Hoisting Luntz By His Own Petard

(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

A week or so ago, as noted in this story and a few diaries, Frank Luntz, the other side’s wannabe equivalent to George Lakoff (apologies in advance to George, who is sincere in his efforts to make us effective speakers, unlike Dr. Luntz, who is a whore), published a talking points manifesto.  It is intended for those who – lacking any actual plan or constructive suggestion regarding healthcare – ceaselessly bloviate on the topic nonetheless, and to suggest how they might successfully torpedo any honest efforts at fixing our healthcare mess.  It is essentially a talking points manual for the talking heads of the Party of No on how to kill healthcare reform.

I would love to be searingly derisive of this effort, but there is much that can be learned from it which, no doubt contrary to Dr. Luntz’s intentions, can be used to sabotage the saboteurs.  Let me clarify that my healthcare reform may not be your’s.  I am a universal single-payer advocate.  But it is likely that our mutual truths are informed by this examination and commentary.

Let the fun begin!

(cross posted on the DailyKos)

Talking Point #1 lays out a basic groundrule:


Abandon and exile ALL references to the “healthcare system.” From now on, healthcare is about people.

Seems applicable to any approach, but he’s probably right that this concept is not easily grasped by NoNo’s.  Feel free to use this approach in your speaking, especially to a mixed crowd.

TP #2 is language that is also applicable to all sides, so feel free to use it at will with the one little word addition I put in there (italicized) :

   “If you’re one of the millions who can’t afford healthcare, it is a crisis.”

   Better yet, “If some claims adjuster bureaucrat puts himself between you and your doctor, denying you exactly what you need, that’s a crisis.”

   And the best: “If you have to wait weeks for tests and months for treatment, that’s a healthcare crisis.”

The first two are perfect for our side.  This last one is perhaps a bit vexing, because it would take a lot of factoids about outcomes to counter it and factoids are not a good way to conduct the conversation (at this level).  Frank harps on the time thing quite a bit.  How do we use that to our advantage in this particular instance?  I suggest the following retort:


“If you are DENIED tests and treatment due to a pre-existing condition, now THAT’S a healthcare crisis!”

In the next TP he again brings up the “time” issue and how well it will play:


“Waiting to buy a car or even a house won’t kill you. But waiting for the healthcare you need – could.  Delayed care is denied care.”

I suggest you just “take it to 11” by saying:


“Waiting to buy a car or even a house won’t kill you. But waiting for the healthcare you need – could.  DENIED care is DEADLY.”

His next TP offers the following:

   The arguments against the Democrats’ healthcare plan must center around “politicians,” “bureaucrats,” and “Washington” … not the free market, tax incentives, or competition.

Well Frank, you just about neutered every argument your side has ever put forth, so if you hear them start down this path, simply direct them back to their old arguments and watch their heads explode.  And, if the talking head happens to be a politician, bureaucrat, or Washington insider of some sort, simply remind them of that fact and that it makes little sense to listen to arguments made by someone who is arguing against themselves.  Overall this is a fairly exhausted platitude that can probably be ignored.

Next comes the zinger, the horror stories (portentous music):


The healthcare denial horror stories from Canada & Co. (not sure who “Co.” is) do resonate, but you have to humanize them.  You’ll notice we recommend the phrase “government takeover” rather than “government run” or “government controlled” It’s because too many politician (sic) say “we don’t want a government run healthcare system like Canada or Great Britain” without explaining those consequences.  There is a better approach. “In countries with government run healthcare, politicians make YOUR healthcare decisions.  THEY decide if you’ll get the procedure you need, or if you are disqualified because the treatment is too expensive or because you are too old. We can’t have that in America.”

Setting aside the fact that he used “government run” instead of some version of “government takeover”, thus ignoring his own advice, this one is pretty easy.  Simply substitute “without publicly funded” for “with government run” and “insurance clerk” or “insurance claims adjuster” for “politicians”, thus:


“In countries without publicly funded healthcare, an insurance clerk or claims adjuster winds up making your healthcare decisions.  They decide etc. etc. etc.  We shouldn’t have that in America.”

The next two TPs are kind of a rehash, except for the introduction of this new language:


Call for the “protection of the personalized doctor-patient relationship.”

But that is exactly what publicly funded healthcare does, so you can just use it verbatim.  If asked to explain, just remind the listener that PPOs and HMOs put restrictions on providers available to you that simply don’t exist in publicly funded healthcare.

Next, he starts to address costs, which he rightly identifies as the primary motivator:


You can’t blame it (high costs) on the lack of a private market; in case you missed it, capitalism isn’t exactly in vogue these days. But you can and should blame it on the waste, fraud, and abuse that is rampant in anything and everything the government controls.

Interestingly, he presents no canned language to use for this one.  Fact is, it’s just going to ring hollow since it is a worn out platitude that the other side has over-used forever.  I’ll give the Dr. a “Fail” on this one, it’s simply not going to win over any fence-sitters.  This is padding so he can get to 10 talking points.

His next TP starts making some possible inroads, by admitting that there is a role for government (the hidden agenda of course is that the government is the dumping ground for undesirable customers, not just those who can’t afford it):


Americans will expect the government to look out for those who truly can’t afford healthcare. Here is the perfect sentence for addressing cost and the limited role for government that wins you allies rather than enemies:

   “A balanced, common sense approach that provides assistance to those who truly need it and keeps healthcare patient-centered rather than government-centered for everyone.”

His suggested sentence doesn’t really incorporate the “limited” meme very well, so really we can use this one wholesale except end the sentence after “patient-centered”.  You might replace “balanced” (see below).  Thus, you might say:

   “A comprehensive, affordable, and equitable common sense approach that provides assistance to those who truly need it and keeps healthcare for everyone patient-centered rather than insurance-clerk limited.”

His last point is the mother lode.  Here is where his side had scored a big “F” throughout this whole debate:


It’s not enough to just say what you’re against. You have to tell them what you’re for.  It’s okay (and even necessary) for your campaign to center around why this healthcare plan is bad for America.  But if you offer no vision for what’s better for America, you’ll be relegated to insignificance at best and labeled obstructionist at worst.

   What Americans are looking for in healthcare that your “solution” will provide is, in a word, more:

   “more access to more treatments and more doctors…with less interference from insurance companies and Washington politicians and special interests.”

Fair enough, but don’t you actually have to have a “plan” if it is going to do all that stuff?  You say:


“Publicly funded healthcare gives more access to more treatments and more doctors and providers with no interference from insurance companies and special interests.”

‘Nuff said.

Those are the ten talking points.  The paper goes on with odds and ends, poll data, etc. (mostly padding to give it some gravitas).  There are a few talking point boxes sprinkled about, such as

                            WORDS THAT WORK

   If you can’t get the treatment you need, when you need it, there is a crisis.

   If you are denied the ability to choose the doctor or hospital that’s best for you, then it is a crisis.

   If you can’t afford the coverage you need for you and your family, then you have a crisis.

   We need to stop looking at it from a global perspective and restore the humanity to healthcare. We need to focus more on people and less on the system.

We need to score him down a little here because he just violated TP #1 by using the word “system” in the context of “healthcare”.  Oops.  But these points apply to our side perfectly (except for the last sentence which really doesn’t make any sense anyway – more grasping for “ideas”) so feel free to use ’em.

Here’s another one:

                          WORDS THAT WORK

   Whether you call it a crisis, a problem, or a challenge is less important than tackling the real challenges to expand healthcare availability, lower costs, and ensure quality of care.

   As our first priority, we need to preserve what works in America, protect the sacred doctor-patient relationship, and allow people to choose the personal care that suits their individual needs.

   We should be cautious of proposed government fixes that increase taxpayer costs and shrink personal choices.  And we should avoid government intrusion that decreases quality and increases bureaucracy.

   We need targeted reform with measurable results that improves patient care – not a politicized, special interest-driven radical restructuring.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, all of these points, with the possible exception of the last one which is just a baseless characterization, are completely compatible with our side.  By agreeing with these statements you will simply take the wind and furor out of them.

And so it goes for many more pages, and since this is getting long I’m not going to parse the whole banana.  Suffice it to say that most of it is repetitious, most of it is easily co-opted by our side, and most of it will probably never be read by anyone other than the speechwriters.  There is some interesting reading in the last section about “words that work and what not to say” which can be used to our advantage.  I encourage everyone to give it a looksee.


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  1. when I clicked to read this, I half expected it to be about one of DemocraticLuntz’ snide comments.

  2. anything when huge swaths of the population can’t afford the vig, and even if they could they don’t qualify, because lets face it we all have preconditions if we didn’t we wouldn’t need health care. Health care for profit is an oxymoron, insurance is nothing more then extortion. Hard to sell most on this line of propaganda as even the insured are hurting. The pols are going to have a rough time explaining this away. I am not a big fan of meme’s instead of truth, and messages of fear mongering won’t sway those who have to wait in line at the emergency room for care that if your uninsured gets you to the back of the line. Fear seems to be losing it’s sway, and crisis’s are a dime a dozen these days.    

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