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The Problematic Frank Luntz’s Stockholm Syndrome

This is a small but alas all too typical story.

Over at Mother Jones we find this David Corn scooplet in which pollster Frank Luntz, secretly taped at an appearance at his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, launches on Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin. “Off the record” but of course.

Except the inevitable — some college kid kept the cell phone rolling. So now Luntz is out there naked with his inner thoughts. His theme — no kidding — was: “It’s not what you say that matters. It’s what people hear.”

What are the rest of us hearing when we listen to this secretly taped Frank Luntz?

Asked about “political polarization,” Luntz requested — and thought he had been granted — off the record status. Thus satisfied he proceeded to say — and here we yield the floor to Mr. Corn’s story, beginning with a direct quote from Luntz then moving forward:

“And they get great ratings, and they drive the message, and it’s really problematic. And this is not on the Democratic side. It’s only on the Republican side…[inaudible]. [Democrats have] got every other source of news on their side. And so that is a lot of what’s driving it. If you take—Marco Rubio’s getting his ass kicked. Who’s my Rubio fan here? We talked about it. He’s getting destroyed! By Mark Levin, by Rush Limbaugh, and a few others. He’s trying to find a legitimate, long-term effective solution to immigration that isn’t the traditional Republican approach, and talk radio is killing him. That’s what’s causing this thing underneath. And too many politicians in Washington are playing coy.”

As he continued, Luntz, according to Abbi and two other attendees (who wish to remain anonymous), asserted that it had been irresponsible (and bad for the GOP) for right-wing talkers to pontificate about women’s bodies and birth control — an obvious reference to Limbaugh’s attacks last year on Sandra Fluke, a law student invited to testify before Congress on health insurance coverage of contraception. (Abbi didn’t catch this part of Luntz’s reply on his recording.)

Luntz was blaming polarization and the GOP’s problems partly on conservative media, but he didn’t want his criticism of Limbaugh, Levin, and the others to reach beyond this classroom. He was clear on this basic point: Right-wing media is not serving the national debate and not helping the GOP widen the party’s appeal beyond its declining base. (Luntz declined to comment on his remarks at the event.)…

At Penn, Luntz was egged on to disclose his view that Limbaugh and conservative talk radio are harming the GOP’s prospects and the national interest. Yet these are probably the sort of words he would counsel his Republican allies and clients not to use.

Now, obviously Mr. Luntz — this being videotaped (the tape is on the Mother Jones site) — has stepped in it here.

One could just note, amused at Luntz’s self-generated predicament and move on, but there is something to be learned here.

For decades liberalism was in 100% control of this country. The government, the media, the culture. If Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin and Sean Hannity (the latter not mentioned by Luntz but obviously included by definition) and other talk radio stars sit at their microphones until they are 100, it will take another fifty years at least to understand their individual and collective importance in shattering the liberal Iron Curtain that had descended on the American mind. And that’s before you even get to Fox and the Internet and the magazines and newspapers like The American Spectator, National Review, Weekly Standard, Wall Street Journal and people like Reagan, Buckley, Goldwater etc.

One of the results of that total liberal control was to plant the idea in the subconscious of even a number of conservatives and particularly Republicans that liberalism in whatever form — Big Government, economics, social issues, national security– was somehow the norm. Thus dissent from this norm– not to mention the powerful, articulate and decidedly intellectual dissent pouring out from Limbaugh, Levin, Hannity and others — is perceived as “divisive.”

It is always curious if not by this time amusing, to note that only conservatives can be “divisive.” Never liberals. No one on the Left says, “gee, you know, Chris Matthews and MSNBC are problematic.” Or, “the New York Times is problematic.” Or, “Planned Parenthood is incredibly divisive. “

These things are never said. It’s always a conservative who’s problematic or divisive.

While this time it’s Frank Luntz squirming at the end of a self-baited hook, in fact he is far from alone in the conservative world in carrying some version of these thoughts in his head.

In fact, what Luntz has done is simply reveal the kind of thinking that goes on in the minds of too many on the right who, whether they realize it or not, have been intellectually and culturally bullied that there is some sort of “right way” — “right” as in “correct” — to think. Resulting in some conservatives who suffer from what might be called a political version of Stockholm Syndrome — where the captives identify with their captors. Luntz’s example, as cited in this article, about the GOP’s views on “women’s bodies and birth control” is a prime example of the problem.

There were no Republicans opposing birth control in 2012. There was opposition — considerable and justified — to snuffing out the First Amendment rights of the Catholic Church in the name of forcing the Church’s many institutions to pay for birth control — which violates the precepts of the Catholic faith. One doesn’t have to even be a Catholic — which I am not — to understand the importance of standing up for the First Amendment. The fact that somewhere in his head Luntz has bought into the liberal talking points only illustrates this political Stockolm Syndrome at work.

So in the coming days Mr. Luntz will be required to practice that modern American art of damage control. He’ll do it to whatever degree of satisfaction and the country, still absorbed in the horror of Boston, won’t even blink.

But there’s a lesson here.

And it isn’t what Frank Luntz said.

It’s what he really thinks — and why he thinks it. And knowing that on the Right side of the fence, alas, he isn’t alone. For the very same reason.

Too many conservatives suffer from political Stockholm Syndrome.

Joe Scarborough, call your doctor.

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