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2/18/05 4:25 PM
Copyright 2005 David C. Loebig

Random Digressions

The Government Sales Pitch


Bush and the Sales Pitch for Social Security

I’m leery of government that pitches its policies. Its one thing to make a case, but it’s quite another to give us the crafted pitch, as the Bush administration is doing with social security.

It’s nothing new in Washington. In fact, it seems to be the nature of politics to one degree or another at every level, local politics, national politics, even corporate politics. When you listen to somebody who “plays politics,” it’s a good idea to be a little skeptical because politicians, as a generalization, purposely skew their words for their own benefit

And let me clarify: When I say politicians, I don’t restrict the group to elected officials, though they are by rule in the group. I include the players we encounter at work and in any organization.

I also say it is a general rule, and it doesn’t apply across the board. I think Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Delaware), and Florida Senate President Tom Lee (R), are straight talkers. They have to play along, so they are careful with their words, but they strike me as forthright. They are the exceptions, and the rule still works: in varying degrees, politicians are creative with truth and the meanings of words.

The Bush administration seems to take that a step further. While administrations have long “sold” their policies, the current administration is either more brazen or does nothing to mask the pitch.

A recent example is the case for Social Security reform, which should be made in columns of numbers. It is a complicated financial situation with calculations of projected income, life spans and payments. Truth be told, it would be boring as dust.

But Bush hasn’t made a real case very prominently, but he has certainly made it a point to sell his agenda with a carefully planned tour and a series of speeches. His words are chosen not for their illumination of the subject but for their evocative effect. His words don’t “lie,” but they also don’t educate the public about the case.

What I hear from Bush on this is reminiscent of republican wordsmith and consultant Frank Luntz. Luntz researches words and tests them on focus groups for clients that include private companies and politicians, and he’s great at what he does.

In fact, I love what he does. I do the same thing in my work and sometimes in my writing. When I hear a Frank Luntz interview I stop and listen. Any wordsmith can learn from him and his examples. He carefully crafts messages to sell a product, and in his case, the product is often an idea.

It’s what we expect from an advertising campaign for a consumer product, and now we can expect it in Bush’s drive for Social Security reform. His ideas and policies my work, or they may not work. I don’t know enough about all the complicated factors involved to say one way or another.

But I do know that Bush’s speeches and his staff’s appeal to the masses aren’t a real case for his policies. His marketing isn’t meant to make the case, it’s meant to press the hot buttons of the public.

It’s the way government works now, and I can’t change, but I can call it what it is. It’s not a case, it’s a crafted sales pitch.

Dave Loebig writes and banters out of the Tampa, Fla. area. You can banter with him at


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