Bush's Words: Do They Work? President Bush included several turns of phrase in his State of the Union speech Tuesday that were meant to make his point — and to make it harder for those with other viewpoints to discount the president's ideas. Frank Luntz, author of Words That Work, talks about Mr. Bush's phrasing.
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Bush's Words: Do They Work?

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Bush's Words: Do They Work?

Bush's Words: Do They Work?

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

During the State of the Union last night, the president was not just the commander in chief. He was the salesman in chief.

NORRIS: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear." And Frank Luntz joins us now to talk about if the president's words worked in his favor last night.

Frank, first, this was a politically challenged president before a skeptical body of Congress and a skeptical public. First, an overall assessment of the speech.

FRANK LUNTZ: Well here's the problem. How can you succeed if the audience that you're trying to reach isn't even tuned in to hear what you have to say? Most Democrats and a whole lot of people who identify themselves as independent don't listen to what the president has to say because they have made up their minds.

NORRIS: Well, let's pick and parse, if we can, through some of the things he did say. There was one interesting stretch of the speech where he actually used the enemies' words directly. He quoted from a letter said to have been written by the late terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Let's listen.

GEORGE W: We will sacrifice our blood and bodies to put an end to your dreams, and what is coming is even worse. Osama bin Laden declared death is better than living on this earth with the unbelievers among us.

NORRIS: Now, Frank, you said you were struck by his decision to quote directly from that letter. Why did you find that significant?

LUNTZ: One of the 10 rules of effective communication is credibility, and to be perfectly blunt, this president has lost a great degree of credibility among the American people. And so the only way for him to establish the intensity of the threat that he feels faces this country is to use somebody else's words rather than his own words.

NORRIS: There's another - on that subject - there's another stretch of the speech where the president is talking about the terrorist threat and the evil that inspired and rejoiced in 9/11 and how this is still at work. Can we listen to this stretch of the speech, and then we'll talk about it.

BUSH: Every success against the terrorists is a reminder of the shoreless ambitions of this enemy. The evil that inspired and rejoiced in 9/11 is still at work in the world.

NORRIS: Evil that inspires and rejoices - it's almost a language that is almost evangelical, a bit rhapsodic. What do you think about that?

LUNTZ: He uses another key principle of effective communication. By saying something that you do not hear in day to day context, by changing the English and sounding biblical, spiritual, it catches our ear and therefore, we're more likely to pay attention to it.

NORRIS: Now I want to ask you about the speech, not in terms of theater or in terms of effectiveness in sheer political terms, but as a wordsmith. High points and low points in the speech for you last night.

LUNTZ: To me, the high point was when he spoke of the consequences if Iraq ends early, and the word consequences is one of the most powerful words in the English language right now. Consequences can be good or they can be bad. The actual word itself is neutral. But it causes people to stop and listen. That to me was a very powerful way to make his case for his side of the Iraqi war.

To me, the low point was the fact that I didn't see the passion and I didn't see the intensity that normally comes from a presidential speech, particularly one delivered in such a difficult time for this individual.

George Bush's approval ratings are at all-time lows. And I was expecting to see him come out and really be driven. It did not have that hopeful, optimistic, city on a hill communication that one might have expected either from Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton.

BLOCK: Frank Luntz, good to talk to you. Thanks so much.

LUNTZ: It's a pleasure.

BLOCK: Frank Luntz is a pollster. He's also the author of "Words that Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear."

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