Agonizing with Frank Luntz

GOP pollster Frank Luntz has stirred the pot this week for saying some obvious and disheartening things. The re-election of Barack Obama has convinced Luntz that American politics have fundamentally and permanently shifted.

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“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 [squat] 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.”

Luntz knew that he, a maker of political messages and attacks and advertisements, had helped create this negativity, and it haunted him. But it was Obama he principally blamed. The people in his focus groups, he perceived, had absorbed the president’s message of class divisions, haves and have-nots, of redistribution.

Jim Geraghty uses his valuable morning newsletter today to try getting Luntz to buck up. After arguing that even a bland run-of-the-mill leftist president would have benefited from the economic collapse as Obama has, which is probably true, Geragthy appeals to his readers’ basic conservatism as a source of cheer.

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If you’re conservative, you hopefully don’t spend much time worrying about or grumbling about somebody else who’s doing well for themselves. You want to figure out how to join them! Or at least “do well” enough for yourself and your family, and maybe have a little something left over to help out somebody who really needs it.

If you’re conservative, you may or may not believe in a higher power, but you probably believe in right and wrong and you’re wary of people who talk about the world as a murky blur of grey and endorse a moral relativism. You know doing the wrong thing catches up with you sooner or later. You know the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and life’s bad guys are always insisting that the ends justify the means.

If you’re conservative, you believe there’s evil in the world, and we’re not likely to successfully sweet-talk with it, negotiate with it, ignore it, or reason with it. Confronting it, on terms most beneficial to us, or containing it seem to be the best options.

No argument here with any of that. But it’s the belief that there is right and wrong that is now, for me, a source of depression. Only one side believes in objective right and wrong. The left has been thoroughly Alinskyed into accepting that might makes right — an idea that is antithetical to the American republican experiment. They believe that their own moral superiority justifies any lie or tactic they deploy. They believe that our inherent evil justifies anything they can think up to stop us.

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Obama has led the Democrats, and the country, down a dangerous path because he does not believe in right and wrong. Well, that’s imprecise. He believes that he is always right and if you have a different opinion, then you are automatically wrong. He believes that he is justified in saying or doing whatever it takes to defeat everyone who is “wrong” according to him. That’s clear in the gaping canyons that exist between what he says and what he actually does. He doesn’t say one thing and do another because he isn’t smart and doesn’t remember what he said, but because he is cunning and knows that the gap between his words and deeds confuses his opponents and will not be rigorously checked by the media. He knows that he can lie with impunity. He believes in power and in a vaporous notion of “fairness.” He believes that the ends — reversing what he believes to be fundamentally unfair about America — justify whatever means are necessary to achieve them. He believes that he is acting for the good of millions, against the bad of other millions, and is therefore in the right, always, without exceptions. He does not believe in respecting tradition, in respecting the religious beliefs of others unless those others are not Christians; he does not believe in the spirit or letter of the Constitution; and he believes that his election victories justify whatever he decides to do. His party follows him. The left’s pundits cheer him on. They’ll criticize him in small bore ways but never break with the overall project. He knows that the media is packed with his acolytes and diehard, bitter-end supporters, from the New York Times to Meet the Press to Wonkblog to nearly all editorial boards around the country.

Geragthy is obviously right when he notes that the entitlement mentality that vexes Luntz did not start with Obama. What Obama has done, though, is bring lofty words and the most precise voter targeting and policy calibration in history to nurture that mentality and make sure that it hardens and metastasizes, and becomes a permanent source of influence and power for him. Long after the end of his presidency, that mentality will form a rocky core on the left. It’s not going to go away for a very long time, because of something else that Luntz picks up on: Facts and logic and reason have no sway against it. Only hard experience has a chance of breaking it down, and that experience will come with suffering that no one wants to see, and which may end up building an even larger core of entitlement.

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A glimpse at the future shouldn’t make any conservative smile. The hardening of the entitlement mentality will change our elections for the foreseeable future, and will bring about a great deal of widespread suffering. Because facts and reason have little ability to challenge it, the inevitable increase in suffering will probably end up further empowering demagogues like Barack Obama — the worse, the better, right?

Let’s look ahead to the mid-terms. The GOP keeps the House but the Senate, where all the signs favor them, still might be too high a mountain to climb — not because the issues are against them, but because Barack Obama leads a movement that is without regard for our system and will do anything to win. They will smear whoever the GOP nominees are. They will trump up phony charges and distractions, they will lie, they may even blatantly cheat, to keep enough seats to keep a majority. But even if none of that works and the Republicans take a 51 or 52 seat hold, Obama has a fall-back strategy: He’ll just do whatever he wants, secure in the knowledge that his base is with him, the media will not strongly and consistently challenge him, and the Republicans at the national level would rather get along than use the powers at their disposal to discipline him.

All this is to say nothing of our culture, which is clearly lost. Just to take a small sample, the networks spent one of the pivotal TV nights of the year, New Year’s Eve, making sure that no one who has the guts to speak to any traditional beliefs got one second on the air. The one mainstream show that does espouse traditional notions of work and family, Duck Dynasty, was under cancellation threat because one of its stars had run afoul of the left’s “tolerance.” It took a massive outpouring of outrage just to preserve a piece of ground already held.

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Meanwhile, a former porn queen turned junk scientist starred on what was once Dick Clark’s wholesome New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. NBC featured Ludacris, whose explicit lyrics used to be controversial, and Miley Cyrus, whose contribution to the arts includes twerking a dwarf to celebrate the new year. News network CNN brought hate comic Kathy Griffin back for another round of attempts to be offensive that just come off as juvenile and dumb.

That’s our culture. There’s not a lot to love about it, or a lot to fight for to preserve it. Engaging in politics alone, in the age of the manipulative Barack Obama, isn’t likely to be enough.

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