Don’t Let Their Words Distract You: The Republicans and Their Backers are After Your Money

If David Purdue and Kelly Loeffler keep their Senate seats, they will help Mitch McConnell undermine Social Security and other safety nets for working people.
If David Purdue and Kelly Loeffler keep their Senate seats, they will help Mitch McConnell undermine Social Security and other safety nets for working people. Click to see this photo illustration by Kate Meyer full size.

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You knowwe all knowthat politicians use a lot of tricks and strategies to hide what they’re really up to. A case in point: ever since Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, race has been the go-to Republican thing. Angry over civil and voting rights legislation, many Democratic voters and elected officials switched parties in the 60s and 70s. That’s just a piece of history most of us know about. Just facts, not even controversial.

But sometimes overlooked is the fact that Republicans’ pandering to racists wasn’t only about politics and voters; it was also about
money.  Stir up the race thing and they’ll forget about everything else we’re doing. Trump’s “birther” hoax before and during his presidency, along with his white supremacy and neo-Nazi stuff, took that old Republican strategy to another level. He and his son-in-law Jared, his chief bag man, stole a ton of money from us, nearly killed our voting rights, tried to put their political opponents in prison, and almost got away with it. They may yet. Who knows?

If you never heard of the Trump “University” scam or the Trump “Foundation” scam or the countless other scams he’s pulled off in New York, Atlantic City, Florida—everywhere he’s ever been you might have believed him. If you weren’t aware that he’s stiffed thousands of workers, suppliers, small businessesalmost everyone who’s ever worked for or done business with him. If you didn’t know the man has been a plaintiff or a defendant in more than 3500 lawsuits! Trump’s good at this stuff. When I hear someone describe something in great detail, I think to myself, It’s probably true; who could make up so many “facts?” Maybe I’m naïve.

Here he is talking about Obama’s supposed birth in Kenya. This was on NBC’s Today show in 2011, when he was thinking about running against Mitt Romney in the Republican primary. He had to drop the idea when the Evangelical leaders he needed told him it was too soon to convince their followers he had found Jesus.

Trump: “Well, I have people that actually have been studying it and they cannot believe what they’re talking.”

Vieira: “You have people now out there searching—I mean, in Hawaii?”

Trump: “Absolutely. And they cannot believe what they’re finding. And I’m serious.”[1]

He kept up the birther hoax for as long as he could: more than five years. He finally had to give it up, but not before Obama felt that he actually had to produce his birth certificate. A lot of people in the media said that was a big embarrassment for Trump. Nonsense. That birther hoax created millions of hard-core Trumpsters, many of whom still say they believe Obama was born in Kenya. Maybe you’re one of them? Got to hand it to him: he knows what makes some people tick.

Call me a limousine liberal, a snowflake, whatever. Just to let you know, I was a counsel to a New York State Republican Senate majority leader, a prosecutor in a Republican-appointed district attorney’s office in Queens, NY, right near Donald Trump’s family estate, and I worked in a Republican mayoral administration. Before that, when I dropped out of college, I went to work driving a gasoline truck for Esso, which was what Exxon was once called, and I was a bartender in a pretty rough place in upstate New York. I did a lot of other real work before I got lucky and had the chance to go back to school.

My wife and I need that Social Security check. We’re glad we have Medicare. I want my kids to have them, too. But I know that if they can get away with it, Mitch McConnell and his Senate Republicans are coming for those checks. They’ve already said so. They began shouting about the budget deficits and cutting “entitlements” right after they handed their mega-rich donors a tax break that will cost us 2 trillion dollars! They sold it as a middle-class tax break. I know Republican politicians better than most of you, and I know political bullshit when I hear it. They don’t talk about that tax scam anymore. They’re counting on us to have amnesia. But getting back to the old fashioned Republican race-baiting thing, as I’ve said, it’s always been used not only to get votes but to pick our pockets.

Here’s the Strategy Right from the Horse’s Mouth

On his deathbed, Lee Atwater repented of his politcal race-baiting, but his successors still follow his playbook.
On his deathbed, Lee Atwater repented of his political race-baiting, but his successors still follow his playbook.

Lee Atwater is as good a witness for that simple truth as you’ll ever find. Maybe you’ve never heard his name? Atwater was Ronald Reagan’s deputy campaign manager, and then campaign manager for the George H.W. Bush 1988 campaign. He became chairman of the Republican National Committee and a business partner of two of Trump’s oldest and most notorious advisers, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone. Atwater was a very big name back in the day.

I didn’t know him very well and always thought he was a pretty bad guy. Even so, I asked him to give a couple of lectures to some
graduate students studying politics because I wanted them to understand how Republican politics works in Washington.

Here’s an excerpt from a little-known 1981 interview that he gave on condition that it wouldn’t be published until after his death.[2]

Atwater: Y’all don’t quote me on this. You start out in 1954 (after the Supreme Court’s desegregation decision) by saying, “N-gger, n-gger, n-gger”. By 1968 you can’t say “n-gger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff.

You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me? Because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N-gger, n-gger.” So, any way you look at it, race is
coming on the backbone.

In Atwater’s time, working and middle class Americans still had good jobs, they weren’t so heavily in debt, their kids could go to low-cost or tuition-free schools, and so on. Republicans hadn’t yet killed organized labor with so-called “right-to-work” laws, and hadn’t really fired up the massive shift of wealth from most of us to the richest people in the country.

A staggering $50 trillion. That is how much the upward redistribution of income has cost American workers over the past several decades. This is not some back-of-the-napkin approximation . . .

That’s an excerpt from a Time Magazine piece citing a Rand Corporation study.[3]

I’m not going to go over the details of that massive shift of wealth upwards. Probably, you know it from personal experience. But you only have to think about it for a minute to know it wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t some immigration policy. Or about abortion. Or drugs. Or some young black man with a knife coming for your pension. Or a gay couple wanting to get married. The Big Money that finances politics, and especially the Republican Party, couldn’t care less about that stuff. They’ve made big investments—really crumbs compared to the returns they getin Donald Trump’s presidency and Mitch McConnell’s Senate.

They don’t want us thinking about how rich they are, how they get away with paying no taxes, and certainly not how they’re planning to cut Social Security and Medicare, get rid of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), and attack everything else that really matters to ordinary Americans.

They want us to think race. Not only race but anti-Semitism. Help! Help! George Soros is coming! He’s going to drink your baby’s blood. He’s helping the Demoncrats turn America into a Socialist, a Communist state!!

Donald Trump Jr. even retweeted a claim that Soros was a Nazi. And Rudy Giuliani retweeted that Soros is the Antichrist.

Glenn Beck claimed that Soros, who was 14 years old when World War II ended in Europe, was an S.S. officer.

I give you George Soros. A SS in the National Socialist German workers party. Nazi party. He served under Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler. He said it was the best time of his life. The destruction and agony around him was euphoric to him. This man was making policy with Hillary Clinton. And some of you think Trump is dangerous. Wow!

So this 90-year-old Jewish immigrant who escaped both the Nazis and the Communists has to put up with pipe bombs mailed to him from the nut jobs who will kill for Trump.

And now we come to the decision that will be made in just a few weeks.

Mitch McConnell and his corporate donors are thinking this Georgia Senate race with a black man and a Jew running against two white Christians is a perfect setup for Republicans to hold onto their Senate majority. They need to stop a Democratic effort to claw back some of that money that they pocketed with that 2 trillion dollar tax scam—and stop them from doing a lot of other things that would help the vast majority of Americans. I don’t have to list them. We all know about the state of our roads and bridges, the pandemic, the 50 million hungry people, and all the rest.

But things are changing. People are starting to catch on that this Senate runoff is about money. It’s either ours or theirs. That’s what the people and corporations that finance McConnell and his Senate troops care about, and what they pay the Republicans for: passing and defending tax loopholes that allow them to pay zero dollars in taxes and killing regulations so they can do pretty much whatever they want.[4]

That’s why a coal lobbyist runs the Environmental Protection Agency, a pharmaceutical lobbyist runs Health and Human Services, a tobacco lobbyist runs the Food and Drug Administration, an agribusiness and energy lobbyist runs the Department of the Interior. And I haven’t even scratched the surface.

They don’t want us to think about any of that. No! Think about George Soros and Black Lives Matter, instead. That ploy almost got them through another presidential election. But lucky for us, things have gotten so bad and so ugly that not even the Democrats could screw up this election. Joe Biden won. So now the big-money crowd have one more play: elect Perdue and Loeffler, keep McConnell as majority leader, and stop Biden from saving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And stop the Democrats from repairing as much as the wreckage as they can. It’s the same movie we’ve been watching since the 1930s. A Republican goes into the White House and causes a Great Depression or a Great Recession, a Democrat gets elected and cleans it up, and we start all
over again with another Republican who makes a new mess, this one a real doozy. It’s getting old, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, on the way out the door, these corporate lobbyists who run the Trump government are selling off tens of millions of acres of protected wilderness—our heritage—to the mining corporations whose payrolls they’re heading right back to. And they’re right back distributing corporate cash to McConnell’s political funds. He’s the vulture-in-chief they’re counting on to keep everyone in line. That’s a no-brainer for multimillionaires like Perdue and Loeffler. They’re near the head of the line.

Media “analysts” keep telling us that “America is deeply divided.” But we’re not really divided when it comes to things that matter: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and much, much more. Most of us agree—overwhelmingly—we want more of those things and not so much money flowing to the top,

If your income is less than $75,000 a year, you’re like 60 percent of all retirees: Social Security is the major source of your income, right?

A. Over half of all Democrats, Republicans, and independents say preventing Social Security cuts is one of their top three voting priorities.
B. Only 6 percent of voters ranked preventing Social Security cuts as one of their three lowest priority issues.[5]

Fearful that the old race thing isn’t working as well as it once did, Republicans have to come up with trickier ways than Lee Atwater described back in the 1980s to make us believe they’re on the side of “hardworking taxpayers.” You’ve heard that phrase, haven’t you? So now let me introduce the guy who came up with it. All the political insiders know the name, but you may not: Frank Luntz.

 

Republican master of words Frank Luntz teaches how to use words and emotion to mislead.
Republican master of words Frank Luntz teaches how to use words and emotion to mislead.

I’d have to write a book about him to explain all the damage he’s done to our country and the planet. When it comes to propaganda, Democrats aren’t in the same league. Luntz, the most infamous Republican propagandist in Washington, is state of the art. He uses quantitative data, polling, focus groups, “dial technology” and other techniques to come up withas he calls them—“words that work.” Dial technology, by the way, is a mechanism by which focus group participants register instantaneous responses to a speech or presentation.[6]

He also uses split samples in which half the test group gets one set of words and images, the other half gets different words and images, and the most effective words emerge and we start hearing them (over and over again) from Republicans running for office.

I’ll tell you what he recommends to his Republican clients on how they should talk about Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. But first let me introduce him properly with his:

FIRST PRINCIPLES:

1) [M]y job is to look for the words that trigger the emotion. Words alone can be found in a dictionary or a telephone book, but words with emotion can change destiny, can change life as we know it. We know it has changed history; we know it has changed behavior; we know that it can start a war or stop it. We know that words and emotion together are the most powerful force known to mankind.

2) [T]here’s a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again and again, and about the time that you’re absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time. And it is so hard, but you’ve just got to keep repeating, because we hear so many different things — the noises from outside, the sounds, all the things that are coming into our head, the 200 cable channels and the satellite versus cable, and what we hear from our friends. We as Americans and as humans have very selective hearing and very selective memory. We only hear what we want to hear and disregard the rest.

Sound familiar?

Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels'
Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels’ “Big Lie” technique is now standard procedure for Republicans.

Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief, put it this way: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually
come to believe it.” Now where do you think these phrases came from? “Fake News.” “Russia Hoax.” “Rigged Election.” “Deep State.” “No Collusion.” Etc., etc., etc.

Cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid While Portraying Themselves as Friends of “Hardworking Taxpayers.” How Do They Get Away With It?

As I said, “hardworking taxpayer” comes right out of the Frank Luntz playbook.

“[Democrats] cannot win if the fight is on hardworking taxpayers. We can say we defend the ‘middle class’ and
the public will say, I’m not sure about that. But defending ‘hardworking taxpayers’ and Republicans have the advantage.”

Global Warming

For years, Republicans have denied it. But with the ice caps melting, the non-human species dying, the planet heating up at such frightening speed, at least a few of them seem to have come to the realization that we all live on the same planet. But scientists are very worriedand so should we bethat they’ve kept up the fossil-fuel lobby’s propaganda for so long, it may be too late.

During George W. Bush’s first term, Luntz warned Republicans that they were losing “the environmental communications battle.” He told them to emphasize a lack of scientific certainty around climate change and drop “global warming” for the less scary-sounding “climate change.” (The weather/climate is always changing, what’s the big deal?)

More damaging than the switch from global warming to climate change was his advice to emphasize “acting only with all the facts in hand.” Hype “scientific uncertainty.” As though there’s some doubt about where virtually every climate scientist standsthose who aren’t on corporate payrolls, that is. We’re back in the days of Big Tobacco CEOs swearing under oath that cigarettes don’t cause cancer and heart disease.

“The fossil fuel industry, political lobbyists, media moguls and individuals have spent the past 30 years sowing doubt about the reality of climate changewhere none exists. The latest estimate is that the world’s five largest publicly-owned oil and gas companies spend about $200 million a year on lobbying to control, delay or block binding climate policy.”[7]

How Republicans are Counseled to Talk About Social Security

I don’t know how many of you recall or even knew that George W. Bush once proposed to “privatize” Social Security.

The Koch Industries-funded Cato Institute once promoted something called The Project on Social Security Privatization. They changed the name to Project on Social Security Choice in 2002. Different way to sell the same program: convert a guaranteed benefit into an “investment choice.” Hand over billions of tax dollars (Social Security is funded through that payroll tax you and your employer pay) to Wall Street with its management fees and risks. In fact, Cato would entirely replace Social Security with individual, IRA-like accounts. If the stock market tanks and you’ve lost your government-guaranteed Social Security? Well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles. This scheme’s chief backers? Bank of America, Citicorp, Chase, various insurance companies and securities firms like Salomon Brothers. Tip of the political spear? The Republican Party.[8]

Luntz went ballistic over the language Bush and the Republicans were using.

“BANISH PRIVATIZATION FROM YOUR LEXICON” was the lead in Luntz’s memorandum to Bush during the 2004 campaign.

Private is exclusive. Private is limiting. Private is something that’s not available to all. Personal is encompassing. It’s individual. It’s ownership. In the end, you need the combination of ‘personal’ and ‘security. ‘

I wonder how quickly McConnell, Perdue, Loeffler and the other Republican senators will find new ways to talk about cuts to Social
Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other vital programs.

Luntz counsels Republicans not to talk about “entitlement reform” or “controlling growth.” Instead, talk “about how to save and strengthen these programs so they are there when voters need them. After all, they’ve paid for them.”

 Mitch McConnell isn’t quite there yet. But getting there. “The nation’s debt is its biggest problem,” he says, now that his trillion-dollar tax cut has safely passed, “and the only way to fix it is to make changes in entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare . . . We have to assure they will be there for future generations.”

Luntz has been telling his Republican clients for some time not to talk about “improving” Medicare and Social Security.  “Improvements” suggests a more generous program; more, not less. “Saving, preserving, and strengthening”now you’re talking! It’s the same cuts but better words.

What will saving and strengthening mean to people on fixed incomes who will have to pay more? Don’t ask Luntz; he just writes the scripts. And if you’re thinking of asking Loeffler or Perdue, forget it: they want whatever Mitch McConnell says they want. Besides, they already have great health insurance and they don’t need Social Security. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! Can’t you just think about Black Lives Matter?

Luntz also tells his clients to scare and anger voters by using words like “politicians,” “bureaucrats,” “government takeover” and “Washington.”

From the Luntz-Republican Playbook: “In countries with government run healthcare, politicians make YOUR healthcare decisions. THEY decide if you’ll get the procedure you need, or if you are disqualified because the treatment is too expensive or because you are too old. We can’t have that in America.”

Before Republicans Can Cut Social Security, Medicare And Medicaid, They Have to Convince us They are Bankrupt or Mismanaged.

McConnell: “It’s a bipartisan problem: unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs (Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security) to the demographics of America in the future.”

Do you need a translation?

Perdue: “Right now, Social Security is bankrupt . . . Medicare goes to zero in eight short years. These programs have to be saved.” Perdue, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, reminds me of the officer in Vietnam who reportedly said, “We had to burn down the village to save it.”

“This is what I hope to get at in my second term,” Perdue warned us. “That is, Social Security and Medicare. [They] are what’s
causing the huge run-up. And if we don’t get at those things, we will have a runaway debt crisis.”

Shortly after he made those statements—he’s made many similar ones—a Perdue campaign spokesperson wrote: “Senator Perdue has not supported, does not support, and will never support cuts to Medicare and Social Security. He said absolutely nothing to
suggest that in the interview in question. Any claim that he supports doing so is absolutely false. Senator Perdue strongly advocates for efforts to save Social Security and Medicare so they can fulfill their promise to future generations.”

Contrast those words with the record. In 2015, Purdue even proposed restrictions to Social Security benefits through “means testing” and raising the retirement age.

Connecticut congressman John Larson summed it up pretty well:

How ironic that Republicans want to cut Social Security to pay for their $2 trillion tax cut they’ve saddled working people with, while 83 percent of the break went to the wealthiest 1 percent . . . Even the most casual observers are not fooled and know
the Republicans’ plan is to do nothing. The only solvency plan they’ve introduced in recent years would cut benefits by 30 percent. And if they continue down their path of doing nothing, it will result in a 20 percent across-the-board cut to beneficiaries’ checks.

Just as they professed Social Security would ruin the country and its economy in 1935, they are asserting that again! In reality, Social Security BOOSTS the economy. Social Security is one of the largest economic engines in the U.S. because beneficiaries largely spend their benefit payments, which go right back into the economy. Benefit payments themselves totaled nearly $1 trillion in 2018, and they contribute nearly $1.6 trillion in economic impact. Nobody’s getting rich off Social Securitypeople
are spending that money on food, housing, medical care and essential needs.”[9]

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the government’s net interest costs would be about equal to outlays for Social
Security by 2028. To put it another way, federal borrowing, much of it necessitated by the tax cut, would approach all the benefit payments for Social Security beneficiaries.

Perdue, of course, voted for the giant Republican tax scam.

Loeffler, a financial services executive, and her husband are multimillionaires. They are seven-figure Republican donors. Both Perdue and Loeffler are under investigation for insider trading. She allegedly received classified security briefings on the pandemic before the public was aware of what was in store for us. Allegedly, her subsequent stock trades reflected those briefings. I’ll forego any comments about that stuff. I don’t know anything about them. What we know beyond any doubt ought to convince everyone not to entrust our Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits to these vultures.

NEXT: Georgia runoff is a clear choice. Do we remain a democracy or welcome a dictatorship?


[2] Atwater died from a brain tumor in 1991. As George Bush’s campaign manager against Michael Dukakis, he famously said, “I’m going to strip the bark off the little bastard and make Willie Horton his running mate.” If you’re unfamiliar with the Willie Horton ad scandal just Google it. Atwater apologized on his death bed: “In 1988, I said that I ‘would strip the bark off the little bastard’ and ‘make Willie Horton his running mate.’ I am sorry for both statements: the first for its naked cruelty, the second because it makes me sound racist, which I am not.” I believed him—it was about money and votes—when he said race was just a tool. For Trump, it’s all three.

[4] Netflix, Amazon, Chevron, Delta Airlines, Eli Lilly, General Motors, Gannett, Goodyear, Halliburton, IBM, JetBlue Airways, US Steel, Whirlpool—60 of the Fortune 500 companiespaid no federal taxes. Zilch. Zero. And they’re coming for our Social Security and
Medicare.

[6] Luntz: “It’s like an X-ray that gets inside your head, and it picks out every single word, every single phrase [that you hear], and you know what works and what doesn’t. And you do it without the bias of a focus group. People are quiet as they’re listening, and they’re reacting anonymously. The key to dial technology is that it’s immediate, it’s specific, and it’s anonymous . . . . The great thing about dial technology is you can get a small response on the dial, or you can get a huge jump. You watch with your own eyes: At some points, the lines are way up at the top of the screen or even out beyond. People were practically breaking their dials in agreement at certain points, and at other points, they were flat. It measures intensity. And if you want to understand public opinion, if you want to understand public behavior, if you want to understand the way we operate as Americans and as humans, you’ve got to understand that one word: intensity.”

[8] The Wall Street Journal once called privatizing Social Security “the biggest bonanza in the history of the mutual fund industry.” By diverting 2 percent of payroll from Social Security into private accounts, Wall Street would take in about $60 billion a year.

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