Well now, Luntz is advising the GOP how to handle the Occupy movement. That Luntz is thinking about this messaging is important, and it indexes the extent to which Occupy has actually influenced the national conversation. Luntz indeed declares his terror that Occupy might actually begin to change the national conversation and opinion about capitalism. Some of his proposals:
-Don't say "capitalism"
-Say "takes" not "taxes"
-Replace "middle class" with "hardworking taxpayers"
-Replace "jobs" with "careers"
-Call "government spending" waste
-"Cooperate" but don't "compromise"
-Elicit empathy by identifying with the "obviousness" of inequality
-"Job creators" not "entrepreneurs"
-Don't ask folks to "sacrifice"
-Blame Washington for everything
What's remarkable about these suggestions is that, in comparison with Luntz's previous moves like reframing the estate tax as a death tax, these suggestions are actually somewhat banal. I think they index the extent to which the conservative position's discursive pivots have been eroded by Obama's relatively centric political discourse. To some degree Luntz's moves also reveal something of a poverty in conservative political discourse as well. Lest you think I'm just some sort of Lefty "concern troll" speaking flippantly think about it this way: A MAJOR CONSERVATIVE OPERATIVE JUST TOLD PEOPLE THAT CAPITALISM IS NOT A STRATEGIC WORD IN AMERICA. IN THE YEAR TWO THOUSAND AND ELEVEN. QUITE A WHILE AFTER THE COLLAPSE OF THE SOVIET UNION.
That's quite a thing there. See, the brilliance of Luntz's previous moves, like replacing the phrase "global warming" with "climate change" was his ability to move away from or into words and phrases with a sort of polarizing power: "warming" signals heat, "estate tax" doesn't generate the same emotional resonance as "death tax" etc. In this case, however, Luntz is unable to move either away from or towards more polarized terms. I mean, "job creator" instead of "entrepreneur"? Are we just back to bashing the French? And I'm pretty sure "Blame Washington" was already on the conservative messaging menu.
Anyway, the point of this post isn't to clown on Frank Luntz (who is quite smart), but instead to make one point: the rather tepid options available for reframing the national conversation in the wake of Occupy indicate that the movement really has put the idea of inequality back on the table. Obama's jobs speech also helped: he didn't shy away from marking differences either, talking about class in a rather meaningful way. This may be because the economy "seems" different to people than say global warming: its effects are experienced regularly every day. Once you can no longer deny the existence of a problem with a tactic like an epistemic filibuster, you are left to debate the causes. The acknowledgement of inequality forces Luntz and others to double down on the figure that makes so much conservative politics possible: the hardworking, right thinking, and infallible citizen whose good work and effort affirm at every turn the political commitment to limited government. So long as economic problems persist, alternate interpretations of events can be subjected to more scrutiny through choices made by rhetors whether in sloganeering or in political speech.