Here's a Hollywood pitch that Republican messaging guru Frank Luntz might, at last, have some luck with: "Sometimes, the hardest message for a famous communications consultant to craft is the one about himself."
The Atlantic's Molly Ball has a terrific interview with Luntz, in which he outlines his current crossroads: disenchanted with politics, depressed by discourse, eager for a something new that doesn't seem to ever arrive. He wants to work in Hollywood, but Luntz "can't get his calls returned," perhaps because Hollywood is run by liberals.
Luntz — the strategist that brought you the Republican-friendly terms "death tax" in lieu of "estate taxes" and, ever-more-famously, "climate change" instead of "global warming;" the guy that helped ensure Newt Gingrich's Contract With America was a success — tells Ball that this current America, one in which people have staunch, partisan opinions, isn't the one that he expected to see. Ball writes:
"[People] want to impose their opinions rather than express them," is the way he describes what he saw [in focus groups]. "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."
Who's to blame? A partisan Washington, as he says. Luntz himself "had helped create this negativity, and it haunted him," Ball writes. "But it was Obama he principally blamed." (This is the guy who was credited with PolitiFact's first-ever "Lie of the Year," about Obamacare.) The "new Frank Luntz" is worried that his persuasive skills aren't strong enough to bring America back from the brink, "and it's driving him crazy."
Luntz is deliberate about what he says, about how he presents himself. That's who he is, one of the first great spin artists of modern politics. So it is impossible to forget that Luntz's discourse-has-been-cast-out-of-Eden talk is coming from the serpent. And that he's plied this particular line before.
As New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen noted on Monday morning on Twitter, Luntz danced this dance five years ago, as well. Hollywood site The Wrap reported in April 2009 that Luntz, having seen his team lose a presidential election in a landslide, decided that he wanted to go to Hollywood. "I’m tired of selling reality," he told the site. "Reality sucks. It’s mean. Divisive. Negative. What Hollywood offers is a chance to create a new reality, in two hours time." Because, he added, he's "not as partisan as I once was," and doesn't "like what politics has become." In 2009, though, he didn't take any credit for the partisanship, instead blaming "the culture of political vilification" that brought Obama to power. Different year, same message.
Luntz told Ball that he does have a plan for revamping politics, should this Hollywood thing continue to not pan out.
Luntz dreams of drafting some of the rich CEOs he is friends with to come up with a plan for saving America from its elected officials. 'The politicians have failed; now it's up to the business community to stand up and be heard," he tells me. "I want the business community to step up." Having once thought elites needed to listen to regular people, he now wants the people to learn from their moneyed betters.
There's perhaps a bit of spin in that enthusiasm for the wisdom of the corporate world, too. As Ball notes, Luntz's income flow has been revamped substantially: "Corporations and television networks, not politicians, are his main sources of income."
We'll check back with Luntz in a few years time and see if his clients have been able to undo all of this partisan nastiness that Obama created. Hopefully, this well-worn script has a happy ending.