Democratic Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, currently weighing another bid for the White House in 2008, already has picked up political pollster Frank Luntz’s new book, “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.”
As the pollster preaches, Americans prefer politicians who see the proverbial glass as half-full rather than half-empty.
“A cramped, sour, negative outlook on life comes across as downright un-American. Both Al Gore and John Kerry learned that lesson the hard way,” Mr. Luntz writes. “One key to Bill Clinton’s natural appeal was that he always seemed relatively sunny and upbeat, even at his most self-indulgent or when wallowing in self-pity.”
Mr. Clinton also spoke of “building a bridge to the 21st century.” By contrast, says Mr. Luntz, his opponent for re-election in 1996, Bob Dole, seemed to want to build a bridge to the “16th century.”
“Things used to be better, Dole remembered, because he was there. He was an old man telling the kids about the lost world of his childhood, when the sun shone a little brighter and the sea sparkled a little bluer,” he writes.
The exact opposite, in other words, of Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” language. Even the Gipper’s farewell letter to the American people in 1994, in which he disclosed that he had Alzheimer’s disease, touched everybody, says Mr. Luntz.
“I know that for America, there will always be a bright dawn ahead,” Mr. Reagan had written.
“Indomitable good cheer — in a letter announcing that he was afflicted with a cruel, terminal illness,” says the pollster. “That is the winning optimism Americans love.”