"Words matter. The most powerful words have helped launch social movements and cultural revolutions. The most effective words have instigated great change in public policy. The right words at the right time can literally change history." - Frank Luntz, The Huffington Post, March 1, 2011
When you first read that quote from Republican propagandist Frank Luntz, it sounds high-minded - great words can lead great causes. What it belies, however, is that Luntz intentionally uses words to distort the truth and manipulate change.
He is the primary architect of the edifice of lies that stood against the healthcare and financial reforms sought by the Obama administration. Instead of engaging in an open dialogue about the merits of the obviously necessary reforms, the Republicans, protecting their benefactors in the insurance and financial industries, distorted the debate under the guidance of wordsmith Luntz. Health insurance reform became "a government takeover of healthcare." Financial institution reform became "taxpayer-funded bailouts."
I smell the odious work of Frank Luntz again this week. In the orchestrated outrage over the wholly-concocted charge that Obama is attacking religious freedom with birth-control requirements in the new Affordable Health Care for America Act (tarnished and tarred as ObamaCare), the Republicans are all parroting the phrase "government-granted rights", using it as a perjorative.
At this year's Conservative Political Action Committee convention, Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum said "Are we going to believe, as our Founders did, that our rights don't come from the government, that they come for a much higher authority?"
He went on to say, “There are those in the Oval Office who believe that’s not the case, that rights do, in fact, come from the government, and they have gone around convincing the American people that they can give you rights. We see what happens when government gives you rights. When government gives you rights, government can take away those rights. When government gives you rights, they can coerce you in doing things in exercising the rights that they gave you.”
So, the message of the Right is that the government is trying to take away the people's God-given rights and has no authority to grant any further rights to its citizens. And that any rights the government does grant enslave the electorate. These are outrageous corruptions of the truth.
Indeed the Declaration of Independence starts with the words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..." That's pretty clear - "certain unalienable rights."
But, the Republicans are ignoring the next line of that declaration, "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…" Ah, yes, the "consent of the governed."
Dear Mr. Santorum, by our government charter, the Constitution of the United States, we elect representatives of the people and they gather in Congress to write "laws." Some of those laws grant citizens certain "rights." Like the right to vote or the right to be free from discrimination. Most recently, the rights and protections in the new health care law.
In fact, Mr. Santorum, you and your ilk need to be reminded, the first ten amendments to our Constitution are called "The Bill of Rights." Our original Constitution did not grant its citizens freedom of speech, press, religion and petition. Those rights had to be formulated by the government and adopted by the governed.
So, this attack on "government-granted rights", such as those granted in the new health care law, is another phony attempt to concoct an evil-sounding phrase to color the truth and dishonestly paint progressive social reform programs as threats to liberty. Again, Santorum, “As a result, government will own you because you will have to pay tribute to Washington in order to get the care you need for your children."
Like I said, I smell the work of Frank Luntz, or if not him, someone of his disingenuous fashion. I wouldn't be surprised if there is a memo lurking somewhere from Luntz, being circulated among Republicans, on what language to use to distort the positions of their opposition and confuse the voters in the 2012 election.
Luntz distorted the debate over health care reform with this memo, and he did the same on financial institution reform with this memo. The intentional falsehoods advocated in those memos were repeated incessantly by Republicans.
It is ironic that so many on the Right seeking to become part of the government rail so loudly against it. But, that is in the true spirit of the afor-mentioned Declaration of Independence, which goes on to state, "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
So, obstructionist Republicans, staunch Conservatives and members of the Religious Right, tell the truth. Advocate for your positions and principles, but don't use propaganda as talking points. Don't demonize your opposition. Don't disparage their principles and morals. Don't distort their positions.
Our government is not the enemy. It is of, by and for the People. If you think it needs reform, run for political office. If you think it needs different representatives of the people, campaign for your candidate. If you think its current guiding principles are wrong, debate them openly and honestly in public forums.
But, stop telling lies.