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Merkley Performs Surgery on GOP Wordsmith

Oregon's freshman senator, Jeff Merkley, has carved a couple of new orifices in Republican pollster and strategist Frank Luntz over Luntz's plan for derailing health



Oregon's freshman senator, Jeff Merkley, has carved a couple of new orifices in Republican pollster and strategist Frank Luntz over Luntz's plan for derailing health care reform.

Luntz, who wrote the bestseller Words That Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear and who gave right-wingers the brilliant idea of calling the estate tax "the death tax," crafted a memo titled "The Language of Healthcare 2009: The 10 Rules for Stopping the 'Washington Takeover' of Healthcare." The memo - a copy of which was leaked and picked up on by ThinkProgress and other liberal blogs - outlines a strategy of creating confusion and fear reminiscent of the notorious insurance industry-funded "Harry and Louise" ad campaign that derailed the Clinton health care reform plan in 1993.

In his memo, Luntz advises Republicans to frighten Americans with the specter of a "Washington takeover" of health care that would result in long waits, denial of care and decisions about care being made by "Washington bureaucrats" instead of doctors and patients.

Luntz tells Republicans to say that "the plan put forward by the Democrats will deny people treatments they need and make them wait to get the treatments they are allowed to receive." (Never mind that the Democrats haven't put forward any plan at all yet.)

He also advises: "The idea that a 'committee of Washington bureaucrats' will establish the standard of care for all Americans and decide who gets what treatment based on how much it costs is anathema to Americans." (Apparently it's much better to have such decisions being made by committees of insurance company bureaucrats.)

Luntz is smart enough to understand that an overwhelming majority of Americans want health care reform and it would be suicidal for Republicans to openly oppose it. But when it comes to saying what kind of "reform" Republicans should support, he weasels out:

"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.'"

Sounds great - but where are the specifics? Exactly what is this Republican "solution"? How is it going to accomplish all those swell things? Luntz is strangely silent about that.

In a post on the Huffington Post blog, Merkley wades into Luntz with both fists swinging.

Luntz, "the man who developed language designed to promote preemptive war in Iraq and distract from the severity of global warming, is at it again - this time with a messaging strategy designed to sink our historic opportunity for health care reform," Merkley writes.

"Let's be clear: this is not a strategy to push certain ideas about health reform. It is a strategy intended solely to kill reform efforts altogether. In his own words, Dr. Luntz has stated, 'You're not going to get what you want, but you can kill what they're trying to do.'"

Merkley warns that as Republican politicians adopt Luntz's strategy, Americans should "expect a massive misinformation campaign."

"Opponents using Dr. Luntz's doublespeak will argue for a 'balanced, common sense approach' to health care but what they really want is to keep the system the way it is," Merkley continues. "They'll say that a public plan will not be 'patient centered,' but their real goal is to block accessible health care for every American. They'll say reform will deny Americans 'choice' even when every American will be allowed to keep their health insurance and their doctor. They'll claim that the 'quality of care will go down,' while callously ignoring the fact that millions of Americans have no health care at all and millions more are denied the medications and procedures they need."

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