In a former life I was a journalist for a national radio news program. Stories about the environment were always difficult to put on air. Whether the topic was rainforests, pollution, ozone, endangered species or one of so many other things that falls to the Environment Desk, we always struggled to make it sound interesting and relevant. The truth is, it’s very difficult to get most people to care.
The same is true in the political realm. And so the messaging is critical. The recent paper by pollster Frank Luntz *The Language of a Clean Energy Economy* should be read by progressive politicians everywhere. More importantly, its findings should be adopted.
Luntz is generally regarded as an evil genius Republican message maestro, so his advice on how to pitch energy legislation to the broad public is all the more well-taken. Some of the phrases that resonate best with people surveyed:
> It doesn’t matter if there is or isn’t climate change. It is still in America’s best interest to develop new sources of energy that are clean reliable, efficient and safe.
> As a matter of principle, we must take this opportunity to use the emerging new energy economy to create jobs and careers right here in America, not overseas.
You might think this sounds like a Thomas Friedman column. That’s because it does. As I read Luntz’s work, it’s clear to me just how spot on Friedman is with his language when he talks about the imperative for investment in new energy technologies.
Luntz shows us that there are themes in climate and energy legislation that unite Democrats and Republicans. “Freeing the US from foreign oil” and “American jobs” are dominant themes that all people support. (Interestingly, “green jobs” performs terribly when set next to American/permanent/high paying/skilled/future-proof jobs.)
But before they can get to talking about the benefits of legislation, politicians and media take a long tedious detour (via cable TV newsrooms, among others) to discuss/opine/shout about the mechanics of policy and regulation. And it’s a big turn-off. As David Roberts puts it, “The public hates sausage-making and back-room dealing; they hate vituperative disputes over mechanisms and statistics.”
Next time you’re chatting with somebody and find yourself making the case for legislation, remember these four things:
- Energy independence
- American jobs
- Cleaner, healthier air
- Corporate accountability
President Obama will shortly deliver his first State of the Union address. Has Obama’s speechwriter read Luntz’s study, I wonder?