Frank Luntz's Flying Circus

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Here's your Friday Fun Link with an extra pinch of surrealism. For some brilliant-but-unfathomable reason, Fox News booked John Cleese to help Frank Luntz with his presidential debate focus groups. Yes, you're thinking of the right John Cleese. Cleese's wisdom about big money and politics has to be seen for full effect, but the transcript:

LUNTZ: What about the advertising? We were talking about…

CLEESE: Really, I mean, you won't believe this. There's no paid political advertising on British television. We don't have those 30-second things. They…

LUNTZ: Would you like that, by the way, to cut out all the ads?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

LUNTZ: No?

CLEESE: It means that everything's got to be condensed into 30 seconds, and that means that it's just sound bites, so that nothing substantial—you just sort of put across a slur or, "Mmm, I like that person," or (RASPBERRY SOUND) "I don't." That's about it.

COLMES: Hey, Frank…

CLEESE: I love the fact that, when we have politics on British television, it's paid for by the television companies.

LUNTZ: And that's got to be the last word.

Mmmm, I like that person!

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  1. Yeah, but they’ve got a Ministry of Silly Walks.

  2. Why can’t we have publically funded campaigns in this country?

  3. Well, MCW,

    How would you feel about being forced to fund the American Nazi Party campaigns with your hard earned dollars?

    Should people who work in abortion clinics be forced to fund the campaigns of candidates who want to put them in jail?

    Should immigrants be forced to fund the campaigns of those who wish to deport them?

    Publically funded campaigns are fundamentally incompatible with a free society because inevitably you have government officials deciding which political parties are worthy and which are not. Even if this power wouldn’t be misused to, for example shut down voices opposed to an unjust yet popular laws such as Jim Crow in the 50’s or drug prohibition today, it would still cripple any nascent political movement more effectively than the ballot access laws do today.

  4. What’s a (RASPBERRY SOUND) ?

  5. Fuck you, Frank!

  6. A farting sound.

    Thank you wikipedia.

  7. Dammit, Warty beat me to it…

  8. Tarran its better than the current system where the big corporations buy candidates, so they can be wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate class. This allows them to run run our country for their profit not the public good.

    Look at Halliburton, Diebold and Blackwater.

  9. MCW,

    It’s a great sentiment, but it doesn’t work that way. The companies you mention gave big to Bush/Cheney, but their contributions were a tiny fraction of the overall campaign contributions. The FEC filings are publicly available if you’d like to verify. Individual contributions make up more than the majority of most campaign coffers.

    Publicly funded campaigns produce precisely the kinds of unintended results that tarran describes. On the rare occasions where the process is not corrupted, it still creates an enormous stumbling block for candidates who are not the hand-picked successors to the current contenders. Even without corruption, you get political environments where groups like MoveOn are essentially outlawed because private spending on political issues is necessarily outlawed.

  10. Dammit, it’s Friday. Why can’t this just be a Monty Python thread?!?

  11. MCW,

    The <B> tag does not make your words any less ridiculous. Quite the opposite, in fact.

  12. The assumption that the television ad is the beginning and the end of the candidates communication is painfully simplistic. Who sees an ad and says, “Golly, that’s my candidate!”? No one. You might look them up on the web or talk to your coworkers about the candidate or look for their name in the news. The TV ads are about building name recognition and some simple associations/signals as a starting point for selling the candidate. They aren’t the whole damn campaign.

  13. Intercourse the penguin!

  14. And that, Mr MCW, is why democracy is fundamentally incompatible with a free society as well.

    Big business only exists where you have big government giving them favors. When you have big government, the politically connected nobility invariably rip off the peasants, those who are not politically connected.

    Most people have little to no understanding of political or legal theory, so are easily gulled into voting for programs that harm them and benefit a politically connected elite. This is not a condemnation of the average voter. Most people are not experts on how to manage a baseball team, or in biology, or in electrical engineering. We wouldn’t design a pacemaker by having competing blue-prints put up to a popular referendum.

    Anytime you have an organization that takes wealth by force and intervenes in the affairs of peaceful people, it will inevitably lead to abuse. Unfortunately so many generations have grown up being fed noting but the lies of those bankrolling the Wilson, Hoover and FDR administrations, that they actually believe we need big powerful government to protect us from the abuses that only big powerful government makes possible…

    If they were to abandon this notion that, for example, the governemnt should dictate how much you pay for a kilowatt of electricity, or how much you pay the guy you hire to wait table sin your restaurant, or how much you pay for water, or how much rum you can mix with wine, one would find we were all better off, for as Bastiat observed 150 years ago:

    But it does not always do this. Sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it. Thus the beneficiaries are spared the shame, danger, and scruple which their acts would otherwise involve. Sometimes the law places the whole apparatus of judges, police, prisons, and gendarmes at the service of the plunderers, and treats the victim — when he defends himself — as a criminal. In short, there is a legal plunder, and it is of this, no doubt, that Mr. de Montalembert speaks.

    But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.

    Then abolish this law without delay, for it is not only an evil itself, but also it is a fertile source for further evils because it invites reprisals. If such a law — which may be an isolated case — is not abolished immediately, it will spread, multiply, and develop into a system.

    The person who profits from this law will complain bitterly, defending his acquired rights. He will claim that the state is obligated to protect and encourage his particular industry; that this procedure enriches the state because the protected industry is thus able to spend more and to pay higher wages to the poor workingmen.

    Do not listen to this sophistry by vested interests. The acceptance of these arguments will build legal plunder into a whole system. In fact, this has already occurred. The present-day delusion is an attempt to enrich everyone at the expense of everyone else; to make plunder universal under the pretense of organizing it.

    Now, legal plunder can be committed in an infinite number of ways. Thus we have an infinite number of plans for organizing it: tariffs, protection, benefits, subsidies, encouragements, progressive taxation, public schools, guaranteed jobs, guaranteed profits, minimum wages, a right to relief, a right to the tools of labor, free credit, and so on, and so on.

    This question of legal plunder must be settled once and for all, and there are only three ways to settle it:
    1. The few plunder the many.
    2. Everybody plunders everybody.
    3. Nobody plunders anybody.
    We must make our choice among limited plunder, universal plunder, and no plunder. The law can follow only one of these three.

  15. Don’t take advice on democracy from people who are philosophically opposed to it.

  16. Thank you, Warty.

  17. Don’t take advice on democracy from people who are philosophically opposed to it.

    But then I couldn’t take this advice from you.

  18. Hmm, lets see how that generalizes:

    Don’t take advice on democracy the war in Iraq from people who are philosophically opposed to it.

    Don’t take advice on democracy being insolvent from people who are philosophically opposed to it.

  19. They also have the Silly Party.

    We have two of them.

  20. They also have the Silly Party.

    We have two of them.

    Only two?

  21. Don’t take advice on anti-democracy from people who are philosophically opposed to it.

    P.S. I like Hayek’s suggestion in the The Constitution of Liberty: anyone who receives direct compensations from or works for government can’t vote.

  22. Daniel Reeves,

    There’s a problem with that idea: a little thing called “kickbacks”

  23. I think the government should choose and finance our candidates for us.

  24. I want to see Hillary in the Argument Clinic sketch…

  25. Publically funded campaigns are fundamentally incompatible with a free society because inevitably you have government officials deciding which political parties are worthy and which are not. Even if this power wouldn’t be misused to, for example shut down voices opposed to an unjust yet popular laws such as Jim Crow in the 50’s or drug prohibition today, it would still cripple any nascent political movement more effectively than the ballot access laws do today.

    Then why doesn’t that seem to be the case in countries that practice it? Yes, many of them do have policies that squeeze out the fringes, yet what’s left seems to be a far greater range of diversity than gets significant att’n or clout in the USA. Here, without as much in the way of official policies squeezing out the fringes, it seems a vastly greater space inward from the circumference gets effectively diminished to a degree almost indistinguishable from the complete shutout that the very edge might suffer under official control & conduct of elections.

    At least that’s my impression. I may not like it, but I have to acknowledge it.

  26. Then why doesn’t that seem to be the case in countries that practice it? Yes, many of them do have policies that squeeze out the fringes, yet what’s left seems to be a far greater range of diversity than gets significant att’n or clout in the USA.

    Are they really free societies? I cannot think of a single nation with publically funded campaigns where there aren’t massive infringements on human rights. All of them suffer from massive levels of Bastiat’s economic plunder. Often freedom of speech is unacceptably limited (Trying to sell a copy of Mein Kampf in Germany or France can land you in jail). Canada has its human rights commissions and limitations on freedom of speech.

    I would be interested in what countries you would cite as falsifying my claim.

    Please note that I am not making a claim that the U.S. is freer than those countries. Here in the U.S. the first past the post election system serves a similar purpose, effectively preventing more than two political parties from wielding power. These political parties collaborate quite effectively (through writing ballot access laws and the like) to prevent meaningful competition. So this is not an argument about relative merits of two fundamentally flawed systems, but rather to point out that one proposed system will not significantly improve matters but rather will probably make them worse.

  27. Hello fellow readers – Please check out this site if you are following the US Election: http://www.whatifweallvoted.com

  28. I love how they cut off Cleese at the end when he’s starts going off about how the TV stations pay for the political advertising in the UK.

    Although now that I think of it, does that mean that the TV stations have definite political leanings? That makes it pretty worrisome for regular folks I would imagine, too. Guess I’ll just have to look it up…

  29. Please note that I am not making a claim that the U.S. is freer than those countries.

    Well shit, then whatever you had to say that might be useful of a comparative nature goes away, doesn’t it?

  30. I mean, if no matter how you fund or conduct politics you get an unfree society and that’s all you can say on the matter, then why even bring it up? What I’m saying is that the range of political discourse doesn’t seem to be hurt, and if anything seems to be enhanced, by ways of funding and restricting advertising like that mentioned by Mr. Cleese in the transcript, as opposed to the status quo in the USA. It may result in less freedom in a formal sense, but greater diversity as applies to discourse related to elections.

  31. “Don’t take advice on being insolvent from people who are philosophically opposed to it” doesn’t make any sense.

    But you’re right, don’t look to me for advice on how to win the war in iraq from me, RC. That little disaster is all yours.

    tarran,

    If your ideas on how to run elections are incompatible for what you call “an unfree society” and what 99% of the people on the planet call “the only system of government worth living under” – ie, representative democracy – than I go back to my original point: don’t take advice on democracy from people who are philosophically opposed to it.

  32. I mean, if no matter how you fund or conduct politics you get an unfree society and that’s all you can say on the matter, then why even bring it up?

    Stephen Covey loves to tell the story about a crowd of men busily cutting a road through the jungle. Eventually, one of them climbs a tall tree and realizes that they are cutting the road in the the wrong jungle. When he tries to point his out to his fellows, they get dismiss him. “Can’t you see we’re busy” they tell him. “Our surveyors are doing a good job laying out the road, we’re doing a great job clearing the trees and brush and leveling the grades, etc. Unless you have anything constructive to add, butt out!” They’re only interested in talking to people who tell them how they can more efficiently build the road they are building and have no patience for someone saying, “Wrong Jungle!”

    The arguments over how to organize government so that it isn’t oppressive are futile essentially because thee is no way to structure an organization that robs and murders to behave morally. The answer, of course, is to do away with them or if there is no alternative to reduce their scope.

    What public financing of elections does is to grow the scope of government. It’s absurd and counterproductive to attempt to solve the problems caused by interventionist government (rent seeking & crony capitalism) by having more government intervention.

    Furthermore, there will be negative consequences. For example, to promote drug use is, I believe, against the law. A political party which calls for the legalization of currently illegal drugs would find themselves being threatened with access to the public financing system. They won’t be tap private donors so easily; the government is taking what money people would ordinarily spend on political contributions and sucking it out of the economy in the form of taxes to fund the public financing system.

    Political parties, like any entity, try to keep their financiers happy. When the financiers are government officials, suddenly the political parties become very solicitous of protecting the civil service.

    If you look at the countries with public financing, I think you will find political stagnation. True, they may have more active political parties (a result of proportional representation vice the U.S. first past the post system). However, these political parties are tame ones, ones that do not seriously threaten the status quo, much like the Russian Orthodox church in the officially atheistic Soviet Union, whose priests were nearly universally officers in the KGB. Sure, it looks like there is tolerance for dissent, but in reality it assures what dissent there is is meaningless.

  33. f your ideas on how to run elections are incompatible for what you call “an unfree society” and what 99% of the people on the planet call “the only system of government worth living under” – ie, representative democracy – than I go back to my original point: don’t take advice on democracy from people who are philosophically opposed to it.

    Joe, democracy gave us such wonderful innovations as Jim Crow, the Man act and drug laws.

    It’s given us Britain where two-year olds are getting slapped with Anti-Social behavior orders.

    Regardless of how many people support a bad system, it is still bad. Even if 80% of the population supported legal segregation, legally enforced segregation would be wrong.

    BTW, I think your 99% figure is hyperbole. The vast majority of people do not live in “democratic” societies and are not committing suicide because their lives are not worth living. When you make up statistics, you might want to make up ones that are plausible. 😉

    I doubt the figure is as high as 10%, frankly. Most people don’t care so long as their basic needs of food, shelter and entertainment are met, and why should they?

  34. Democracy gave us state-sanctioned racism? Really? Democracy gave us that? You might want to crack that history book. Really, really, really wrong-headed example.

    The vast majority of people do not live in “democratic” societies and are not committing suicide because their lives are not worth living. The vast majority of them wish they did.

  35. How would you feel about being forced to fund the American Nazi Party campaigns with your hard earned dollars?

    Should people who work in abortion clinics be forced to fund the campaigns of candidates who want to put them in jail?

    Should immigrants be forced to fund the campaigns of those who wish to deport them?

    Why should I have to fund the pavement the American Nazi Party walked on in Skokie, or the police escort they required?

    Because I didn’t fund either of those things. I funded the construction and maintenance of Main Street, and the existence of a police force. When you provide public infrastructure or services, people you don’t like are going to use them, too. Should we shut down all the town squares so that the American Nazi Party has no place to gather? Close all the roads so they’ll have no place to march?

  36. Those roads and those town squared provide many invaluable public services, but even just looking at their use as vehicles for political expression, we are vastly better off as a society having them there and allowing people to use them to get their message out, even if we don’t like somebody’s particular message, and we fund them for that purpose.

  37. MCW likes to talk about how “the corporations” “buy” candidates to give them special favors. Doubtless this is true, but he ignores that labor unions, small businesses, and various political interest groups are also into this big scam. As for me, I go by the saying by P.J. O’Rourke “When there are laws about what can be bought and sold, the first things to be bought and sold will be politicians.” Incidentally, MCW reminds me of the hippies from the South Park episode “Die, Hippie, Die”. Maybe if we get this website to blast Death Metal music MCW will go away. Or we can use the hippie driller and deal with him/her directly.

  38. Personalizing your argument like that is not only disreputable, but self-defeating. Campaign finance laws, and those who argue for them, deal with the effects of unions, wealthy individuals, and interest groups, too. Maybe MCW doesn’t. Uh, so?

    As for the P.J. O’Rourke statement, the government in the mid-1800s was smaller and more libertarian than most people alive today could dream, and that didn’t stop the wealthy of the day from spending a great deal on politics, so they could buy themselves goodies like Railroad Eminent Domain, public-sector strikebreakers, and the Penn Coal ruling.

    When people have vastly disproportionate amounts of wealth, the wealthy WILL buy the government. If the government isn’t big enough to do what they want, they’ll but it and put on an addition.

  39. FYI, arguing that any or all of the “rich people’s goodies” I listed above were GOOD THINGS isn’t a rebuttal to my argument.

  40. Actually, in the mid-eighteen hundreds most of the successful rich people did it without govt. help. For example, while most of the subsidized rr’s, such as the UP, failed, the Great Northern, built entirely with private funds, thrived. In any case, the scope of govt. involvement was not nearly as wide as it is today, and while those things you listed above were not good things, I would say they were less harmful than the government’s massive welfare state, intrusive regulations and disproportionate income taxes that you hold so dear. We also still have protectionism and eminent domain courtesy of democratic government, so your argument there is irrelevant.

  41. “personalizing your arguments like that…is self-defeating”
    The part about MCW’s anti-corporate stance is simply to point out that he is a mindless douche who fails to understand that most problems in the world are NOT caused by corporations, and that more problems have probably been solved by profit-seeking individuals and corporations than by any band of leftie do-gooders. That part of my argument had nothing to do with my particular opposition to public financing and campaign finance laws. However, I would rather a corporation use its own money to fund a candidate’s campaign than have that candidate (with whom I may or may not agree) steal my money to fund his or her campaign.

  42. joe,
    While I may rip on you for being a leftwing socialist, I respect the fact that, unlike MCW, you at least respond to opposing views with an argument supported by facts, rather than emotional rantings. I really think that if you were not so heavily invested in the views I mentioned above, we could get along quite well.

  43. Actually, in the mid-eighteen hundreds most of the successful rich people did it without govt.

    As do most of them today.

    Which has nothing to do with the point, which was about the propensity of the rich to buy the government. They did it in 1790, they did it in 1823, they did it in 1848, and they’ll do it today.

    That propensity is not, as PJ O’Rourke would have it, a consequence of the growth of the government during the 20th century.

  44. BTW, I’m not a leftwing socialist. I’m a center-left liberal, about a step and a half to the left of the American center.

    You can get confused if you spend a great deal of time in an echo chamber, economist, but it is you who is out on one of the wings.

  45. I really think that if you were not so heavily invested in the views I mentioned above, we could get along quite well.

    joe’s not that hard to get along with. He’s full of bologna 60-70% of the time, but most people are. That does imply that he makes valid points 30-40% of the time and that’s not being a troll, that’s just marching to a different beat and not being ashamed of it. He is occasionaly a jerk, but so are many others at H&R.

    Not me though.

  46. joe,
    I may be more out of the mainstream than you are on economic issues, but that reflects more on how far the United States has drifted from its founding principles than it does on how extreme my own views are. Besides, I am not nearly so extreme as you would say. I favor govt spending on basic infrastructure, education, police forces, and defense, as well as regulations to curb genuinely harmful actions ie, pollution that harms people’s health or property, unsanitary conditions on one’s property that threaten the health of others (such as an open cesspool that acts as a breeding ground for disease). I think that the government is responsible for maintaining a stable monetary value, and I see the benefits of fiat money, when properly used, over commodity money. In trade issues, it is true that I am unabashedly in favor of free and open trade with all nations (even Cuba, Iran, and *gasp* China). To the extent that we have tariffs, it should be as a revenue raising device, and in that case it would be more logically consistent to have a lower general consumption tax. This is the only position I have that puts me “on the fringe”. In terms of taxation, I support a “benefits received” principle. For example, to fund the police and defense, we SHOULD have a proportional income tax, since one benefits from these things in proportion to how much he has to lose if they didn’t exist. I support the use of a gasoline excise tax to pay for the building and maintenance of roads. I would even support, for example, a change in the Social Security system under which parents received social benefits based on how much their kids pay, as well as how much they paid in taxes to support education. Basically, since they bore many of the costs necessary to make the economy prosperous for their children, they should enjoy some benefit in their old age. The only reason to fear my ideas is if you think that it’s okay to harm some people for the sake of others’ “need”. Other than that, I see no reason why I am considered to be an extremist.

  47. If our political culture hadn’t changed in two and a quarter centuries, that would be a rather unique event in human history.

  48. Aw, come on, joe, I know you can do a better argument than that.

  49. If I saw something worth arguing over, I imagine I could.

    But I don’t; you agreed with me that my political opinion is far closer to the American center than yours.

  50. joe
    I agreed that your views were closer to the American center than mine, and then explained why the American center is off. But if you want to couch the validity of your arguments in majority opinion, then when the vast majority supports something you hate, let me know so I can laugh at you.

  51. Cleese’s wisdom about big money and politics has to be seen for full effect

    Sorry, but back to the point of the actual post, if I may butt in? ‘Twas a waste of time. You may now resume your pointless bickering. Which is also a waste of time.

  52. ed,
    What are your thoughts about the post? If you want to butt in, that’s fine, but at least have a point yourself.

  53. My point about the post (as noted) is that it was a waste of time. Cleese shows up at the very end and adds nothing to a nothing event.

  54. ed, when I come to a post where I have nothing to add because I’m ignorant or the post is stupid/doesn’t interest me, I just don’t comment. Try it sometime, it works. 😉

  55. ed
    Ah, now I get what you mean. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

  56. If joe doesn’t bother with a rebuttal, does that mean I win the argument? And if this is the last word, do I win the thread?

  57. Yes! I win the thread! Screw you guys, I’m going home!

  58. joe says that I talk about my views in an “echo chamber” but I regularly invite people to disagree with my views and debate the validity of my statements. If joe, MCW, and James can’t come up with a relevant rebuttal, that’s not my fault. To the extent that any of them actually argues logically, it is joe. MCW occasionally makes a relevant point, and James is just a whiny little twat who posts here because he doesn’t have anything better to do than pick arguments he can’t win. Of course, I write this at my computer on a Saturday evening. So maybe I should shut up, get dressed, and go out to a movie or something and try to forget that douches like MCW exist.

  59. Yes! I win the thread! Screw you guys, I’m going home!

    No you don’t! 😉

  60. Okay, fine, J sub D wins.

  61. No, you can have this one: the direction of the country since George Washington till now has been deviationist, and things would be better if your personal political beliefs were the dominant paradigm.

    I think I’ve heard that before.

  62. Don’t take advice on democracy from people who are philosophically opposed to it.

    joe, well first, recognizing the inherent dangers in democracy is probably not the same as being philosophically opposed to it, unless by “it” you mean some kind of pure majoritarianism in which case, then yes, I for one am certainly philosophically opposed to that.

    But beyond that, while it has a nice rhetorical ring, which would doubtless get some applause in a debate if you ever decide to run for office, it looks to me a bit of a cheap shot aimed at preemptively dismissing or discounting the views of those with a different philosophical take on how democracy ought to be implemented.

  63. “No, you can have this one…things would be better if your personal political beliefs were the dominant paradigm.”
    joe,
    Was that you actually ceding an argument, or were you being sarcastic? I’m afraid I can’t tell.

  64. As I’ve brought out before (here I think), the problem with campaign regulation (finance and other issues) is that elections straddle spheres of activity. Nobody objects to there being rules regarding the conduct of public hearings, tribunals, etc. that attempt to regulate the amount of time each person gets to talk, etc. The trouble is that our elections aren’t conducted in a meeting room, they’re conducted in the outside world wherein communication is not a closed system such that political debate only affects itself and is only affected by itself. So we’re forced to compromise between freedom of speech on one hand and fairness of elections and other gov’t proceedings on the other.

  65. I can’t tell either!!!!

  66. Robert,
    You make a good point, but it still doesn’t address why people should be kept from making, for example, ads that concern a candidate’s record before the election. The simple act of putting out ads does not prevent the target from rebutting the ad. And saying something patently false could be classified under current law as libel, with possible legal repercussions, or could simply end up damaging the reputation of the attacker rather than the target.

  67. I want to have… I want to have Raquel Welch dropped on top of me

  68. You make a good point, but it still doesn’t address why people should be kept from making, for example, ads that concern a candidate’s record before the election. The simple act of putting out ads does not prevent the target from rebutting the ad.

    Because it’s not your turn to talk, and no matter whether what you say is true or false, if it’s stated more frequently or placed more prominently than other statements, that’s unfair. That’s if the election is viewed as a legal or governmental proceeding, of course.

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