Afternoon Reading: Democrats on Reframing, National Security

A few articles for your afternoon reading pleasure…

Back when George Lakoff first arrived in the Democratic conscienceness, I was as enamoured with his philosphy of reframing issues as most Democrats were. But something about the concept raised a red flag with me when I slowly began to realize that the issues we were reframing were the same issues people had grown disenchanted with years earlier. We were more concerned with putting old ideas in new clothing before developing new ideas.

Bruce Reed and Rahm Emanuel cover this, though more extensively, in their new book THE PLAN: Big Ideas for America, excerpted here.

Why have so many Democrats snapped up Lakoff’s manual? Because it tells them exactly what they want to hear. As might be expected from a linguistics professor and self-proclaimed “metaphor analyst,” the book contends that Democrats’ biggest problem is the words we use. All progressives need to do to win the political debate, he argues, is to change the conceptual “frame” in which it takes place. According to Lakoff, Democratic arguments are bouncing off the electorate’s collective subconscious because conservatives have set the frame and we haven’t. To be fair, Lakoff isn’t wrong about everything. He understands the importance of values and an agenda. He calls the lack of ideas “hypocognition” — which he says was first discovered in a Tahitian tribe where suicide was rampant because it lacked the concept of grief. One man’s frame is another man’s pine box.

But Lakoff is flat-out wrong to suggest that Democrats are losing just because Republicans know all the right words. His favorite example is that conservatives learned to call tax cuts “tax relief.” He’s right that Republicans make a fetish out of using the most misleading, Orwellian words they can find. But let’s be honest: Bush didn’t manage to pass his tax cuts because he called them tax relief. (Most of the time, he called them tax cuts.) Bush got the chance to pass his disastrous tax cuts because Democrats were too slow to offer real tax reform proposals of our own. The tax debate illustrates what Al From, who founded the Democratic Leadership Council, has astutely observed: In a country with three self-identified conservatives for every two self-identified liberals, when neither side’s agenda is sufficiently compelling, Republicans usually win by default.

The real danger of Lakoff ‘s analysis is that it reinforces Democrats’ favorite excuse — that Republicans have succeeded by pulling the wool over Americans’ eyes, and that we’ll start winning as soon as we learn the same dark arts.

Some Democrats want to believe that we can stand in front of the mirror and practice the words to win America back. “Ever wonder how the radical right has been able to convince average Americans to repeatedly vote against their own interests?” Ariana Huffington says in plugging Lakoff ‘s book, “It’s the framing, stupid!” One glowing reviewer declared, “While Democrats were campaigning as if policy mattered, Republicans were waging their campaign on a far more fundamental, and more powerful, psychological level.”

Lakoff insists that when arguing against the other side, the main principle of framing is “Do not use their language. Their language picks out a frame — and it won’t be the frame you want.” What he doesn’t realize, however, is that the whole notion that words matter more than reason is the Republicans’ frame, and it’s the wrong one for the country’s future.

Also from the DLC, Will Marshall convincingly states Democrats CAN win on National Security:

Facing a skeptical, change-hungry electorate, Republicans figure their best hope for staving off disaster in this fall’s election is to wave the bloody shirt of 9/11. The Democrats’ response? Bring it on.

Democrats have two solid reasons for believing they are poised to win the argument over national security. First, the hellish, unceasing carnage in Iraq has demolished public confidence in President Bush’s claims that his policies are making us safer. Second, party leaders and policy analysts have begun to articulate a coherent alternative to his war on terror.

That’s crucial, because the political gains from lambasting Bush on Iraq are limited by the public’s deep ambivalence about what course to follow next. According to a recent Democracy Corps survey, the party’s familiar indictment of Bush’s mistakes in Iraq gains traction with voters only when Democrats couple them with their own positive ideas for protecting the country.

To craft a winning message on national security, both for the midterm election and for the 2008 presidential campaign, Democrats should stress six themes… (continued)

Let’s have less on the wings and more meat in the middle… click


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