Frank Luntz Says Financial Reform Is Boon to Fat Cats, Bad for Main Street; Simon Johnson Says ‘Nope’

Frank Luntz, the Republican strategist whom Chris Matthews called a “freaking genius,” and whose book is called Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear, has quite a piece on financial reform on the Huffington Post. Using the first-person plural–“We are fed up with Wall Street”–he says the Senate’s proposed financial reform will secretly benefit big bankers but hurt Main Street.

“That’s you, my friendly reader,” he writes. “Can you say ‘checkbook tax’? I can, and I think lots of candidates will be saying it come November. Is that what you really want to do to your constituents, Senator Lincoln?”

The phrase “checkbook tax” has only been used once before, according to a Nexis search: “It’s about punishing average everyday workers,” Mr. Luntz said last night on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. “And Sean, trust me, within the next seven days you’re going to be hearing the phrase ‘checkbook tax.’ Because that’s what this legislation is about to do to every American who has a checking account. You’re going to be paying a checkbook tax if Chris Dodd and Barack Obama get their way.” Mr. Luntz was also a Hannity guest after “A More Perfect Union,” Obama’s speech on race. “Well,” he said then, “the first thing is that he read it on the teleprompter and, frankly, he didn’t read it that well.”

“Voters will soon find out that the financial reform bill won’t end bailouts–it will enshrine them into law,” Mr. Luntz writes later in the Huffington piece, continuing an argument that’s been fervently knocked down by writers like The New Republic‘s Jonathan Chait. Interestingly, the Huffington Post links to one of Mr. Luntz’s critics, MIT’s Simon Johnson, at the bottom of the article.

“If you think Mr. Luntz can credibly present himself as the defender of us all against narrow special interests, you should be worried,” he writes. If you “instead regard his position as untenable under pressure, do all you can to encourage this approach.” What he means is that if Mr. Luntz and his clients try to make November’s elections into a fight over who’s going to rein in Wall Street, it’s not a fight the G.O.P. will win: This week, The Wall Street Journal reported that “the biggest Wall Street firms are now giving most of their campaign donations to Republicans.”

Maybe Mr. Luntz would point out that financiers have historically given more to Democrats, which is true. But the “change of allegiance comes as Congress closes in on legislation that would overhaul financial services regulations. Democrats back an aggressive bill that has been so far blocked in the Senate by Republicans,” The Journal says. Republicans had even gotten annoyed that Wall Street donated to Democrats, the article explains, while the G.O.P. was standing up for the industry in Washington.

So where will the debate go from here? The Christian Science Monitor has a nice piece on financial reform’s four biggest sticking points, and who’s on which side.

Frank Luntz Says Financial Reform Is Boon to Fat Cats, Bad for Main Street; Simon Johnson Says ‘Nope’