Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Strategery: On Unity; and a Lakoff Interview

Long-term planning.

From a Kos diarist, some suggestions about a a unified Democratic House strategy.

Berkeley Linguistics Professor George Lakoff on how to get messages through the "frames"people view the world through -- a strategy for winning at public rhetoric:

First of all, framing is the most ordinary thing in the world. We think in terms of frames, and all words are defined in terms of frames. Frames are usually relatively small conceptual structures that characterize what something means. For example, if you take a word like “relief,” the frame includes an affliction, an afflicted party, a reliever who takes the affliction away -- a hero. If anyone tries to stop him, they’re a villain. This comes into politics when you add “tax” to “relief” and you get “tax relief,” where you see taxation as an affliction. That’s a conservative metaphor: the people who want to get rid of taxes are heroes and the people who don’t are the villains. When words like “tax relief” are repeated over and over again, they come to be the normal way to talk about taxes. When that happens, it means it has become part of your brain. It is physically instantiated in the synapses of your brain. Therefore, it becomes normal; it becomes part of common sense. To get it out, the only thing you can do is to get some other view of taxes that is ultimately stronger.
The conservatives know that they’re weak. If the public agreed with them, they could have called it the Dirty Air initiative. Why not? Well, they knew the public wouldn’t like it. What this means is that they’re weak. If they know they’re weak, they can be called on it because the public is on your side.
Over the last 35 years, the right has put together over 43 think tanks. They’ve spent two to three billion dollars doing it. We’re nowhere near that. They have this enormous apparatus and they’ve spent 35 years figuring out all these frames and figuring out the language. Our think tank is raising the issue of framing. One of the great mistakes of the Democratic Party has been to try to describe what it means to be a Democrat in terms of programs, instead of in terms of values, principles and directions. So that’s one of the things we’re trying to do, fill in the frames. There are a lot of missing frames.
Democrats have to unite. I think the Democratic Leadership Council has to be thrown out. You have to stop this thing about moving to the right and following the polls instead of leading in them and so on. Some united progressive movement has to be formulated, with complete framing on every issue and with a characterization of what a unified Democratic party ought to be. I think movement building is the first order of business. And building a real party that has a vision, that has values, and has political principles that people agree on is the very first thing that has to be done. We have to get ourselves together. We’ll also have to fend off the conservatives very powerfully and we’ll have to do both at the same time. I think what will happen is that the people who have organized for this election are not going to go away. We’ve never seen a progressive organization like this since the '60s.
Q: You're a lifelong liberal. How has your work affected your politics?
GL: It’s allowed me to understand my own moral system and what I believe. It’s allowed me to see what types of liberals there are and what unites them and divides them. It’s allowed me to ask myself more deeply why I believe what I believe and come up with very good answers for it. It’s allowed me to respect conservatives. That’s an important point. I used to be a typical liberal and thought that conservatives are either irrational or mean or cruel or petty or whatever. Now I see that liberals can be those things, too. Most conservatives are conservatives because they think they are morally correct.


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