Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Wise words from Lakoff

Yes, Don't Think of An Elephant has been widely read by activists and elected Democrats - but few in D.C. seem to have truly embraced George Lakoff's thinking and advice on reframing the debate:
Lakoff contends that Republicans not only have taken ownership of words, they also have skillfully succeeded in framing the debate. That has trapped Democrats into being reactive, implicitly buying into the GOP framework and almost dooming them to failure.

Consider the war in Iraq. Republicans have adroitly labeled Democratic calls for troop pullbacks as "cut and run." So how did Democrats respond? With John Kerry saying that the Bush strategy is "lie and die."

Instead, Lakoff says, Democrats must change the nature of the debate, starting by rejecting the premise that America is in fact at war. The war, he says, ended when President Bush said it did with his "Mission Accomplished" stunt on an aircraft carrier.

Now, Democrats should refer to the conflict as an occupation. They should say U.S. troops were not trained to be occupiers and that they were betrayed by administration policy, with the U.S. weakened as a result.

Lakoff makes a similar point about the "war on terror." Terrorism, he says, should be fought in the same way the government went after the Mafia.

Right or wrong, no prominent Democrat has adopted Lakoff's proposed framing. That hasn't stopped him from making the rounds in Washington, urging Democrats to take heed.

He is a one-man army for the counterintuitive. Democrats, he says, are an anti-intellectual party. It is Republicans, he says, who support conservative intellectuals with many think tanks and interest groups to promote a conservative agenda.

Republicans, he adds, actually control the media. They reinforce Bush's positions and use radio, television and the Internet to create an amen chorus before Democrats can even deliver a compelling sermon.

Democrats, he says, need to become framers.

Lakoff says the Democratic message needs to be something like this: Republicans oppress people when they can't eat the fish they catch because of water pollution, when kids get asthma because of bad air, when ranchers can't let cattle drink the water in the streams that run through their land, all because of lax regulation. And don't make the mistake of labeling yourself an environmentalist.
Lakoff is especially on target when he notes that Republicans control the media and support their intellectuals. Lakoff isn't the only one making these arguments, either. David Brock, who wrote The Republican Noise Machine and heads Media Matters, has elaborated very specifically in pointing out right wing media's corruptive influence on democracy.

Markos and Jerome argued the same in Crashing the Gate. While the progressive blogosphere is certainly helping to level the playing field between us and them, we have a long way to go. We are still way behind in infrastructure.

Perhaps one of the most important things needed is a progressive cable channel to offer political commentary and actual news. FOX is skewing the field rightwards, and that's a major problem.

Reframing is tough. Very tough. It's hard to keep Lakoff's advice in mind all the time. But the more we reframe, the more we refrain from allowing conservatives to control the debate, then the more successful we will be at getting our fellow Americans to agree with us.

<< Home