Remember New Speak?
The "right" learns a new way of lieing. Stealth Politics
A Call for Softer, Greener Language
A Call for Softer, Greener Language
ASHINGTON, March 1 — Over the last six months, the Republican Party has subtly
refocused its message on the environment, an issue that a party strategist called "the single
biggest vulnerability for the Republicans and especially for George Bush" in a
memorandum encouraging the new approach.
The Republicans, as the memorandum advised them, have softened their language to
appeal to suburban voters, speaking out for protecting national parks and forests,
advocating investment in environment technologies and shifting emphasis to the future
rather than the present.
In interviews, Republican politicians and their aides said they agreed with the strategist,
Frank Luntz, that it was important to pay attention to what his memorandum, written
before the November elections, called "the environmental communications battle."
In his memorandum, Mr. Luntz urges that the term "climate change" be used instead of
"global warming," because "while global warming has catastrophic communications
attached to it, climate change sounds a more controllable and less emotional challenge."
Also, he wrote, "conservationist" conveys a "moderate, reasoned, common sense position"
while "environmentalist" has the "connotation of extremism."
President Bush's speeches on the environment show that the terms "global warming" and
"environmentalist" had largely disappeared by late last summer. The terms appeared in a
number of President Bush's speeches in 2001, but now the White House fairly consistently
uses "climate change" and "conservationist."
Senator John E. Sununu, Republican of New Hampshire, was elected to his first term in
November after running advertisements promoting his efforts for clean water and forest
preservation. "It is only a slight exaggeration to say that historically, Republicans went out
and talked about the budget or taxes and the economy and waited to get beat up on the
environment and education, hoping that they could hold their own," Mr. Sununu said.
"Why wait? Why not step forward and talk about work that you have done to improve the
waterways or national parks?"
National environmental groups say the shift has blunted the edge of Republican attacks.
"They are not playing defense anymore," said Kim Haddow, a consultant for the Sierra
Club who has helped counter some Republican advertisements. "It's like a tennis game.
The ball is back in our court, and we need to spend time and energy educating voters."
In the State of the Union address, President Bush singled out a hydrogen fuel initiative
that would revolutionize automobiles and help control global warming. And this week, the
Department of Energy announced investments in technology to burn coal without carbon
dioxide emissions, the main gas that scientists say contributes to global warming.
Republican officials emphasized their view that a successful communication strategy can
work if it is built on these kinds of policies. "The message means nothing if the policy isn't
sound," said Scott McClellan, a White House spokesman.
Many new Republican communication strategies match the recommendations of the
16-page environmental memorandum put together by the Luntz Research Companies, the
consulting firm run by Mr. Luntz, who was also one of the drafters of "Contract with
America," the manifesto of House Republicans under Newt Gingrich, the former speaker.
The memorandum was given to The New York Times by the Environmental Working
Group, an advocacy group critical of Bush administration policies. "They are showing the
message discipline they need to get these anti-environmental policies past suburban
voters," said Ken Cook, president of the organization.
Six years ago, Mr. Luntz released a 222-page guide called "The Language of the 21st
Century," which offered Republicans a holistic communications strategy.
"It's essential that you communicate your principles if you want your public to understand
your policies," Mr. Luntz said in an interview.
The most recent memorandum suggests peppering speeches with phrases like "balance,"
"safe and healthy" and "common sense," terms that have been adopted frequently in
Republican environmental discussion. In a speech last August introducing an initiative on
thinning forests to prevent forest fires, for example, President Bush used the term
"common sense" at least six times. (It was also a favorite phrase of Carol M. Browner, the
Environmental Protection Agency administrator in the Clinton administration.)
One section of the memorandum, "Winning the Global Warming Debate," asserts that
many voters believe there is a lack of consensus about global warming among scientists.
"Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about
global warming will change accordingly," it says. "Therefore you need to continue to
make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue."
Among the ways to "challenge the science," the memorandum says, is to "be even more
active in recruiting experts who are sympathetic to your view and much more active in
making them part of your message" because "people are more willing to trust scientists
Mr. Luntz, who uses focus groups to test marketing strategies, has often been harshly
critical of the party. For example, the memorandum criticizes how the White House
handled what Mr. Luntz called the "arsenic in water imbroglio," which he described as the
"biggest public relations misfire of President Bush's first year in office."
Before leaving office, the Clinton administration issued an executive order tightening
standards for arsenic in water. When the Bush administration delayed the plan, it was
attacked because it failed to get its message across, the memorandum said. "The story was
not that Bush was delaying a hastily imposed regulation," Mr. Luntz wrote, "but rather he
was actively putting in more arsenic in the water."
The memorandum says bad public relations over such issues stems from an underlying
problem that, "as with education, Social Security, and so many other issues, the
Democrats have been expert at constructing a narrative in which Republicans and
conservatives are the bad guys."
So the memorandum advises that Republicans stop emphasizing a choice between
environmental protection and deregulation and instead become "a champion of national
parks," the "best way to show our citizens that Republicans can be for something positive
in the environment." The memorandum continues, "Being against existing laws or
regulations has been translated as being against the environment."
Each party says Mr. Luntz's advice played a role in elections last fall, including the Senate
race in Colorado, where the Republican incumbent, Wayne Allard, ran advertisements
promoting his work with the Great Sand Dunes National Park and cleaning up nuclear
"The thrust of the memorandum is consistent with what we tried to do with our campaign,
to take issues which have real impact on people in Colorado and work on those
problems," said Dick Wadhams, a spokesman for Senator Allard. "The Sierra Club and
League of Conservation Voters spent millions of dollars attacking Senator Allard and it
That kind of success will encourage more Republicans to embrace these strategies, party
"We have not engaged in the discussion as enthusiastically as we should on occasion —
there are so many governors around the country that have sterling environmental records,"
said Marc Racicot, chairman of the Republican National Committee. "We are going to talk
about these issues a lot over the next election cycle."
National environmental groups say the new strategy has improved the public's view of
Republicans. "He's not saying, `I am going to make environment my top priority,' " Ms.
Haddow said of Mr. Allard's campaign. "He's saying: "You don't have to worry about me.
I'm in sync with you.' "
"Luntz's advice is right," she said. "It's very smart — confounding, troubling, but
The New York Times Washington March 2, 2003
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