Political consultant and pollster Frank Luntz didn’t invent all the most viral Republican soundbites, such as “tax and spend Democrats,” but he knows how to snow an audience with political marketing via deceptive wordsmithing. The audience, of course, being the American people.
For instance, Luntz says it should be “opportunity scholarships” instead of “vouchers,” “electronic intercepts” instead of “wiretapping” or “eavesdropping,” “government takeover of health care” rather than “universal coverage,” “deep-sea exploration” instead of “offshore drilling for oil.” He infamously said that Republicans should avoid “global warming” and use what he considered softer language: “climate change.”
Luntz also was instrumental in the broad dissemination of one of the most effective GOP substitutions, replacing “estate tax” or “inheritance tax” with “death tax.” But he didn’t invent it. Jim Martin of the 60-Plus Association, which he has described as a conservative AARP, credits himself for that coinage. By 2001, thanks to Luntz, Republicans had made the “death tax” so widespread that many in the media treated it as a neutral term, as some still do.
Democrats have so far failed to come up with an edgy counter-soundbite of their own that illustrates just how deceptive the “death tax” theme is. Given what Donald Trump laid out in the Republican tax plan Wednesday, they need to do so. New York University School of Law professor Lily L. Batchelder has come up with just the thing—the “silver spoon tax.” Not only does it have the proper ring, it’s also perfectly accurate since only 0.2 percent of estates are subject to the tax.
Trump employed “death tax” four times in his speech:
So that death tax is a disaster for this country and a disaster for so many small businesses and farmers. And we’re getting rid of it. […]
“With us today is Kip Tom, a family farmer from Leesburg — Where’s Kip? Go ahead, Kip. Hi, Kip — who fears that his family’s farming heritage — it’s been a long time. How long, Kip? A hundred and eighty-seven years — that’s peanuts, Kip. Wow. That’s a long time. But that great heritage could come to an end because of the death tax, or the estate tax, and could make it impossible for him to pass that legacy to his wonderful family. We’re not going to let that happen.”