Using our intellect

For Your Consideration

Alan CheahJanuary 5, 2012 

In my last column I spoke of Frank Luntz and how he focus-tests words which will elicit whatever desired response he wants. He concocts a vocabulary designed to win the issue du jour.

Think tanks like the Heritage foundation and Hoover Institute, advocacy groups like Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks, newspapers like the Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal editorials, television programs like FOX and the Kudlow Report, talk shows like Limbaugh, Hannity, Levin, and Schnitt and bloggers like Malkin and Drudge and minions of the 1% then are dispatched to make their case framed with these scientifically tested words.

Those words then become so pervasive everyone, even those who aren't fans of this propaganda ecosystem, find themselves debating issues using that language -- job-killer, job-creators, socialist, welfare, freedom, betray, values and many more.

What those words have in common is that they appeal to our prejudices and biases. We have all spent a good portion of our lifetime unwittingly being inculcated with false stereotypes so it is extremely difficult to think outside that construct. That is why Luntz said, "80% of our life is emotion and only 20% is intellect."

I have spent a good part of my life trying to de-program myself and reverse those percentages. To truly understand the issues and act in the best interest of the country we all have to make a concerted effort to increasingly use our intellect.

Recent events can help illustrate how we can use our intellect instead of emotion. Regarding the payroll tax cut extension, House Speaker John Boehner claimed that House Republicans opposed the two month payroll tax extension because they wanted to "do the right thing" and hold out for a one year extension instead of "kicking the can down the road." Who would object to doing the right thing and not "kicking the can down the road?"

Based on Luntz's 80/20 rule we are more likely to respond favorably to those focus-tested words than the facts. If we used our intellect, we may ask why House Republicans unanimously rejected the one year extension the first time but wanted it the second time around only if provisions were added to benefit the 1% and corporate polluters. In other words, they will allow 160 million needy Americans to get a tax cut only if the 1% and corporate polluters get theirs. Suddenly Boehner and the Tea Party Republican actions seem less honorable than what those focus-tested words suggest.

A good example of how we can conduct our debates using our intellect is in last week's letter to the editor "Taxes continue" by W C. Bastian.

There are no words here playing on our prejudices. Now we can have a conversation using our intellect. Mr. Bastian points out that reducing an individual's payroll tax contribution would reduce the credit on their Social Security account thereby reducing their payout at retirement. Good point.

Using my intellect, I would ask if that is a statement of fact and for its source. I would also ask if there is a provision in the bill adjusting for that negative impact. If it is not a credibly sourced statement, then it shouldn't be passed off as the rest of the story. If there is a mitigating provision in the bill, then it is a non-issue.

Mr. Bastian also said that "SS security was heading for failure" and "the estimated failure date will be moved up" with the passage of the payroll extension. Again using intellect, I would ask Mr. Bastian how he defines Social Security failure. What is the estimated failure date?

Here are the facts. According to the Social Security Trustees (see www.ssa.gov/oact/tr/2011/tr2011.pdf), Social Security is solvent until 2037 and has a $2.6 trillion in U.S. Treasuries. After 2037, there will only be enough money to pay out 78% of benefits. Raising the $106,000 income cap for levying payroll taxes easily solves that problem.

Equipped with the facts, we might use our intellect to conclude that the situation is not as dire as suggested.

This is the greatest fear of the grand manipulators -- that we actually have unemotional conversations with one another. What a great idea for the New Year.

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