With the giant termite tent enveloping our rapidly dilapidating home, we were sent packing for two nights to a nearby hotel. A really nice one. With toys in the room – a yo-yo, and juggling balls. There were also some books, but if I wanted to read, I’d have checked into a library.
The hotel reminded me of an incident that took place nearby, a few years earlier. The incident reflects…pretty much my insanity, I suppose. Or at least a terribly conflicted spirit. I try to be careful about labeling my behavior insane. It sounds too much like bragging.
“Oh, yeah. I’m crazy.”
I feel like my unique responses do not rise to that standard. But it’s not, “I ate lunch; I took a nap.” It’s still worth talking about.
So here we go.
Years ago, when I was working on the show Lateline, a sitcomical version of Nightline created and starring now Senator Al Franken, a man came into our office whose name was Frank Luntz.
For those of you not familiar with that name, Frank Luntz is a Republican pollster and political strategist. The polling results direct Luntz into planning how best to attack and weaken the Democratic Party. That’s his whole job – making Democrats look bad.
Luntz’s method involves identifying “hot button” issues, and then devising emotionally charged phrases, meant to inflame voters’ passions, and turn them against the Democrats. Luntz then instructs Republican elected officials and party operatives to repeat those phrases whenever they’re interviewed. Which they do. Every single Republican. Every single time.
Luntz was behind re-branding the “Inheritance Tax”, “The Death Tax.” The “Inheritance Tax”, supported by Democrats, generated little public concern. The majority of people have no money to leave anyone. And besides, something like the first two million dollars of your estate isn’t taxable. Almost everybody doesn’t have two million and one dollars to leave anyone.
On the other hand, everybody dies. Making a “Death Tax” sound like a tax on everybody. Besides, isn’t dying bad enough? Do you have to also be taxed for doing it?
Suddenly, people were up in arms about this terrible “Death Tax”, even though it would not affect almost any of them in any way whatsoever. The taxes part. They were all going to die.
Luntz also took the “Economic Stimulus Package” and renamed it “The Bank Bailout Bill.” You see how that works. “The Democrats are bailing out the banks!” A big “Boo!” for the Democrats. Even though the party that championing the bank deregulation that got us into this trouble was the Republicans.
Emotion trumps logic. And Frank Luntz took full advantage.
Okay, so that’s the guy who’s visiting the Lateline office. This was around 1998, when the Democratic president was in deep doo-doo. Now Senator Al asks Luntz what he’s currently up to. Luntz tells him,
“I’m trying to maximize the damage of the ‘Lewinsky Affair’ to President Clinton.”
To which, I immediately reply,
“How did you every get to be so scummy?”
Once again, it was one of those moments. I say something socially indigestible, and the world goes on “Pause”. Seconds later, everything’s back to normal, everyone behaving as if the moments when I was speaking had never actually taken place.
Fast forward to 2004. (And hold onto your hats.)
I’m walking down by the beach. I pass the hotel we would subsequently stay at when the termites were being decimated under the big, blue-and-yellow tent. Standing in the garden area beside the hotel, who do I spot being interviewed by CNN?
I stop, I stand there, and I watch, hoping…Wait for it…at the end of the interview, to go up to Frank Luntz and say hello.
I mean, what exactly was I thinking?
“Frank? Earl Pomerantz. We met at the Lateline office. I called you scummy.”
“Yeah. Earl. Great to see you again.”
Did I really think that was going to happen? Did I really believe the man I called scummy would be genuinely happy to see me?
It didn’t seem to matter. Standing there, as the interview went on for what seemed like twenty minutes, I could hear myself thinking, “What the hell are you doing?”
But I still didn’t move!
In the end, Luntz finished the interview, and went right into a waiting limo, aborting our reunion, and leaving me to ponder my behavior. Somehow, it was important to me that Frank Luntz knew who I was. Even though I had no respect for the man whatsoever.
Odd, odd, odd, bizarre, strange, embarrassing and odd.
But also, in some inexplicably twisted way, entertaining and fun.