Sunday, December 11, 2011

Win your arguments with "fuddle," not facts

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 12/11/2011

Remember C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters”? It is a satire involving Screwtape, a senior demon from Hell, instructing his nephew, Wormwood, in how to secure the damnation of a man, known at “The Patient.” I had not thought of this book for a long time until I read about Frank Luntz’ plenary speech at the Republican Governors Association meeting last week in Orlando. Luntz is perhaps the top Republican political message master.

“Letters” opens with Screwtape mentoring Wormwood on how to sway “The Patient.” Screwtape emphasizes the importance of language over evidence and argument. “Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don't waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true!” Screwtape continues about the folly of trying to argue the points, “The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy's own ground.”

Luntz addressed the Governors about how to talk about Occupy Wall Street. Said Luntz, “ "I'm so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I'm frightened to death. "They're having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism." If Luntz took the role of Screwtape advising his Wormwooods (the Governors) on how to talk about Occupy Wall Street and address increasing questions from constituents about “income inequality” and “paying your fair share” it might sound like this if you substitute the public for “the Patient”: (quotes are from Luntz’ address)

My dear Wormwoods,

Don’t try to argue with them. "First off, here are three words for you all: 'I get it.' . . . 'I get that you're angry. I get that you've seen inequality. I get that you want to fix the system." If you argue with them, you might have to argue Biblical references or statistics.

Always blame Washington. Tell them, "You shouldn't be occupying Wall Street, you should be occupying Washington. You should occupy the White House because it's the policies over the past few years that have created this problem."

Call it what it isn’t, just don’t call it capitalism. "I'm trying to get that word removed and we're replacing it with either 'economic freedom' or 'free market’. The public . . . still prefers capitalism to socialism, but they think capitalism is immoral. And if we're seen as defenders of quote, Wall Street, end quote, we've got a problem." Christianity doesn’t view greed well, preaches equality before God, and concern for the poor.

Even the rich are beginning to say wicked things, like Warren Buffet endorsing a millionaires’ tax. The public now responds favorably to talk of raising taxes on the rich. Thus “… talk about government taking the money from hardworking Americans, the public says no. Taxing, the public will say yes."

Don’t talk about jobs. "Watch this," Luntz-Screwtape said. He then asked everyone to raise their hand if they want a "job." Few hands went up. Who wants a "career." Almost every hand was raised. "So why are we talking about jobs?" A job just pays for food, rent, and cable. A career is about status and power.

We have been too successful at instilling feelings of greed in the public. As you cut your state budgets, don’t say sacrifice. "There isn't an American today in November of 2011 who doesn't think they've already sacrificed. If you tell them you want them to 'sacrifice,' they're going to be pretty angry at you. You talk about how 'we're all in this together.' We either succeed together or we fail together." Success is on our terms.

If Luntz were Screwtape he might have finished with a quote from “Letters:” “You begin to see the point? … Above all, do not attempt to use science … as a defence against [OWS]. … If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology; don't let him get away from that invaluable "real life." But the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is "the results of modern investigation." Do remember you are there to fuddle him. From the way some of you young fiends talk, anyone would suppose it was our job to teach!

Your affectionate uncle,


I wonder if Frank Luntz ever read “The Screwtape Letters?” If so, he might have missed the satire.

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