Political Glossary for the Midterm Elections "Defeaticrat," "culture of corruption," and "security mom" are all part of the election-year war of words. Guests explain the strategy behind the slogans in the run-up to this election.
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Political Glossary for the Midterm Elections

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Political Glossary for the Midterm Elections

Political Glossary for the Midterm Elections

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michel Martin in Washington. Neal Conan is on vacation.

Cut and run! Lie and die! Defeatocrats! Appeasers! Welcome to the mid-term elections. Of course, politics is supposed to be about ideas, but words and emotion are how those ideas come to life. Remember this:

President GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Read my lips.

(Soundbite of cheering)

President BUSH: No new taxes.

MARTIN: And who can forget…

Mr. AL GORE (Former Vice President): We have to protect Social Security by putting it in a budgetary lockbox so that it cannot be rated or drained away to pay for other programs.

MARTIN: That was then. This is now. In the aftermath of the 2004 elections, there was a lot of talk about which party was better at the language battle and framing issues in a way that appeals to middle America. But do better buzzwords really determine elections, or better policies? How effective is the lingo we're hearing in the run up to this election?

Later in the program, our weekly visit with the Political Junkie, Ken Rudin. Representative Katherine Harris, who is running for the Senate in Florida, joins us. If you have questions for Ken, please feel free to start sending them by e-mail now to talk@npr.org. Please put junkie in the subject line.

But first, a glossary of the mid-term elections. What buzz words have caught your attention in this election cycle? If you are a Republican or a Democrat, what language do you want to hear from your party? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-829 - I'm sorry 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

And we'll be joined by Frank Luntz. He's chairman and CEO of Luntz, Maslansky Strategic Research and is a Republican pollster. Also, Geoffrey Nunberg, author of the book, Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax Raising, Latte Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show. That was a mouthful. Mr. Nunberg is also a linguist at the University of California in Berkley and he's here with us now.

Mr. Nunberg, how are you? Thanks for coming in.

Mr. GEOFFREY NUNBERG (Author, Linguist; UC Berkley): Oh, thanks for having me.

MARTIN: It would seem that the underlying issues would favor the Democrats in this election: a lot of concern about the progress of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a lot of ongoing concern about the economy, the quality of life issues. So are the Democrats - in their language, in their framing of the issues - capturing those - capturing that kind of underlying wave to their advantage?

Mr. NUNBERG: Well, I think so. I mean, I think they're trying to make this a referendum on the first six years of the Bush presidency, which is a reasonable thing to do at this point. And that they've done a pretty good job of pointing out the deficiencies and problems: the ruinous war, an economy that still has only about 35 percent, 34 percent of the people satisfied with it, the bumbling with Katrina and so forth. I think they've done a pretty good job of pointing that stuff out.

MARTIN: Okay, since you're a professor, why don't you give the Democrats a grade? Why don't you grade them on the use of language?

Mr. NUNBERG: I'd give them a B. They've done a good job in pointing out the shortcomings of the Bush administration. They've done less of a good job in creating the kind of positive image of themselves that's been their chronic problem for the last couple of decades, really. If you look at polls, you see that by two to one, Americans think that the Republicans have a better sense of what they stand for then the Democrats do. And they're a lot of reasons for that, but I don't see much in this campaign that helps to create a positive sense of the Democrats.

Now, given the extent to which the Republicans have been messing up, it may not be necessary this time. And maybe you should say that at this point in the Bush administration, it's appropriate, simply to run this election as a referendum on the Republicans.

MARTIN: You know, there's two ways to look at it. I mean, you're framing it as a referendum on the Republicans. But I think you could also look at it as the Democrats continuing to respond to the Republican message, as opposed to being proactive and setting the agenda. And I want to cite here, an example - as an example, an ad put out by Impeach Pack(ph), which responds to accusations that the Democrats want to cut and run in Iraq, it ran on New England Cable News.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Man: The next time someone suggests America should cut and run from the war on terror, ask them, run to where?

MARTIN: Mr. Nunberg, what do you think? Is this effective?

Mr. NUNBERG: Well, no. I think you're absolutely right. The Democrats have a chronic problem of trying to pick up and work with the Republicans language, which inadvertently, at least validates that language.

I was at Working Assets, the phone company had a contest to pick a slogan to counter cut and run with and they asked me to be a judge for it. And there were like, I don't know, there must have been 600 entries. And they all had that sound: delay and pray, lie and die, deny and occupy, dither and dance, so on and so forth.

All of which - many which were clever slogans - but all of which basically, validated the idea that it was about that cut and run theme, that this election was going to be held. Rather than making the case in other terms; asking how many dog tags are going to throw down on the sands of Iraq and why do we think that Iraq, is - represents the war on terror so that the two become actually identical in the Republican view. And I don't think Democrats - not all Democrats have done a good job of hitting on that theme.

On other occasions, may I say, the Democrats have used the Republicans language to good advantage. Stay the course, for example, is a phrase that while you still hear Republicans using it, is not very successful, the Republicans. And I noticed, for example, that Jim Webb in Virginia is running ads that show Bush saying, stay the course, and then contrasting that with his own positions.

MARTIN: Let's go to a caller. Let's go to Louisville, Kentucky and Dino?

DINO (Caller): Hi. Yes. I have a question for your guest regarding a Democrat talking points. First of all, I haven't really heard any and I've been following my local and, you know, different campaigns around the country. You know, why can't we have talking points such as sustainable economics? Obviously, this war has not been sustainable. We are spending for the next two, three generations right now, with nothing to back it up. Why can't we talk about the economy again, like we did in ‘91, ‘92?

Mr. NUNBERG: Well, we…

DINO: I'll take comments off the air.

MARTIN: Okay. Thanks for calling.

Mr. NUNBERG: With all respects, the Democrats have been saying these things. They've been talking about tax cuts, a tax program that favors the rich. They've been talking about sustainable energy and energy self-sufficiency. They've been talking about a lot of these issues. And the fact is that the media really not interested in that. For one reason or another, this election has become about national security, with a few other issues like immigration at the margins. And while the Democrats have lots to say about those things, those stories aren't getting covered.

MARTIN: Why do you think that is?

Mr. NUNBERG: Well, I think the Republicans have done a very good job of setting the agenda and turning the agenda to their purposes when it suits them. And I think, in a natural way, this war is such a huge deal that people are simply more concerned about it than they are about these economic issues, at least in the press.

MARTIN: (Unintelligible) It's interesting when, you know, talk to Democrats in Congress and you say, well, why aren't you saying this, Why aren't you saying that? They often get very annoyed, and say: we have been saying this, you know, about minimum wage and offering, you know, positive proposals on immigration policy, and so forth. And some of them have the argument that it's just hard to break through when you don't control the White House.

Mr. NUNBERG: Yeah, that's certainly true.

MARTIN: The party that sits in the White House just has more command over the airwaves. Do you think that's true?

Mr. NUNBERG: Right, you hold…

MARTIN: Or is that an excuse…

Mr. NUNBERG: No. No.

MARTIN: …for not being more effective at doing their jobs? Mm-hmm.

Mr. NUNBERG: You hold a press conference, you announce your program and the media don't come. Or they don't report it - not because, necessarily, they're anti-liberal, or anti-Democrat - because they're just not interested in hearing things from people out of power. They're more interested in what the administration says about these issues. But I think it's absolutely right that they have been proposing these things and it just hasn't made it through the wall of noise.

MARTIN: Do you have a core philosophy on this question about whether - I mean, do you really think that language wins elections or ideas? I mean, can you have - I mean, in a way it's an odd question because obviously the only way we can receive ideas is through language, and of course visual imagery and so forth. But there are those who argue - and I think the Republicans argue - that the reason that Republicans have been on the ascendancy they have better ideas. They have better policies. They have more clearly articulated policies. What do you think?

Mr. NUNBERG: No, I don't think it's a question of policies in a Republican. Republicans like to say that, leaving you with the impression that phrases like clear skies and healthy forests just fell off a turnip truck somewhere. The language clearly plays an important role, and particularly - not so much the slogans we're talking about like cotton run and so forth. In a funny way, those work for a while but when you look at the long-term effects they don't really move voter opinion. Democrats get crazy when they hear the phrase death tax, for example, in place of estate tax.

But when you look at surveys…

MARTIN: Well we're hoping - just as an aside - we're hoping to hear from Frank Luntz in this hour, who is credited for coining this.

Mr. NUNBERG: Right, well he's not responsible for that.

MARTIN: Well, he said he said it's associated with him.

Mr. NUNBERG: He's not responsible for that phrase but he's been - he gets a lot of credit for that.

MARTIN: Okay, we'll clarify that with him.

Mr. NUNBERG: Ask him, yeah. The fact is, in surveys, asking people do you favor repeal of the X - the death tax, the estate tax - only moves opinions by about one or two percent. The move from private accounts to personal accounts that the Republicans trumpeted a couple of years ago in their efforts to save their proposals for changing Social Security, didn't really rescue the program. That's dead in the water now, their Social Security program. So I think those slogans don't work as well as people sometimes think they do, though they do serve the purpose of getting liberals and Democrats enormously irritated.

Where the right has had more success, if I may, is in these basic ground zero language of politics - these words like values and elite and liberal - because those determine the frame - the rules of argument that people use in their ordinary conversation in talking about these things. And that's where the Republicans keep coming back. And whatever you're talking about - national security, Social Security, taxes, whatever it is - it's going to come back to the basic theme that the Republicans have been harping on, really, since the Nixon years.

MARTIN: And why is that effective?

Mr. NUNBERG: Well, because it succeeded in turning the economic divisions in this country into these bogus, ersatz culture war, red and blue distinctions. And that's been the great success of the right over the last 25 or 30 years -to turn, so the people don't think of their economic interests but rather think in terms of these well, gee, I'm listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd in my Chevy Avalanche and you're listening to Radiohead in your Prius - and how could we possible talk to each other?

MARTIN: After the '04 elections, the George Lakoff argument about framing language was a hot topic among Democrats. Did that produce any substantive change?

Mr. NUNBERG: Well, I think Democrats paid more attention to language after that. But I think, again, because it's easier to manipulate and easier to control and easier to work on, they looked at slogans and catchphrases and how they're going to pitch things, rather than these basic terms. The basic terms are the ones you can't get at directly, you have to tell a story. You have to have a narrative, and where the Republicans have been very successful with this - what I call this faux populist narrative about red and blue and different tables at the cafeteria - the Democrats have not been successful, except sporadically, in telling their own populist narrative the way Clinton was able to do in the 1992 election.

MARTIN: We're talking with Geoffrey Nunberg about the political war of words that's gearing up for November's midterm elections and we're taking your calls at 800-989-TALK. You can send us e-mail. The address is talk@npr.org. I'm Michel Martin. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michel Martin in Washington.

We're talking about the buzzwords and lingo on all sides in the run-up to the midterm elections: what works, what doesn't, and if snappy slogans translate into success at the polls. Still with us, Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the school of information at UC Berkeley and author of the book Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show.

And joining us now: Frank Luntz. He's chairman and CEO of Luntz, Maslansky Strategic Research and is a Republican pollster. Frank, thanks for joining us.

Mr. FRANK LUNTZ (Chairman and CEO of Luntz, Maslansky Strategic Research): Yeah, it's my pleasure. I love the title of that book, it just goes on and on and on and on.

MARTIN: Pretty clever marketing, don't you think?

Mr. LUNTZ: It's smart, but that's an example of words that work. Each one of those clichés - and it is just that, it's a cliché - but we can relate to it. We can understand it. And each cliché gives you a visual picture of what he's trying to describe.

MARTIN: Do you think he's right?

Mr. LUNTZ: In some cases. You have to go through each one of those for me to tell you whether he's right or not because we've actually done the polling. It is true that Democrats are more likely to drive Volvos, Republicans are more likely to drive BMWs, but some of the clichés are just that. They're not really meant to be accurate.

MARTIN: I think - well, why don't we catch up to where we already were. We were asking have there been any zingers that have caught our attention in this election cycle. Any good buzzwords that have caught on, and have you come up with any of them?

Mr. LUNTZ: Well, I will never - it's always the candidates that I work for that come up with them. We never actually create anything. We borrow and steal from each other. I like the line: what is it about illegal that you don't understand - in the debate about illegal immigration. Even using the phrase illegal immigrants, because four years ago it was illegal aliens. And then in the Democratic primaries back in 2004 it was: undocumented workers. If you call them undocumented workers it's not fearful. These are just people who lost their papers. If you call them illegal aliens it's something that's frightening, concerning - both in the illegal component and the alien component. And so even in this 2006 election cycle, definitions do matter.

MARTIN: What are you recommending to your clients, or to Republicans in general, because Republicans are not of one mind on this. I mean, the House Republicans tend toward one point of view that some of the Senate Republicans tend toward a different point of view. And, you know, you've seen in border state leadership there have been different points of view on this. So what would you recommend to your clients? What kind of language would they use?

Mr. LUNTZ: Well one reason why I'm basically out of politics, for the most part, is I don't like the language division. I don't like the anger that is really so much a part of a political discourse today. And the illegal alien, to me, is much too loaded a term. It creates a sense of fear and it creates a sense of anger. By the same token, undocumented workers is so soft and is really not necessarily accurate, that I don't think that's correct. I'm basically telling Republicans that they should take a middle-of-the-road approach: language that is neither divisive or polarizing, but by the same token, describes and defines exactly what they wish to communicate.

MARTIN: I want to bring another caller in, in a moment, but I do want to talk about national security. Before you joined us, Geoffrey Nunberg was saying that this is such an overriding issue: the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan. It's such an overriding issue that it's really hard for Democrats, even if they're talking about other things in which they, you know, might have a very positive argument to break through on that. So talk to me about the focus on national security in this election. How have the Republicans framed the issue? Are they being effective in their framing of the issue?

Mr. LUNTZ: Even in your question you asked about the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, but you never used the phrase the war on terror. So even in the framing of your question I get a sense of a political leaning. If you used the word terror…

MARTIN: I would resist your explanation, I would resist your interpretation, but I take your point. Go ahead.

Mr. LUNTZ: Oh and by the way, I don't mean it that way, but when someone says to me, terror, I assume they're Republican. When someone says to me, Iraq, and that's how they frame it, I assume Democrat. And about 80 percent of the time it's correct. You do not hear the Democrats - the candidates - talking as much about the war on terror because to them what is wrong, what is so upsetting, is the number of lives that are lost and the cost in Iraq.

By the same token, for the Republicans you don't hear them talking about Iraq because what they're focused on is the five years that there hasn't been a successful terrorist attack on American soil. So even in the definition of what you speak about, that one word is a clear indicator of which political leaning you're on.

MARTIN: It's almost like you're a walking X-ray machine.

Mr. LUNTZ: Actually, I've got to tell you something. I listen. I interrupt people's conversations. I was having lunch just before this conversation here, and I was overhearing what was going on at the table next to me, and they were talking about both immigration and about Iraq. And I said to my seatmate: I can tell you the partisan leanings of each one of those four people and they have never mentioned a comment about Bush and they've never mentioned their political persuasion. And I got all four correct. The framing of the words - and this is one if the things I find upsetting - is that we now can't even have a calm, intelligent discourse because both sides are too eager to tear down, linguistically, the beliefs of the other side.

MARTIN: Why is that?

Mr. LUNTZ: I think politics today matters a lot. I think that some of the decisions that we are making are truly life and death. And the seriousness of it, as well as television - and you and I know each other from years ago, that way - you listen to who watches each cable program. Republicans watch Fox. Democrats watch CNN. Democrats read the New York Times. Republicans would read the Dallas Morning News. We don't consume the same news anymore. We don't consume the same information. We are looking to be verified, rather than informed. And that verification process, we lose the chance to hear the other perspective. And that, to me, is a very frightening aspect of political discourse. It's one of the reasons why I've got a book coming out in December that actually explores it from both the Democrat and the Republican perspective. I don't think one sides got a monopoly on the truth.

MARTIN: Okay. We should talk in a minute, about whether folks like you contributed to that. But before we do that, why don't we go to a call. Let's go to Madison, Indiana, and James.

JAMES (Caller): Yes, hello.

MARTIN: Hello.

JAMES: You just talked about the word terror, and I wanted to follow up with a question about whether or not you've heard any kind of meaningful challenge to the way it's being used. You said that Republicans are more likely to use the word, but is there any challenge from the other side about what actually is referred to by that word?

MARTIN: Who would you like to answer that, James?

JAMES: Oh, I'm sorry. The linguist, I forget…

MARTIN: Okay, Mr. Nunberg?

Mr. NUNBERG: The war on terror - it's been around for a while but it really picked up after 9/11. The administration within a year was using war on terror much more often that war against terrorism. And the press picked it up instantly, so that it's all over the press. And Frank Luntz may be right about the way ordinary people speak, but in the press, war on terror is universal. And it does the job of mushing everything together, so that the Iraq war and the terrorist plots that are being hatched in Western Europe and Afghanistan and the Sunnis and the Shia - they're all part of this great black ink that's spreading over the world. And that's a picture that the administration has done a lot to maintain.

So I think war on terror, as Frank Luntz says, does contain a point of view. It's what allows you to just equate the Iraq war with the more general war on terror. And I think some people have tried to work against that. People have talked about Islamism, Islamic fanaticism - a lot of words that people have used that take that tendentious and not actually very helpful word terror out of play.

MARTIN: Okay, Geoffrey Nunberg, you say not very helpful word: terror. Frank Luntz, when you hear that how do you respond to that?

Mr. LUNTZ: Well there are two words, that I agree, that they have attempted to be more explicit about terror. And there are two words - one that Republicans use and one that Democrats use. Democrats talk about occupation - that they're trying to focus, they're trying to shift from either terrorism or even Iraq, to the fact that troops are there and that this is an occupation of Iraq rather than a military action or than fighting terror. Republicans use the phrase - and I don't like it, I'll be honest with you - Islamo-fascists. It's a phrase that Bush began to use a few months ago and it doesn't resonate.

I've tested this at a number of sessions with voters from all across the country - all across the political spectrum. They are frightened about radical extremist Islamists. They are frightened when religion gets armed and becomes suicidal, but that Islamo-fascist phrase doesn't work on - because it's just - it's putting two terms together that we don't naturally see together.

MARTIN: James, thanks for your call. Let's go to Memphis, Tennessee and Gary(ph).

GARY (Caller): Hi. How are you today?

MARTIN: Great.

GARY: I'm enjoying the show, greatly. I was wondering what your guests thought of the terms regarding the abortion debate - the term abortion on demand. And also regarding the gay marriage issue: either the term gay marriage or homosexual marriage. How does that play into the political landscape right now?

MARTIN: Frank Luntz, do you want to take that one?

Mr. LUNTZ: Sure, I'm taking notes to my side. With the gay marriage became same-sex marriage, that was a more politically appropriate way to communicate it. When you say gay marriage you're trying to stir up a more emotional and a more visual image, whereas same-sex marriage is a slightly - I don't want to say more refined - but it is not meant to be more inflammatory.

In terms of the abortion debate - the other one that was created about four or five years ago - is the phrase partial-birth abortion, which sounds as hideous, as horrific a concept, a visual - and it actually is successful. Most Americans do not support the procedure partial-birth abortion.

Although I will say that in that issue, the individual who came up with the concept of pro-choice to respond to the concept of pro-life, that's what changed the debate.

Mr. NUNBERG: I agree with Frank Luntz, if I may, and I'd just add that the word homosexual has become - in American political discourse at least - a word that's exclusively associated with the right, now and with the extreme religious right. It's a word you associate with James Dobson or Pat Robertson. I don't even think mainstream Republican politicians are talking about homosexual marriage now. It just sounds too extreme. And it's a denial of everything that's represented by the word gay.

Mr. LUNTZ: But what's interesting, actually, is in that phrase you just used, extreme right or extreme religious right - you never hear the phrase extreme left and that's something that I don't understand. Why is it if you - and this is an honest question - why are there extreme people on the right, but there aren't - you don't hear the phrase extreme left?

Mr. NUNBERG: I think that's a good point - may I or are we moving on?

MARTIN: Of course you may. I mean I think Frank's asking you a question. I think that's fine. If you would be brief I'd be grateful cause I'd like to bring in another caller.

Mr. NUNBERG: Left and right have never been quite symmetrical in American politics. There was a time when the left ended where liberalism took up. Where on the right conservatives have always described themselves as being on the right. William Buckley writes a column called On the Right. So I don't think those two words are quite symmetrical.

Mr. LUNTZ: But you got the extreme part of it that I find to be interesting, that it is okay to put the extreme word in. I'm sorry. Go ahead.

MARTIN: Okay. I'm going to go to another caller. Gary, thanks so much for calling. Let's go to Loyola, Michigan, Jason.

JASON (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I just wanted to ask - I know this is an arguable presumption - but it's my opinion that John Kerry's campaign failed in 2004 in large part because of a failure to articulate a platform that was able to garner enough support. What I'm wondering is what your guests think with respect to the linguistics in that campaign, and whether and lessons may be learned or drawn from that? And what they think the linguistics used in the 2008 campaign by the Democratic Party might change what those linguistics might be, given the Kerry experience?

MARTIN: First, Jason, I would say arguable presumptions are what we specialize in here. So Jeffrey Nunberg, what about Jason's question?

Mr. NUNBERG: Well, there are a lot of reasons why Kerry's campaign didn't work. Certainly one of them was that he was, that the Republicans were successful in branding him as this elite, East Coast, effete, liberal, windsurfer, and so on and so forth. An irony, of course, given his background and Bush's background.

Another - and one I'd want to focus on cause it has longer-term effects - is Kerry's dancing around the liberal label and refusing to describe himself as a liberal. And I raise this because I think it's a chronic problem for American Democrats. Since the 1980s they've been shying away from the L word as if they could fool people into thinking that they're not liberals. They use the word progressive or a fine, old word, but…

But what they allow to happen is that the Republicans, and the right in particular, become the ones who define liberalism and establish all these fatuous stereotypes about Volvos and brie and latte and so on and so forth. They haven't been able to shut the label. They just aren't in a position to do anything with it.

So I think until American liberals own up proudly to the word and the great tradition it represents, they're going to have trouble politically.

MARTIN: Let me just pause here briefly to say, you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Frank Luntz, talk to me about the process by which that happens. How is it that one side gets to define the other side in the way that we have both been talking about? Jeffrey Nunberg's talked about the fact that liberal has become a dirty word. And you've talked about the fact that extreme right or religious extremist or stuff like extreme conservative, that kind of thing - there's an attempt to make that a kind of a dirty word. How does that work?

Mr. LUNTZ: Well, some of it is personification. If you have people who articulate that - Howard Dean in his meltdown in New Hampshire back in 2004 when he gave that famous Dean scream - that basically was a personification. It was a humanization of a liberal candidate giving, in essence, a liberal yell.

And when a candidate does that - John Kerry saluting at the convention. I don't know if that we his idea, I don't know if that was Bob Shrum's idea, but that was a symbol and sometimes symbols are even more important than actually words in driving home a message.

The joke that I always tell is that John Kerry looked like the tree that threw apples at Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. It is he becomes a symbol when he's - the guy never smiled. His wife was worth $1 billion. If my wife were that rich, I'd be smiling every day. These were all jokes, late-night jokes.

But in Kerry's case they stuck, and it suggested someone that was dour - and anyone who knows him knows that he isn't, that he's very lively and he's got a sharp sense of humor. And that the positions that he took on the issues and how he described them, the thing that took him down in 2004 was that he did not appear to say what he mean and meant what he said. He appeared to be on both sides of the issues and that was the number one attribute, a straight shooter, that mattered the most in 2004.

MARTIN: I asked Jeffrey Nunberg this before you arrived, what grade he'd give the Democrats for how they're framing their issues in this election. So I'd like to ask you the same question of the Republican side. How well do you think they're using language in this cycle to frame the issues that are important to them?

Mr. LUNTZ: That's an awesome question. The problem is that there are different people and at different times. The Bush administration sometimes, quite frankly before the crisis or as the crisis develops, I give them a C minus or D plus. There are other times, particularly in those periods of crisis, with Katrina being the exception, when they have performed incredibly well, perhaps an A minus.

In terms of Congress, there are too many members that speak in too much bureaucratic rhetoric and acronyms. I can't even spell the word acronym let alone put the letters together. I understand why the public, why people who are listening on this program right now, are often so frustrated with Washington, because they don't speak in simple, plain, clear English…

MARTIN: Just briefly cause we're running out of time. We're down to our last couple of seconds. Do you think just the process - that we've become so aggressive about trying to frame these buzzwords - that people are just tuning them out?

Mr. LUNTZ: Well, the problem is we've become so aggressive in framing our opponents and much less aggressive in framing our own arguments. There is way too much negativity in politics, and people don't spend enough time trying to communicate what they believe in. They spend way too much time trying to demonize the other side and I think that's a tragic development and it's going to really disrupt the political process as we go forward.

MARTIN: And that has to be the last word. Thank you so much. Frank Luntz, he's a Republican pollster, chairman and CEO of Luntz, Maslansky Strategic Research in Alexandria, Virginia. Thank you so much for joining us. And Jeffrey Nunberg is the author of the book, Talking Right: How Conservatives Turn Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking and so forth and so forth and so forth. Thank you for joining us.

When we come back from a short break, Ken Rudin, NPR's Political Junkie, joins us. I'm Michel Martin. It's TALK OF THE NATION.

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