Some of you may remember Lee Atwater. He was a Republican political operative, a wunderkind, known for his vicious, ruthless style who would do anything to help his candidate win, especially using racist messages in overt and coded language. He worked for George H. W. Bush and ran a particularly vicious campaign against Michael Dukakis in the 1988 election. He was diagnosed with aggressive form of brain cancer in 1990, converted to Catholicism, and tearfully issued apologies to all he had harmed in his slash-and-burn career, though it is suspected that even those apologies were fake and manipulative. He died in 1991 at the age of 40.
Well, we now have a new candidate who is alarmed by what he has sown. This time it is Frank Luntz, Republican pollster and savvy marketer of deceptive language to confuse people. He was the master of the focus group, intensively testing words and phrases to see what would push people’s buttons and arouse the most passion and anger in voters, and then getting the GOP to adopt them. When you hear the Tea Partiers shout out mindless slogans, you are seeing Luntz’s legacy.
In a recent interview, he seems to have been demoralized by president Obama’s re-election and is confused and despondent and adrift, wondering what has happened to American politics, which he played such a major role in corrupting.
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.”
Who does he blame for this? Obama.
He says the mood of the people is worrying.
The people are angry. They want more, not because we have not given them enough but because we have given them too much.
Who does he blame for this? Again, Obama.
Is he truly despondent about the state of affairs or is he, like Atwater, milking this reappraisal of life thing to further his own image?
So what is he going to do now? He says he is thinking of picking up everything and moving to Las Vegas. Why Las Vegas? Because he says it represents “my chance to be intellectually challenged again”.
Going to Las Vegas for intellectual challenge? Maybe he really is losing his grip.