Saturday, July 16, 2005

Even 'framing' things properly won't help the Democrats

The cover article in this weekend's New York Times Magazine is one by Matt Bai all about 'framing,' specifically its role in US politics, how inept the Democrats are at framing things properly, and how it won't really help unless the ideas behind the frame are good ones.

I learned all about schemas and frames last spring from Prof. Michael Krasner who taught "Politics & Media" at Queens College. Interestingly, he never quoted the central figure in Bai's article, Prof. George Lakoff.

[UPDATE: Via email, Prof. Krasner responds that, "Lakoff and I were moving on parallel tracks, but he got there first in public, so that's how these things work." I wonder if he was aware of Lakoff a few years ago, whether they were influenced by the same people etc. If I can, I'll update further if Krasner is willing to share some details about this.]

Here are my comments on the article, feel free to leave your own at the bottom.

First, the Democrats were not unaware of this problem before Lakoff was escorted into the Beltway. In fact, they prefer "estate tax" over "death tax" and "right to choose" over "right to life." Neither of those are new in 2005.

It's interesting that the very same people who were a part of Kerry's failed campaign last year (Cutter and Mellman) were tasked with putting together a "war room" on the fillibuster issue for Minority Leader Harry Reid last year. Why would you let proven failures lead the way again? Lucky for Reid, his gamble paid off. The only one missing from the roster of rejects was

The Democrats are such geeks! Members of both houses, "carried laminated, pocket-size message cards -- 'DEMOCRATS FIGHTING FOR DEMOCRACY, AGAINST ABUSE OF POWER,' blared the headline at the top -- with the talking points on one side and some helpful factoids about Bush's nominees on the other." You'd think they'd be able to remember that kind of stuff; it's their ideology, isn't it? And, what, if they forgot would they actually whip out the cards in front of a tv camera etc? What losers!

The "American people" (yes, that's you) are perceived to be idiots by the minority party down in our nation's capital. You're gullible enough to have believed the lies the Democrats sold you! Here's just one example:
The facts of the filibuster fight hadn't necessarily favored them; in reality, the constitutional principle of ''checks and balances'' on which the Democrats' case was based refers to the three branches of government, not to some parliamentary procedure, and it was actually the Democrats who had broken with Senate tradition by using the filibuster to block an entire slate of judges. (''An irrelevancy beyond the pay grade of the American voter,'' Garin retorted when I pointed this out.)
Yes, Geoff Garin and the rest of the Democratic party thinks that you're too stupid to understand the nuances of the Constitution and American history!

It's funny how the Democrats, notably those who bashed Lakoff in TNR and Atlantic Monthly, dismiss him so easily. Why not give him a chance? None of the ideas the Democrats have been presenting as of late are any more successful anyway!

Among the more entertaining sections of the piece:
"Lakoff does say in ''Don't Think of an Elephant!'' albeit very briefly, that Democrats need not just new language but also new thought; he told me the party suffers from ''hypocognition,'' or a lack of ideas."


The pamphlet is titled ''The House Democrats' New Partnership for America's Future: Six Core Values for a Strong and Secure Middle Class.'' Under each of the six values -- ''prosperity, national security, fairness, opportunity, community and accountability'' -- is a wish list of vague notions and familiar policy ideas. (''Make health care affordable for every American,'' ''Invest in a fully funded education system that gives every child the skills to succeed'' and so on.) Pelosi is proud of the document, which -- to be fair -- she notes is just a first step toward repackaging the party's agenda. But if you had to pick an unconscious metaphor to attach to it, it would probably be a cotton ball.
Here's the last paragraph:
Democrats are still unwilling to put their more concrete convictions about the country into words, either because they don't know what those convictions are or because they lack confidence in the notion that voters can be persuaded to embrace them. Either way, this is where the power of language meets its outer limit. The right words can frame an argument, but they will never stand in its place.
In short: the Republican majority is here to stay!!!


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