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Sun., April 25, 2010

Semantic winds are shifting

I understand the need for the quick quip to summarize a fierce, long-running debate. That’s the quote that’s likely to get picked up for broadcast and repeated over and over, especially in an election year. So a tip of the cap to legislative Republicans who have dubbed the recent package of tax increases on soda, bottled water, candy and cigarettes the “Kwik-E-Mart tax.”

Then again, nobody imposes blue-collar taxes like this better than Washington state, but you don’t see too many Republicans looking for a more defensible taxing source (cough! – income – cough!).

However, they might want to take a gander at the first poll out on Initiative 1077, which is Bill Gates Sr.’s effort to tax the income of the top 3 percent of Washington state households and give property owners and businesses a break. Two out of every three respondents to a SurveyUSA/KING 5 poll like the idea. Breaking it down further, men like it, women like it, Democrats like it, Republicans (!) like it, East Side likes it and West Side likes it. The self-described group that was alone in withholding majority support was conservatives, but even 50 percent of them like it.


Republican lawmakers who have criticized the initiative better start working on just the right phrase to torpedo the “Yacht Club tax.”

Pollster’s puppets. Pollster Frank Luntz, the man who gave us the “Contract with America” and “death taxes,” is back with surefire language to shoot down financial reforms. At the end of a lengthy memo to politicians, he includes key words to invoke in trying to thwart congressional bills.

Looking over the list, I see words and phrases that have arisen in other debates. In fact, a politician who preferred TV cameras to reading legislation could do quite well on TV by simply parroting these slogans.

Here’s what Luntz urges them to sound like. The bolded parts are his suggested terms:

TV host: “Congressman, the financial reforms being debated on the Hill are aimed are reining in the worst excesses of Wall Street in advance of the economic meltdown. What are your thoughts?”

Luntz Dunce: “Hardworking taxpayers want accountability, transparency and oversight, but they do not want a big bank bailout.”

Host: “It is my understanding that bailouts are not part of this package.”

LD: “That’s right. No bailouts. Hardworking Americans are tired of them.”

Host: “So are you for this package of reforms aimed at Wall Street investment houses?”

LD: “The American people do not want another Washington agency or bloated bureaucracy with unlimited regulatory powers engaging in wasteful spending.”

Host: “So you are opposed to Wall Street reforms?”

LD: “No bailouts.”

Host: “There wouldn’t be bailouts in …”

LD: “… The American people are tired of faceless bureaucrats watching porn on their computers while their hard-earned dollars are wasted.”

Host: “So what would you do?”

LD: “I’d give hardworking Americans the very thing they are crying out for: Common-sense changes, transparency and accountability.”

Host: “Speaking of transparency, how about mandating that complex derivatives and other exotic trades be done out in the open?”

LD: “Let’s help small business. The American people, who are hardworking, are tired of unintended consequences. It’s small businesses that create jobs, and this economy needs jobs.”

Host: So, to be clear, you are joining Wall Street in fighting increased regulations?”

LD: “The devil is in the details. The bills are filled with lobbyist loopholes.”

Host: “So, that’s a thumbs down on the bills, right?”

LD: “Beware of the fine print. Just enforce current laws. We cannot afford more government failures and incompetence.”

Host: “Final question: How does your view differ from those who were bailed out the first time?”

LD: “No more bailouts. Never again.”

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at or at (509) 459-5026.

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