Frank Luntz on Bush's Failures and His Advice for Obama

Turns out that GOP message guru Frank Luntz doesn't think much of the Bush administration's communication strategy across the past eight years. In an interview with NPR's On the Media (audio above, transcript), here's part of what he had to say about the Bush lexicon:

FRANK LUNTZ: I don't think all that much of George Bush's linguistic mastery will live beyond him. The problem with Bush is that he talked about privatizing Social Security before he talked about personalizing it, so that undermined that way of articulating. He talked about a bailout rather than calling it a recovery plan or a rescue plan. He talked about a surge in Iraq rather than calling it a realignment and reassessment.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: I thought the surge was regarded as generally a good term.

FRANK LUNTZ: The surge was regarded as a good strategy. [BROOKE LAUGHS] It was not regarded as a good term because it focused on troops, and only the number of troops, rather than a whole reassessment of the strategy. And I think that the word "surge" actually undermined his ability to communicate his position on Iraq.

Luntz also offers advice to Obama and Democrats as they assume power:

FRANK LUNTZ: The challenge for them is not to over-promise, and use language that makes people feel more hopeful and more secure without getting them to believe that tomorrow happy days will be here again, because we know they won't.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Can you think of any phrases that can summon up those two perhaps conflicting ideas?

FRANK LUNTZ: Obama used a word in the convention speech. It was a single word after giving a litany of what had happened in America, and in that one word he articulated what everyone felt at that that moment. He said, "Enough."

BARACK OBAMA: Tonight I say to the people of America, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land, enough! This moment!

FRANK LUNTZ: He didn't repeat it. He stopped. And I looked around, and everyone was nodding. It touched exactly how they felt. But for the most part, it's very hard to sound-bite him because he talks in much more general principles. They're very unifying.

Nobody remembers a specific word or phrase from his speech the night of the election when he accepted the victory, but everybody remembers what a great speech that was. That's going to be typical of Obama over the next four years. They won't remember a specific word or phrase, but they will remember a speech and they will think to themselves, you know what? He touched me there.

This past summer, in an interview with Big Think, I argued similar principles as Luntz, but specifically applied to public communication about climate change. See the video below for several suggestions that the Obama administration and science organizations can start to use on climate change as we move into a new era of policy action.

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