The Unvaccinated and Taking on Marjorie Taylor Greene (with Frank Luntz)
Andy’s conversation with famed conservative pollster Frank Luntz about the unvaccinated and the political games of the GOP takes an unpredictable and emotional turn. Whatever your incoming impressions of Luntz, the rawness of the conversation helps us see the dilemma of the unvaccinated in a new light – and gives real tips on how to have difficult conversations. You’ll hear the inside story of what really went down in the White House as Andy and team began the effort to reach the unvaccinated. Dr. Lisa talks to “on the fence” citizens in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and we hear Andy express his anger at the dangerous latest efforts of Marjorie Taylor Greene to thwart public safety using fear.
Keep up with Andy on Twitter @ASlavitt and Instagram @andyslavitt. Dr. Lisa is on Twitter @askdrfitz.
Follow Frank Luntz on Twitter @FrankLuntz.
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Check out these resources from today’s episode:
- Read the Daily Caller article about Biden’s door-to-door vaccination campaign: https://dailycaller.com/2021/07/07/joe-biden-jen-psaki-door-to-door-vaccination-efforts-reality/
- Watch Frank’s focus group talking to Republicans about the COVID-19 vaccines: https://debeaumont.org/changing-the-covid-conversation/focus-group/
- Learn more about Frank’s work with the de Beaumont Foundation to get Republicans vaccinated: https://debeaumont.org/changing-the-covid-conversation/
- Check out the COVID-19 Community Corps: https://wecandothis.hhs.gov/covidcommunitycorps
- Find a COVID-19 vaccine site near you: https://www.vaccines.gov/
- Order Andy’s book, Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics, and Selfishness Doomed the U.S. Coronavirus Response: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250770165
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For additional resources, information, and a transcript of the episode, visit lemonadamedia.com/show/inthebubble.
Frank Luntz, Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick, Andy Slavitt
Andy Slavitt 00:19
Welcome to IN THE BUBBLE. This is Andy Slavitt, your host. I rarely say this, but you just want to listen to this podcast to the end. It is very raw. It is gripping. It gets emotional. The topic is the unvaccinated here in the US and it’s a topic that we are fascinated with. Look, everyone I know has been vaccinated. All my friends, my entire family, all my colleagues, as far as I know, all of you, my listeners who, strangely enough, I do feel close to. Everyone I care about, as far as I know, has been vaccinated. Now, obviously, there’s people under 12 that haven’t been. And without going into that topic this week. We will talk about kids at another point. But other than that, if I need someone that wasn’t vaccinated, why should I care? I mean, they’ve had the opportunity to get vaccinated they have free will and it’s their body and my loved ones and I’d most vaccinated people are very, very safe right now. So why should I care? Why are we should we be so obsessed about unvaccinated people? Yet here we are. We have a whole episode on the unvaccinated. Why is that?
It’s because I care about the country, because you care about the country. I’m sure that’s part of it. But that does sound a little bit paternalistic, a little bit patronizing. And it’s probably not the whole story. Is it because I know we have a solution called the vaccine. And it’s just insane to watch these deaths that are going to come into these communities with unvaccinated people and know that they’re preventable. Isn’t that frustrating? Yes, it’s frustrating to watch this all happen. Again, when we know this time, we could do something about it. So that’s maybe why we care. So consistent with the ethic of the show. I wanted to start out by seeking to understand before we seek to be understood, always a good rule. So I asked Dr. Lisa, to go out and talk to people who have so far chosen not to be vaccinated and see what she came back with. Listen to this montage.
Speaker 3 02:34
I’m not anti-Vax, I get the flu shot every year. I’ve got you know; I’ve got all the marks on my arm.
I don’t trust this one. Because I feel is there is still going through trials and stuff, trials and errors. And I don’t feel safe being a lab rat.
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick
So you were telling him why you’re reluctant to get the vaccine.
Because it hasn’t been paid by the FDA. My mom has gotten a shot. She’s 78. And she had a bad reaction.
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick
So what information needs to come out to make you feel comfortable to get the vaccine?
That is passed by the FDA.
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick
So why are you undecided about taking the vaccine?
Because I am pregnant and I don’t want to take any chances doing this birth.
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick
You know, there are many women who got the vaccine while they were pregnant. Did you know that?
Yeah, I know that but different cases for different folks, different situations.
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick
What’s your big concern about the vaccine pregnant or not?
I just don’t want anything to, like, affect my heart. Because I’m nervous with that I have a heart condition. So I’m kind of scared.
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick
What questions do you have for me now?
Nanobodies or nanobots?
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick
I’m not sure. Tell me what you mean.
Nanobots. It’s like, little not it’s like little machines that like.
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick 04:02
Oh, like microchip?
Like, not microchips, but it’s more advanced and that it’s not just..
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick
What do they do?
They like latch on to your cells and basically like, after like if a frequency or played it will be like activated and it can heal certain parts of your body with some […] could do the complete opposite.
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick
That sounds pretty sci-fi.
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick
What are some things that might could move you toward considering the vaccine?
Well for one, the job or work, I work for the government.
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick
And what do they say?
Well, right now, they’re leaving the decision up to us, but I think eventually it’s gonna have to come to that point.
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick
But aside from that, you wouldn’t get it unless someone makes you get it.
I wouldn’t get it.
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick
Okay, you told me you were someone who wanted to wait to get vaccinated. Why?
[…] I didn’t know.
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick
You said you wanted to wait two years. What’s magic about two years?
I wanted to make sure that I give it some time and let other people get in. So I can see like, what the reaction is gonna be what happens to you? Do you have any side effects. I just wanted to see, you know, but I had to think about my kids, you know, my job, my mother and stuff like that. So I was like, you need to do this, I talked to my doctor, of course. And she told me, this is something I should do, because I have underlying condition. So I need to, I need to get it because like, it scared me for her to say, if you don’t get this vaccine, you know what happened to you when you get COVID. She’s like the side effects from the vaccine are much, much, much less than if you catch COVID. So I was like, I’m getting it. I take a headache or a little fatigue, give me that. I don’t want to be on a ventilator. I’ll take it. So I’m glad I did.
Andy Slavitt 05:43
Okay, so you heard a lot there. And I will tell you based upon all the data that I’ve seen, it’s actually a pretty representative conversation. The data says right now 70% of adults have been vaccinated. 20% have not been vaccinated. And they’re not considering it. They are very strong, they dead set against it. 10% have not been vaccinated, but they’re still open to it. They worry about different things. I’m worried about side effects. So I subject to rumors, some are waiting for more time to pass. But they’re taking it seriously. So you know, it’s about what we heard about two thirds of people had some sort of grip and vision and view of reality that this was not going to make sense. And they didn’t appear very open and about a third felt differently. Okay, why? Why do they feel that way? We’ll get into that with Frank Luntz. But I want to digress in my sermon. Please indulge me with this.
Andy Slavitt 06:47
Because it’s not what I usually talk about. You know, I’m usually trying to build common ground and avoid fights. But I’m not going to do that today. Because if I’m really candid about it, when I look at those 20%, even some of those 10%, they are subject to the words of irresponsible people. Like Marjorie Taylor Greene. People like Marjorie Taylor Greene undoubtedly play a role in this. And I deeply regret that I have to spend time in live in the world where I have to respond to Marjorie Taylor Greene. Marjorie Taylor Greene, is now comparing Joe Biden’s vaccination program to her new favorite topic, Nazi-ism. You’ll recall that Marjorie Taylor Greene, made a very visible visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington and gave a speech about how enlightened she is.
Well, this chapter will now indicate that her Holocaust education still needs a little bit of work. She has a fetish for the Holocaust. But what is she really doing here? What is she really saying? I mean, look, let’s face it, no one is in danger of confusing Marjorie Taylor Greene for a history teacher or a public health professor. No, it’s different than that. what she’s doing is she’s striking a rather lethal blow to people that are very much in the path of a storm. She is talking to people where a storm is coming. And she’s telling them to leave their houses and stand outside. If she’s saying this, because she’s making the point, that the government is a greater threat to them than COVID. And she must think that that plays exceptionally well. And she’s got no problem risking people’s lives to do it. So what sparked her latest outrage, her latest outrage is that Biden dared to suggest that people go door to door to talk to one another about getting vaccinated.
Andy Slavitt 09:09
Now, what is this all about this door-to-door stuff? That gotten Marjorie Taylor Greene and several other people into such a tizzy? Well, the Daily Caller, which is a right-wing publication, I’m sure by their own admission, describe what this brown shirt campaign is. It is evangelical ministers and neighbors telling their stories to one another about why they got vaccinated to help people make the decision to get vaccinated. Yes, Joe Biden was encouraging Americans to talk to each other about getting vaccinated. Now if that’s not fascism, what is? This is they will be coming for your guns. This is they’re going to take away your rights. This is everything that this sort of anti-government fetish that says that if the government is behind it, we can call it fascism. And we’re going to play that to our base. And that’s going to work.
Andy Slavitt 10:09
Now, if somehow looking out for you, and listening to you, and talking to you, about you getting vaccinated is a blow to your liberty. At a time when a powerful variant is sweeping through your unvaccinated area, it may be time to re-examine what Liberty means. Look, I deeply love this country for all its flaws. I am so grateful to live here and I know all the freedoms that I enjoy living here. I am not one to say that I don’t relish the liberty that I have living here. Of course I do. We all have our narrative, however, of what this country means to us. Some of our families came here in a boat. Some of our families came here in chains. Some of our families are indigenous, and suffered mass genocide. In my own narrative of this country, the liberty I enjoy wasn’t handed to me as a right, it was fought for by the people that came before me.
And I need to continue to keep the fight up. By demonstrating a commitment to our common aim. Let me make it personal. My grandmother came to this country. When she was eight years old, she came alone with a 14-year-old uncle she was left behind by her family because she had smallpox, for which there was not a vaccine. She had 10 siblings. 7 of them did not make it. She came to this country through Ellis Island without her parents to look for them. She lived through two world wars, and a 10-year depression. She didn’t come here to escape people who were knocking on our door to talk about vaccination.
Andy Slavitt 12:13
There were people who came to her door to kill everyone in her village. So congressman Greene, spare me the imagine treachery of someone coming to snatch your liberty, our liberties earned. The burden of enjoying our freedoms is to contribute to the ideals of a country that we can be worthy of. And Congresswoman Greene, you’re not. That’s my sermon. And I’m sorry if I went off a little bit on the deep end, but this is important. Lives are at stake. And after the break, coming back with Frank Luntz.
The goal of this episode, is really to have a guide that can explore the mind and the soul of the unvaccinated. Again, to understand not to do anything with it, not to persuade people to get vaccinated, but simply to understand people that we don’t understand very well. They’re making very different decisions. And Frank Luntz is the person that I asked to come and explore this. I want you to hold aside a second what you may or may not think of Frank Luntz, okay? Frank Luntz has gone through a very dramatic set of experiences as you will hear, in this episode, it is raw. Frank Luntz has helped Republicans get elected for decades, he is republican to the core. That core, however, was shaken when Donald Trump and the Republican Party decided to put politics ahead of human life and it happened to coincide with some scary things going on in Frank’s life.
Andy Slavitt 14:22
He watched what happened and made it a mission to try to talk to people encourage them to get vaccinated, particularly conservatives. And as he does, he made a real study of what motivates these people, what language he used, and how to talk to them about getting vaccinated. And as you will hear, as I am wanting to do, I picked up the telephone and call Frank from the White House and asked him to help us figure out how to vaccinate the country, particularly those that were reluctant. This you will hear we set out to have a striking conversation about the unvaccinated and we do, I promise you this will come with more than intrigue, it will come with insights. But in part because of the frustration of this conversation, and in part because of Marjorie Taylor Greene, you will see that the early in the conversation, he lost his moorings and I went with it. And we went off in some very deep, emotional directions. That was very much of the kind of private conversation that rarely gets broadcast.
And he was uncomfortable with it. And he knew we were recording it and he decided to let it go. Like admire him for that. So put aside what you think or may think you think about Frank Luntz like him or don’t like him. But listen to the end of this episode, and listen to how his world was rocked. Hear it in his voice, forget even the words but listen to how he says what he says, get a sense of what we were dealing with in the White House when we came in. And we came in at a time when we were in a very incredible place. People know the story now a little bit of how we started to get the supply moving to vaccinate the country. But what people haven’t heard the story of, is how we move the demand from 40% of people wanting to get vaccinated to 70%. And that story very much included, Frank, you’re gonna hear that, and you’re gonna hear about this other 30%. Let’s welcome Frank Luntz.
Andy Slavitt 16:48
So everyone’s going, I can’t believe it. Everybody was going back crazy about you not hitting 70% and they’re all calling me up asking beg, begging me to smack you guys. And it was the biggest load of […]. So I hope you saw some of the comments that I made all throughout the process. You know what, the Republicans are making a political statement and the youth they’re making a statement of invincibility. And I think no one could have done better than what you guys did.
Well, thanks. You know, I mean, I assume you saw Greene’s comment yesterday?
So Greene says that the Biden pandemic program is Nazi is, Brownshirt Nazi-ism. And, you know, it’s effectively tapping this vein, which is it anything the government does, you can call fascist if the government’s trying to do something. And, you know, what she’s picking up on is when Biden said, you know, a lot of this effort is going to be community by community door to door. And the Daily Caller wrote something about that, which said that the door to door is actually evangelical church leaders, church goers, people knocking on each other’s doors to talk to them locally. And she’s now raised this kind of whole specter of Nazi’s and yet again, she didn’t learn a lesson the first time. But it really is, I think, tell people to say there’s something way more dangerous than COVID and that’s the government trying to take something from you.
Frank Luntz 18:25
She used the word Nazi-ism?
She said brown shirt. Let’s see her exact quote.
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick
Here, Andy, I got it. she tweeted, quote, “Biden pushing a vaccine that is not FDA approved shows COVID is a political tool used to control people. People have a choice. They don’t need your medical Brownshirts showing up at their door ordering vaccinations. You can’t force people to be part of the human experiment.”
Okay, are you still in your job? Or did you finally go back to California?
Yeah, I’m back in California.
Okay, well, that’s […]
Against your advice. I mean, I’m still I’m still, it’s probably a day hasn’t gone by where I’m not talking to them, helping them in some form. And the truth is the hard part, the real, real hard part of the lift got done does not say there aren’t hard parts left, but they’re gonna be more marginal efforts from where we sit today. So you can’t shake my clean conscience of you know, showing up doing my job and coming back to my people on my podcast.
Okay, so we should talk about this in your podcast. And you know, that I actually have I’m working ridiculous hours here. And so let’s get started so I can be helpful.
Yeah. Well, look, part of the ethic of this podcast is me. people listening in on my conversations with people who know stuff. So if it’s okay with you, we’ll probably just do a gradual start from the conversation we’ve already begun into this, to the rest of this conversation.
Frank Luntz 20:19
This is how much I’ve changed. Yeah, okay. There’s no one’s gonna do to me and no one. The problem is no one actually cares. I have tried so hard to be rational, reasonable. When it comes to the health of an individual or the country, there are things more important than elections and partisanship, I know, the loss of life that COVID has presented and how many people have been affected by it. And I have seen my work with you and with the Biden administration, with tremendous pride, that there was never any partisanship ever.
As I said in the introduction, there are certain people that had the ability, and not just the ability, they actually did it, to put aside everything else and said, we’re in a situation where there’s something that’s more important. You are one of those people. And I’ve said this before, you were immensely generous, and helpful, you weren’t just generous, because if you were generous, but didn’t have anything to offer, we probably wouldn’t take me up on it. But you were immensely generous. And I mean to the point where, you know, people were not getting together in person. And you volunteered, to in a safe way with masks, get together in person with us, for as long as we wanted to and share what you knew about this very tricky question that people have, which is who are the unvaccinated? How do you communicate to them? What are they saying? And you know, people, I think, at this point, know that you dove headfirst into having conversations, and really listening and letting people express themselves. And they’re just miss about the vaccine they’re getting busted. But it’s myths about who these people are and what their attitudes are, that you begin to share with us in an incredibly pragmatic way. I will always be grateful for that. And if you getting crap for this from others, I hope that my small amount of gratitude has a minor offset.
Frank Luntz 22:22
It was the right thing to do. If my father was still alive, he would have been very proud of me for doing it. I’m emotional about it because I’m wanting to serve. And I think that we do so much now out of politics out of partisanship out of ugliness. And I saw this as an opportunity to say thank you to my country in a way that was meaningful, and even measurable. And, you know, I’ve developed this skill to listen, and craft language that helps the things that I believe and do well, but it was either for corporations or for a partisan purpose. There was no nothing about this, that was anything but serving the country. And I never got the opportunity to do what you did. I never got the opportunity to give up my business, to give up my livelihood. And I wanted to do it. And I was grateful that the Biden administration actually was more interested in what I was learning than the Trump administration ever was.
We knew this stuff while Trump was president and he didn’t care. His people care, but he did it. How do you get people vaccinated, Donald Trump did not care how you vaccinate people. Donald Trump did not care how you keep people safe. I say this, because we had the language while he was still president, and he was not interested. And you guys were interested from day one. He wants credit. He wants credit, which in some ways he deserves for speeding the vaccine to market, and finding a way to do this kind of research and getting it into arms before anyone had ever done it. He made promises that he kept about the speed and yet he did nothing to see people actually engage in this and he still does nothing now.
Andy Slavitt 24:26
I have no problem. with anybody getting credit for touching something that works. I think we got to be generous with credit. But with credit also comes accountability. And look, I don’t think that holding Trump accountable is the most productive thing towards getting vaccinated right now, which is the national crisis. And the national crisis is not the national crisis was holding that hold Trump accountable before the election. And that may be looking at maybe our next crisis as far as I’m concerned. But today, you know, the crisis is we’ve got a poison well, because unlike in other countries that also had fights over masks. And had fights over everything else. It became a matter of identity here because I believe the president at the time saw an opportunity to liven up his base and get them enthusiastic over this sort of rebelliousness. Now, we’re sitting here today, and let’s just paint the picture.
You know, two thirds of adults are vaccinated, or began the vaccination process and have the rest. You know, roughly a third of the people left, say that they would consider getting vaccinated. And various issues, but they’re taking it seriously. And about two thirds of them say, absolutely not, and those third that are considering it, you know, they are a little younger than America, they’re Black and Brown, but they’re sort of from all stripes, the 20% who say absolutely not, according to the data that has been shared with us are by and large, conservative, by and large, rural, by and large, Southern, yes, by and large identify as Republican. Can you help us understand? Is this something that, first of all, is that the right analysis? And then it is something that is intractable? And we just had to say, let’s just not focus on that, because it’s not going to change? Or is there? Is there something that we should be doing?
Frank Luntz 26:16
Well, we don’t have a choice. And I give you credit right here, because here I was, criticizing Donald Trump, when I advise you all, to not do it. That was one of the key elements we learned very early in the research is that if you want people to get vaccinated, don’t insult them and don’t insult their politics. I love the idea that this is a candid conversation, in essence, you’re letting people listen and I don’t regard this as a recruiting tool to get people vaccinated. Because if I did, I never would have said what I said, I regard this as a chance for the people who listen to your podcast, to understand the frustration that people like me have. Because we know what the consequences are of these people not being vaccinated, they’re going to get sick. We know the variants out there are getting more and more contagious. And while we know how to deal with that, and people as people are dying, people are still getting it. And everyone I’ve talked to, who ended up in the hospital said, you know what, it’s a really bad experience. Don’t do it.
And I think my greatest frustration is in reading the websites, the Trump newsletters that go out not Trump himself, but the newsletters in his name. And they keep talking about people getting sick and dying from the vaccine. Does Trump himself know that his own supporters are encouraging people not to be vaccinated? His own supporters are telling people that the vaccine is more dangerous than the virus? Because if he did, they’re actually saying that the vaccine that Donald Trump wants credit for is killing people. You can’t have both thoughts, and I’m going to hold you accountable for this. I am going to put both of those Trump’s statement that he says he wants to credit with his own people saying that people are dying from the vaccine that he says you should be taking. So that’s not tenable. But, let me answer your question number one, we learned early on that it was the doctors, not the politicians, the doctors and the pharmacists that had the real credibility. So let them carry the message.
Frank Luntz 28:21
Number two is the moment that you mentioned anything political, is the moment that you lost any chance to get these people vaccinated. So this actual conversation will be horrible. If anyone listens to it, who is not vaccinated and voted for Trump because they’re going to hear my language, and they’re going to be angry with it. But this is a different purpose. And number three, that you actually had to make the case you could not say to people, don’t be stupid, you have to recognize their concerns, recognize their apprehension, their hesitation, acknowledge it, before you can actually begin to move them. And this is something that I don’t know was in play when you and I first met, and certainly it caused me. It made me want to go on to Fox, it made me want to go talk to the Wall Street Journal, as well as other news outlets to explain what needed to be done. That this is not just about science, that it’s also about health. Science, we’re going to argue over, health and medicine were much more likely to agree on.
So if you’re living in a world where your newsletter is telling you, untruths about the vaccine, the people you hang out in Facebook are telling you about untruths about the vaccine. You watch Tucker Carlson, who does nothing but plant false doubts. I don’t know if you can feel free to disagree with me, but I don’t know if you will, about the vaccine. And in some sense, what I’m really trying to say is this It really your fault. But I mean, it’s like when you’re bombarded with that, and that’s your ecosystem, your echo chamber. And you live in a community where the majority of people aren’t vaccinated, it’s actually more of a cultural taboo to get vaccinated than not. How do you possibly connect to that world in a way that has an impact?
Frank Luntz 30:27
Look, if someone’s just not going to get it, because they’re simply afraid of it, then you do the Tom Frieden approach, which is here are five facts. And I think of all the focus groups I’ve done in 2021, that was the most important.
One, if you get infected with the virus, it will go all over your body, and stay there for at least a week, and be much more likely to cause you long term problems than the vaccine. Two, if you get the vaccine, it will prime your immune system, but then the vaccine is gone. It will not be with you anymore. Three, more than 95% of the doctors who have been offered this vaccine have gotten it as soon as they can. Four, the more we vaccinate, the faster we can get back to growing our economy and getting jobs. And five, if people get vaccinated, we’re going to save at least 100,000 lives of Americans who would otherwise be killed by COVID.
Okay, I want a show of hands. How many of you would say that those five facts are impactful to you? Raise your hands if they’re impactful. Wow that’s a lot. Tom is brilliant. He’s brilliant, not just at the science, not just at the medicine, but he’s a brilliant communicator. And the only thing that I wish is that he’d been brought in even more by your administration, I know that you heard him. And I know that you engaged him a little bit, I would have made him instead of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was an anathema to Trump voters who blamed him a great degree for the loss of the election, I would have had Tom […] as your chief communicator as your chief medical adviser, because Tom could have delivered the message even better than Fauci did. And without all the baggage that Fauci […]
Let’s follow the principle of let’s seek to understand before we’re understood, which is one of the things that I think you model, people who have watched you for years, whether they’ve agreed with you or disagreed with you, you’ve sort of allowed people to say, That’s not the point, go hear from people directly. You want to choose to disagree with what people are actually saying, then, you know, the […] your own calculation, but you’ve done that just marvelously and you’ve done this for a lot of people like myself, who were, you know, left of center, but who I really don’t define ourselves as political animals, we define ourselves as humans. And we want to understand people and we were just were a little bit rosy we want if we think bridges can be crossed. And then if you want to hear people who disagree with us, everyone does with you. And you’re like, Well, how do I find common ground with that person? So maybe we should take a step back from finding common ground and saying, Take us through because you have done a basically a sociological study. An unvaccinated individual, what they see around them, like you describe one thing, which is I look at Fauci and I see a guy who brought down my president, like, what are the other things in your space to help us understand these folks a little bit better?
Frank Luntz 34:05
Excellent question. Probably the most important is this is all politics. It has nothing to do with my health and safety. This is a political statement. They have politicized health. They politicize the Coronavirus, and they politicize the vaccine, and I’m not going to fall for it. So I’m not going to do it, that’s number one. Number two, is that they actually feel invincible. They think that the virus is fake, fake news being put out by CNN and the New York Times to distract and to justify their criticisms of Trump and the things that these people believe so they simply don’t see the threat. And number three, they don’t feel respected or heard. They actually underwrite don’t feel like they been awarded any dignity for their point of view, they think that they’re ridiculed. And again, I acknowledge, because I looked at this interview, this podcast with you and I, as an insider’s conversation that you’re going to hear things that you would never hear on TV.
And that some of the stuff that I said will agitate these people, I never would have done it if I was thinking that I need to get them vaccinated. And right now, I think the fourth reason, it has nothing to do with Trump or politics and has everything to do with young people think they simply don’t need it. And the problem is that with this Delta strain, and with other strains that are coming, because it gets worse and worse, the healthiest people are going to get the most contagious virus. And by the time you realize that you made a mistake, it’s too late. And so I think we need to do it. And this is gonna surprise you. I think we need to do it out of love. I think we need parents to actually say to their kids, man, I know what this does. I know you don’t feel like you need it. But I love you too much for you not to do it. Please, out of love, get the vaccine.
Andy Slavitt 36:19
So Frank, you know, our podcast is listened to by a lot of loyal listeners, probably all, almost all who’ve been vaccinated. But that clip, we just what you just said, what you’re doing is you’re speaking directly in A political terms. Well, first of all, what you’re saying is I understand you; you’re saying there are a series of things you’re feeling that I hear, and that I see. And those things are things we’ve all felt, we’ve all felt the political tool, it’s I mean, if you, if you’ve been against the ACA being pulled down, you just described somebody who, what somebody might feel like if they felt like somebody was going to take away their pre-existing condition protection.
‘ll give you the language, the actual language, I would say to them right now, because it’s my students, which is I don’t want to visit you in the hospital. If I have to go and you’re on a ventilator, and I’m going to see you and I’m standing through a window, then I have failed you as your professor, or I failed you as your friend. I can’t imagine it; it will kill me to see you sick. If you won’t do it for yourself, and you won’t do it for society, please just do it. Because you know, you will break me.
Does that break through?
For people that I know? Uh-huh. I started calling parents of my students, my students, actually I asked them, if you have a parent who’s not been vaccinated, Give me the phone, let’s call them right now. And the parent is shocked that the kids professors calling and the fact that I would take time because they know what I do. And they’ve seen me on TV, and the idea that I would call them right to tell him how important it is. That’s a wakeup call. And I say to them, I don’t want my students in class crying, or in pain or in fear because you’re in the hospital. Just do it for them.
Andy Slavitt 38:11
Well, let’s play some extraordinary thing that Chris Christie said along these this vein to folks during one of your sessions,
Two other people in my family, a 64-year-old cousin, who was a smoker. And so she had some potential problem got it felt okay in the beginning, wound up hospitalized, her husband 63, no preexisting conditions, great shape. In fact, we’re still working every day as an active longshoreman on the docks in New Jersey, he got sick as well caught it, presumably from his wife. They both wound up being hospitalized. And two weeks ago, they both passed away.
What I hear in what you just said, and what I hear what Chris Christie just said, leads me to believe that most of the things we’re doing are exactly wrong. People on CNN coming on and saying, how do we get these people to do what we want? How do we get them to be enlightened? How do we get them to see what horrible mistake they’re making? How do we get them to understand that they should be vaccinated? If I put myself in the shoes of the person who just described and I heard someone come on TV and say, How do I convince Andy Slavitt to do this thing he doesn’t want to do? It doesn’t soften me up.
And what did Chris Christie do, he actually told them that you can predict it is completely random. The healthy person dies and the unhealthy person survives. It’s that randomness of it and Chrissy did something that other politicians often don’t do, which is he personalized it, you could see the individual in your mindset, you could imagine this case and how you would feel. And this is exactly what I do on a personal level, which is, I want them to know how I feel. I know this is strange, but they care about my opinion of them. They care whether I respect them or not. And my communication to them is, it’s your choice. It’s your life. But you will destroy me if you make the wrong choice, and you end up getting sick. And I will never forget it. Because I’m afraid that you’ll never forget it. And that is the wakeup call. It’s another reason why I realized into this process how important pharmacists work.
Frank Luntz 40:55
Because they’re the ones that are giving the patient the actual medications. They’re the ones that get to know the patient on a personal level. And so many pharmacists have a personal relationship with the people that they are dispensing medications to what this all means, and why I understand that you want to advocate that the Biden administration talk to knocking on doors, and I don’t agree with that strategy. But I’m not going to be critical of it is that in the end, it has to come from people they know. That’s what we realized from all this research. From all this doesn’t mean they’re going to say yes, but they’re going to say no to people they don’t know. So that’s why I want every pharmacist to be tasked with sending all of their patients email or text with a video 60 to 90 seconds saying I got vaccinated, so should you. That’s what I want.
I think what he should have said, was knock on your neighbor’s door. Just tell them you care. Listen to him. And by the way, like, one of the things we have to have here is we often have to have in the society that we don’t have the highest supply is patience. That the person is going to rush out and run to the pharmacy isn’t going to shot because she stopped by their house and had a conversation to listen to them. But if they’re actually considering it, they’re thinking about it. They’re gathering reliable information from people who are giving them reliable information. Instead of a misinformation on Facebook. That’s all you can ask for.
Frank Luntz 42:25
I got an idea. I never even thought of it until just now. And I got to call the Bowman Foundation, because let’s face it, they had not reached out to me. They reached out to me before the Biden people did. And the only these why I knew what I knew was because the Bowman said we want you as part of our process. I’m grateful to them. They fulfilled a dream that I had to actually serve my country. We need to get grandparents to go over to invite their grandkids over to the house. Make them their favorite dessert and tell them I love you. I know you love me go get vaccinated.
Guess who gave me that exact idea. I don’t know if you’re gonna like this or not. But the first thing out of Kamala Harris’s mouth when we talked about the youth problem was she just said, grandparents.
That must have come from or consultant.
By the way, I found her. I mean, she’s a prosecutor. She follows the argument. She was quiet.
I not heard Joe Biden, if that’s the case? Why have I heard Joe Biden talking about going door to door and have not heard him say to grandparents, which means if you’re in Washington, we got to call the AARP. I know a senior executive there. And that’s the phone call that needs to happen tomorrow morning. Which is AARP we want you to send out, you know, I’m going to do it. I’m not gonna wait for you guys. We’re gonna get AARP engaged in this right now.
Andy Slavitt 44:01
Yeah. Well, I’m happy to join you. And then if you’d like, I think you should, I think they should. I think we should. I mean, because, look, if the headline is, Joe Biden wants you to get vaccinated. We’re losing. If the headline is taking the government out of this. It’s people you know, people in your community, the country, want you to consider to have this conversation, maybe react differently.
You had an opportunity. We talked about this. And I appreciate why it didn’t happen. But it would have been more than a stunt. It would be memorable and you would have made a difference. If Biden had taken off his mask and actually shown it in the State of the Union address that I don’t want you to wear that. I know you smile.
I like that idea. I like that idea. You know what, he did it a little bit, but he did but he did a little bit later and he did it and I talked it through with you. But he did it because what he was waiting for the CDC. So he could essentially, say I’m not departing from the science. And that was why he didn’t do it at that point. It was very it was, but it was soon after that. And as soon as, as soon as the CDC said, you don’t need to wear it, he took it off. And that maybe missed a moment to connect with the spontaneous Trump supporters. And […] I get that. But I’m just telling you, I’m just describing to kind of what I think went on. I do think that what Biden has done is things that are not visible to the public, but are visible to you.
So in my experience, he’s a very empathetic person, he listens, well, he’s sophisticated about these things, he doesn’t take a lot of the bait. And when we said to him, after spending time talking to you, quite frankly, the answer is this thing that we now call the community core, which is, it’s going to be people in people’s local communities, we’re going to give them the information. We’re going to give the information to people that are trusted by real ordinary people. So that when someone says, hey, I’ve got a question about this vaccine, they’re talking to someone who knows what they’re doing, and increasingly trying to make that more aggressive. Now, on the one hand, politicians love that because it sounds like ground game, right? Ground game, ground game, and they understand that. But I think what we’re seeing is that this ground game thing is slower. It’s imperfect. And it requires more patience.
Frank Luntz 46:27
You also, there was a really unfortunate language mistake that happened a couple months ago. And it allowed the right to make determinations that are unsafe, and very problematic, which is to talk about a vaccine passport. And the problem with a vaccine passport is that to the Left, it’s not equity, because people, some people can’t afford it. Or I’ve never traveled before, don’t even know what a passport is. And on the Right, it’s another example of government control, or government involvement. If you call the vaccine verification, you would have had everyone on board, on the Left and on the Right, because it’s simply it’s exactly what it is simply verifies that you got it or you didn’t get it. That’s acceptable. Yeah, the vaccine passport was not. And that was used again and again by some governors. And so now not only do we have a division, that’s political, we now have a division between socio-economic status, it’s just added to the noise that convinces some people that they don’t need to or even shouldn’t get the vaccine.
I acknowledge that we live in a place now where Democrats are held accountable for saying things that Republicans can twist into being meaning something that’s different than what they said. And so there’s this whole double psych when you’re playing against the people who are trying to demagogue you hear, I will say that I research showed you the same, the same thing you did, which is the credentials and verification. What we were talking about, we got asked by the press about passports and I’m sure we made the mistake of responding using the word passport once or twice. And if that gives, you know, a presidential populist candidate an opportunity to demagogue then I think we’re in a no-win situation, frankly.
Frank Luntz 48:27
Yeah. But again, we go back to the beginning of this conversation, you asked me what do we need to do, we can’t commit a non-side goal.
But there’s also another point here, which is that you pick the word, it could be Fauci could be Ben Ghazi it could be anything. And if you’re really good at turning that phrase, if you say Nazi enough, if you say brown shirt enough, if you say, Fauci-ism, enough, if you say emails enough, if you say, Benghazi enough, we live in a world where you don’t have to commit an own goal, you can be literally just trying to make a neutral point. And if someone wants to, they can turn it against you. And you know, to a certain extent, I’ve got to be a little bit sympathetic for people who just trying to play games and just use common words. With that level of cynicism. I’m not saying that the Democrats don’t do it to the Republicans as well. They just don’t do it as well as the Republicans do it.
But, you know, as a language guy, not a policy guy. My job is to see these things coming and give it to you before. And that was a case where we saw it coming.
And you did, and you did.
Again, to go back to the Bowman Foundation, because they said they’re screwing up here go into the field. So you can prove that this is a right way and this is a wrong way.
And you did, look, I think language matters so much to people, but particularly in a day and age where, if you say something that someone can twist, they’ll never let you forget it. Even if it wasn’t what you intended. So it does matter. And I do think you’re making an even more profound point, which is not just about language, but it’s about people can try to see through to your heart based on what you say, put aside the cynicism of a Marjorie Taylor Greene. I do think people are pretty good at seeing when a governor is saying, look, this is hard. There’s no perfect decisions, I’m doing the best I can, I’m making the best decision I can at the time. And if I make a mistake, I will correct it and own up to it. And I think those people who’ve done that those governors who have done that, take it out of the presidential politics, get the benefit of the doubt whether the Democrats or Republicans.
Frank Luntz 50:39
Mike DeWine, like the governor of Ohio, I thought was brilliant in doing exactly that. And he was never negative towards the administration, never tried to do Republican versus Democrat, always put the people all the people and it was very universal, his communication and his efforts. And I think I know he’s getting beat up by Republicans on the right, because they thought that he was too quick to lock down the state, and too slow to unlock it. No, you need it. And I’m over here in the UK as we do this interview. And the variant, the Delta variant is looking like it might be out of control. And now the Prime Minister has to decide is he going to open up on the 19th of July? These are life and death decisions. It’s not about politics. And Andy, you deserve so much credit. Because not only did you not play politics with this, but you made those of us who were seeking to help, you welcomed us, you did so without any kind of hesitation. And you were what a public servant is supposed to be, you provided a wisdom and great judgment, and is one of the reasons why the US went from being the worst to being among the best. And you will always be able to look at your career, knowing that you actually had the blessing of being able to save lives.
Andy Slavitt 52:11
Thank you. That means a lot. I mean, I want people to know one other thing. There’s a corollary to that, which is there are people who pick up the phone on the first ring. And then that’s as a euphemism for. I called you. I think I texted you, I emailed you. And it was, you know, less than a minute before you came back to me and said, what can I do? I’ll do anything. And also mentioned, Hugh Hewitt had mentioned evangelical leaders. There are many people that I called, who, I would say, answered the phone in the first ring. And before they even knew what the question was, wanted to help. I think that’s a very interesting, first of all, it’s a very, it’s a thing we should all feel good about, because I think it’s America at its best.
Secondly, it struck me that it was a byproduct of President Trump being unwilling to acknowledge the problem is there all these people willing to help yourself among them, but because he couldn’t acknowledge the problem, whether you ran a lab and had an idea for a better diagnostic test, you couldn’t talk to the FDA about it, if you had an idea to help keep the public safe or vaccinate none of these people could have on the record conversation with anybody in the White House, but because the President would get pissed off. And so what I did, if I did anything was I asked for help. I said, there are people who can help. And what I was astounded by, was all the people that were not only ready to help but had been trying to help.
And it’s, we got a lot to learn from this. A lot of people were not saved that maybe could have been. I don’t want it to be used as a weapon. I think you and I had a conversation very early on about my frustration with some of the cable networks that were putting on the air people were beating up Republicans who were hesitant or hostile to the vaccine, telling them I know why you’re doing this. You are this is good for ratings. It’s good for people to watch as you keep showing. Okay, now that we’ve done this segment, let’s do another segment about Republicans not believing in science, to everything there’s a season as the birds one sang in one of their greatest songs, turn turn turn, which was both from the Bible and from Pete Seeger. But that’s not helpful.
Frank Luntz 54:52
And the goal in all of this was to make a meaningful, measurable difference in the lives of as many people as we possibly could. And now living through this in the UK, seeing how Canada went through the same process, we have so many governments around us and across the globe that got it wrong initially, but are getting it right now. And one last thing on this, I really do credit the pharmaceutical companies, and I know that they’ve been beaten up a lot. But they actually came through. And they did something that had no one ever gene they could, which was to have a vaccine that would work almost anywhere, on almost anyone, and it still continues to work.
Frank and I want to close our extraordinary conversation this way. And this, I’m not sure where this is going to lead us. But there’s something that’s different about talking to you about COVID-19. That’s different than talking to almost anybody else, almost anybody else. And that I find it sorely lacking and very interesting is that you get emotional with having this conversation. And, and I found it remarkable that there’s almost been a code and talking to people that has us talking about a very cold terms, big numbers, hundreds of 1000s millions, the cameras can’t get inside hospitals, most of the time. A lot of people dying are in neighborhoods that many people have never visited so it’s less visible. And yet, when I talk to you almost every time I talk to you, I hear in your voice, something that triggers something in my brain, which is this sort of overwhelming missing dimension of sadness, tragedy, and just emotion, you get an I just have to mention that to you.
Frank Luntz 56:50
You know why. And I told you the first time I saw you because I was embarrassed by it. And it’s happened to me a couple times in this interview, which is you’ll hear me slur my words, I got way overweight. And I was not sleeping, I was on planes over 300 days a year. And on the 10th of January of 2020, I had a stroke, I had both a clot and a bleed. And to this day, this hand is still numb. And so I keep it in my pocket. I can feel things. But it’s as though I’ve been sitting on it for five minutes. So when you know that you’ve slept wrong and your arm is asleep, that’s when my head feels like all the time. So it’s hard for me to type. My face is numb on the left side. So it’s hard for me to enunciate, I’ve been trying to figure it out. And for someone who’s so focused on words, I sometimes have trouble articulating it. And every time I think about it, frankly, I’m angry at myself for being such an idiot for behaving so badly.
Everyone told me stop doing this. Everyone told me, get your […] together, get your life together, stop eating so much start exercising, stop acting as though you’re 25 because you’re not. And that it was not a matter of years, been a matter of months before we get sick. And the fact is three weeks after my doctor told me this was coming three weeks is when it happened. And I was doing a focus group at the time. And I never got this and I never returned back to normal. So I know that COVID has long term effects on people. And that’s another reason. I can’t stand it when people smoke, because I know what it’s doing to them. I can’t stand it when people behave so badly on violence like this, because we know factually the impact. And I’m living proof of it. And so when I meet people, I tell my students if they’re not vaccinated, I will not talk to them again, they’ve got 72 hours. And that’s it.
Frank Luntz 58:49
Because I will not have personal relationships that will be destroyed. They have the potential to be destroyed before their time is up because of bad behavior. So yeah, it is personal to me, it is a cause for me. If you smoke, you’re putting crap into your lungs and you know it, if you won’t get the vaccine, you are playing Russian Roulette. And I can’t and I will never be the same I will never be normal. And I have to live with that. And I hate it and every day for maybe a few seconds a day. I think to myself, Why do I have to go through this. So I want to go visit Europe. I’m in the UK now because I got sick in the US. I got sick of the populism. I got sick of the wokeism. I’m sick of the left and the right all screaming at each other.
And the rest of America is being ignored or being polarized and dehumanized by all this yelling. And I want to go to Europe and I know that I cannot climb the stairs of a cathedral now. I know that I cannot go see the most beautiful sights that are would have climbed up without any problem a year and a half ago. I know that it affects my life. And I don’t want anyone else, even people that don’t like I even tell them just get vaccinated, because I don’t regard success as my outliving you. I regard success as my having a positive impact on your life. That’s why I’m doing it.
Andy Slavitt 1:00:22
Well, Frank, I’m not one of these people who believes that everything happens for a reason. But I am one of those people who believes that we have a chance to make something out of adversity that we often don’t everything has to make out of good times. I didn’t know you prior to the adversity you face, Frank. So I can’t tell you with any authority that you’re different than you were before. But I can tell you is that the path most innovative, people want to go back and look at the old Latin ethos, pathos, logos. If we just skip the pathos and go right to the logos, in other words, right to the left side of our brain, and begin all conversations from there, and we lose the human feeling, we lose the emotion, we lose the connection, it just may be one of the reasons why we’ve ended up in the situation that you described, where we’re not able to communicate with one another, we’re not able to see what we have in common, because we may not have as much of the logos in common.
But we definitely have the pathos in common. And the reason I know that is because everybody dies. Everybody lives, everybody is born, everybody goes through loss. Everybody goes through suffering. There’s a common humanity that is beyond just the material things, we experience it just because beyond the logical things we experience. And it’s just notable that in this whole debate, among all the things you’ve done, and you’ve brought so much of your gifts, and so much of your knowledge to this cause. But of all the things you’ve done, I don’t know how much you realize that you’re also providing a missing voice. And it’s not the word you say it’s the actual resonance in your voice. It’s the literal resonance in your voice, the literal resonance, which communicate, I care, this matters, you matter, we matter. This is important. And it’s not going to convince everybody. But if we have this dialogue, in absence of that, I think we are taking away the most common connection point we have.
Frank Luntz 1:02:37
No, I appreciate this opportunity. I will give it back to you. Because part of the reason why I got sick is I worked too hard. And it is 8:35PM. And I’m five minutes late to my final meeting of the evening. And then I’m still going to do two calls back to the States because I’m in the UK and it’ll be 5:30PM your time. 10:30PM my time. But there’s so much to do. And we just got to keep doing them.
Make taking care of yourself one of those things, please.
Thank you, Andy, you served your country well. So that is the I used to say that the best compliment I could ever get was when people would say to me, I’m a great American. I don’t feel that way anymore because of how ugly things are gone. But the best compliment I can give you the one that is the A+. Lottery one is you have served your country well.
I’ll see it.
Wow. Wow. Wow. Thank you for sticking with us. Thank you for listening to that. I just don’t even know what to say. What a conversation. What a fraught topic. What an imperfect, and yet, very perfect way to talk about it. All right. My job on Wednesday is to clean all this up with David Axelrod. We are going to talk about how we deal with these topics we raised on the show these very challenging divisions, this inability to talk to one another, what it says about us and what we should take away. That’ll be on Wednesday. And then next week. We’re going to dig a little deeper and we’re going to go talk about misinformation and disinformation.
Andy Slavitt 1:04:48
So this could include a conversation on Monday about the misinformation and disinformation that’s out there. And then on Wednesday, a conversation that I’m very excited about and nervously anticipate because it’s with Nick Clegg of Facebook, Nick Clegg was the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He’s now one of the two or three most senior people in Facebook working with Zuckerberg. And he’s really accountable for all of their kind of public policy communication strategy and thinking around big, big, big topics like this one. And since Facebook is you know, is at the center of a lot of storms, it will be a very interesting conversation. Thank you. I’m gonna go take a rest.
Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. Hope you rate us highly. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kryssy Pease and Alex McOwen produced the show. Our mix is by Ivan Kuraev. Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs still rule our lives and executive produced the show. And our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, and additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter or at @AndySlavitt on Instagram. If you like what you heard today, most importantly, please tell your friends to come listen and please stay safe, share some joy and we will get through this together.