Taxes Are Going Up: Breaking the Code

07/07/2011 08:14 pm ET | Updated Sep 06, 2011

How do I know? Because politicians use coded language and in the past week or so a new phrase has appeared in the political discourse: And that phrase is "Raising Revenue."

And how do we do that? Why we close tax loopholes or let previous tax cuts expire or, heaven forbid, we raise taxes. The results are the same.

For politicians, however, saying taxes are going up presents a problem. This is particularly true for Republicans and the right-leaning media because the party has had tremendous success in framing the debate by managing the way we talk about it.

The phrase that has been behind much of that success in recent decades has been "tax relief." This is an absolutely brilliant frame. So brilliant, in fact, that it didn't take long for Democrats to embrace it. As we in the persuasion business know, if you can name it, you can own it.

Now, however, it's time to pay the piper. The country is in deep economic trouble and both parties recognize a compromise is necessary to avert catastrophe. They recognize they have to find ways to bring more money in so we can pay our bills as well as for everything else we want. Since the word "taxes" has become the third rail of American politics, they have to find another way to say it. And the phrase they've settled on is "raising revenues."

Here's how framing works. Language mavens test words and phrases in various combinations and permutations. They look for a phrase that elicits just the right emotional response. Everyone wants their revenues to increase, to make more money because that means we can afford that new car or house or whatever. It naturally makes us feel good. We have an affinity for raising revenue.

Framing can also conjure up negative feelings, for example estate tax v. death tax. The goal in that case was to create an aversion to that particular tax. The key is that emotional reaction -- either an affinity or an aversion will do.

So while I'm not certain where it originated, I know this much: it's a master stroke, reminiscent of some earlier master strokes like energy exploration v. drilling for oil. One makes you feel good, the other, not so much. In the commercial world, a good example is gambling v. gaming. I know which one I'd rather do.

So keep an ear out because although we will continue to hear the phrase, "no new taxes," and other, similar language, revenues are about to be raised, and revenue raising is the new code, the new frame. And because you now know what it really means, you may be developing more of an aversion than an affinity.