According to Dave Weigel, Republicans are now using a Frank Luntz-tested phrase about health care reform: “patient-centered health care.”

Of course, the phrase is 100% meaningless, by which I mean that there’s absolutely no substantive connection between “patient-centered health care” and…uh, wait a second. I was going to say something about Republican plans for health care, but of course they don’t actually have any, beyond returning to the status quo ante. It’s just some words that perform well in polling and focus groups, as Weigel reports.

The question is: and then what? See, it’s easy enough to poll-test a set of words and phrases and then put them into the mouths of your candidates…but what exactly does it accomplish? Does it affect people’s views of the underlying issue? Does it change what people think about the politician who says it? What they think about other politicians? My strong suspicion is that the answer to each of these questions is a solid “no.”

Moreover, there’s a bit of an opportunity cost here. If you have enough party discipline that you can get everyone to stick to the talking points, why not make those talking points contain a substantive argument? OK, I don’t think that’s going to sway public opinion very much, either. Most people aren’t really listening, after all. Still, that kind of statement can at least educate partisans who want to learn what the party line is; seems to me that it might as well not be mush. Or at least: it would indicate a little respect for voters, including supporters. Which might not matter in any electoral way, but at least might make the whole thing a little less annoying.

Or maybe the only question is: do Republican Party politicians know they’re buying snake oil from Luntz?

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.