In today’s New York Times, Judith Warner weighs in on Ann Coulter (“Think Naughty, Think Small, Think Not.”).
Leaving the issue of not-so-latent homophobia aside â€” dwelling upon it, in this context, is a matter of shooting ducks in a barrel â€” what I found particularly shocking in Coulterâ€™s comments was their studied juvenility, the sheer idiocy of their language. â€œFaggotâ€ and â€œtotal fag,â€ like other political pearls of our time â€” such as â€œbring it onâ€ and â€œgirlie menâ€ â€” are just epoch-making in their stupidity. …
…All this led me this week to think of Frank Luntz, the hot political consultant and wordsmith who wrote the lyrics for the 1994 Republican revolution. In his new book, â€œWords That Work: Itâ€™s Not What You Say, Itâ€™s What People Hear,â€ Luntz puts forth the argument that using the â€œuplifting, ennobling toneâ€ of famed political scribes like Ted Sorenson and Peggy Noonan is not the best way to capture the attention of Americans today. Instead, to communicate with the people â€” the real people of â€œsmall town, middle Americaâ€ â€” and to speak straight to their hearts, minds and entrails, youâ€™ve got to put â€œyourself right into your listenerâ€™s shoes.â€
In other words, think small. â€œUse Small Wordsâ€ is Rule 1 of his strategy for successful communication. Rule 2: â€œUse Short Sentences.â€
This is the most interesting part, IMO:
Luntz has a doctorate from Oxford; Coulter has degrees from Cornell and the University of Michigan Law School. Conservatives generally like to run with the idea that liberals are elitists, living â€œin a world of only Malibu and East Hampton,â€ as Coulterâ€™s recent blog posting on the â€œcrockâ€ of global warming put it. But isnâ€™t there something elitist, if not wrong, I wondered aloud to Luntz, about condescending to â€” or coddling or enabling â€” the imagined verbal limitations of the less-educated â€œotherâ€?
Luntz did not much appreciate the question.
â€œItâ€™s not condescending â€” itâ€™s pandering,â€ he said of Coulterâ€™s most recent performance. â€œEverything about the book says what she did was not just wrong but reprehensible. Those arenâ€™t words that work. She broke every rule.â€
â€œGod, I really hate it every time she speaks,â€ he fumed. And, he added, if I were to even think of mentioning him in the same breath as her, â€œI will really, seriously raise hell.â€
At a Conservative Womenâ€™s Network lunch at the Heritage Foundation last week, a question was raised, over dessert, about how conservative women should deal, â€œas women,â€ if Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination for president. The guest speaker, Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer in Washington, hemmed and hawed, shared some thoughts about Wellesley College and Barbara Bush, blushed, then concluded, â€œWeâ€™ll let the redneck guys who just arenâ€™t ready to vote for a female commander in chief take care of the woman thing.â€
Sounds like a plan. Sounds to me, too, as if the Republican noise machine may just have a monkey wrench in its machinery.
That the professional pundit class (like Luntz) think they can teach other Washington GOP insiders how to talk to ordinary folks always struck me as weird, but they’ve been getting away with it for a long time. Go figure.