The author of a new guidebook on politically effective language, Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear, Luntz is credited with popularizing use of the phrase “death tax” in lieu of “estate tax.” He became notorious in environmental circles in 2003 for a leaked memo he wrote telling Republicans how to green their image. He advised them to tout their love of national parks, and to say “conservationist” instead of “environmentalist,” as Luntz believes the latter word reeks of political extremism. He also told Republicans to “make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate” over climate change, because ”[s]hould the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly.”
Luntz has achieved enough notoriety to be lampooned on The Daily Show, where correspondent Samantha Bee described him as having “made a brilliant career of spraying perfume on dog turds.” The National Environmental Trust has doled out Luntzie Awards for the use of politically deceptive language, and created a whole LuntzSpeak website to expose and counter the strategist’s tactics. (Does that count as mean?)
To find out why Luntz thinks enviros have an attitude problem, and how he thinks green messaging could be made smarter, I recently interviewed him while he was speeding in a cab toward the Los Angeles airport.