz's, that the Election was somehow Romney's for the taking, is a load of crap. Sure, Romney could have done some things better. So could have Obama. But at the end of the day, the voters voted (and we all have to live with that reality, unfortunately).

Similarly, the idea that the level of contentiousness in political discourse is somehow at unprecedented levels or the like is also crap, a claim I've debunked several times. Of course in these past pieces, the claim was being put forward by Democrats or pundits on the Left. And they were blaming the Right--Tea Party folks in particular--for the new level of divisiveness. Now, we have Luntz blaming the Left. But he's every bit as wrong as the boneheads I criticized in the above pieces. Anyone with even a modicum of understanding about the political history of the United Sates should know this. And frankly, the fact that a highly paid political consultant lacks such an understanding is troubling, to say the least.

That said, there is something different about the current state of affairs. And that's the habit the media has of putting people like Luntz (and Carville, and many others) on pedestals, of creating pundits who pretend to speak as experts on political issues and current affairs. This isn't to say folks like these are dullards or the like. Far from it, actually. But the idea that they necessarily always have something significant to say, that their opinions are somehow more meaningful than those of the typical citizen is nonsense. When they're being paid to do a job, their opinions are tainted as a matter of definition (and that includes Luntz's FoxNews focus groups). When they're being paid to just give their opinions, that's all they are giving. We needn't listen to them at all, because they are not office holders. By deferring to them--as so many in the media do--we give them power they should not have, in my opinion.

So when I hear about Frank Luntz being in a dark place, being unable to perform at work, I just don't care. He's not in Congress. He's not a government official. If he doesn't want to do any more political consulting, he doesn't have to. He's free to live his own life however he chooses. And I'm free to ignore him completely, to pay no heed to his personal trials and tribulations, in the same way I pay no heed to those of Snooki. Or the Kardashians. Or the Duck Dynasty crowd. Or those of pretty much anyone whose antics hold no interest for me and have no impact on my life.

Cheers, all.

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