Thursday, October 30, 2003

How Conservatives Control Political Debate.... and How Progressives Can Take It Back

Gary over at Rhino's Blog found a great article that was recommended to him by Peter Coyote, who stated, "This article hits the nail on the head as to how political issues get "framed" in ways which make us lose from the get-go."

The article is called "Framing The Dems" and it was written by George Lakoff, a cognitive scientist. He is senior fellow at the Rockridge Institute & the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the U.C., Berkeley. He's also author of "Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think."

In his essay from The American Prospect, Lakoff examines the multi-issued belief systems of both Conservatives & Progressives, and pin points what he believes are the over arching principles in each. In just a few pages, he shows that how something like taxes are spoken about, how they are "framed" in the context of the national discussion, can determine much more than will there be less taxes or more, it can also determine who the electorate believe are the heros, and who the villains.

an excerpt:

Framing the Dems
How conservatives control political debate and how progressives can take it back

By George Lakoff, The American Prospect, vol. 14 no. 8, September 1, 2003

On the day that George W. Bush took office, the words "tax relief" started appearing in White House communiqu├ęs. Think for a minute about the word relief . In order for there to be relief, there has to be a blameless, afflicted person with whom we identify and whose affliction has been imposed by some external cause. Relief is the taking away of the pain or harm, thanks to some reliever.

This is an example of what cognitive linguists call a "frame." It is a mental structure that we use in thinking. All words are defined relative to frames. The relief frame is an instance of a more general rescue scenario in which there is a hero (the reliever), a victim (the afflicted), a crime (the affliction), a villain (the cause of affliction) and a rescue (the relief). The hero is inherently good, the villain is evil and the victim after the rescue owes gratitude to the hero.

The term tax relief evokes all of this and more. It presupposes a conceptual metaphor: Taxes are an affliction, proponents of taxes are the causes of affliction (the villains), the taxpayer is the afflicted (the victim) and the proponents of tax relief are the heroes who deserve the taxpayers' gratitude. Those who oppose tax relief are bad guys who want to keep relief from the victim of the affliction, the taxpayer.

Every time the phrase tax relief is used, and heard or read by millions of people, this view of taxation as an affliction and conservatives as heroes gets reinforced.

The phrase has become so ubiquitous that I've even found it in speeches and press releases by Democratic officials -- unconsciously reinforcing a view of the economy that is anathema to everything progressives believe. The Republicans understand framing; Democrats don't.

Be sure to read the rest of this article at:

...And be sure to keep checking Rhino's Blog on a regular basis for more great information:

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E.P. Thursday, October 30, 2003