Tied to the mast
…but orange now and black

When Orwell is read like a ‘how to’, ctd.: George Lakoff’s take

Saw the funniest Windows Movie Maker-quality video by Lakoff a few months ago about the power of framing (Don’t think about an elephant!). It was meant as a teaching tool for Democratic Party strategists and was chock full of awkward slide cuts and cheesy muzak–apparently integral to the average Democratic Party strategist’s learning process.

He diagnosed the Republicans’ success through the last coule of decades in their ability to exploit, through language, pre-conscious associations to astroturf their policy proposals. He laments the failure of Democrats to join the fight for the American pre-conscious.

Poked around on YouTube but couldn’t turn up the exact video we saw. The one I’ve posted below is focused on introducing the underlying scientific and anthropological work, and is actually much less patronizing (evidently intended for a different audience):

Anyway, he has an op-ed up on the HuffPo breaking down the conservative language strategy of the moment. To give you a sense:

President Obama has described Justice Sotomayor in empathetic terms … [in terms of] a life story that would allow her to appreciate the consequences of judicial decisions and the causal effects of living in an unequal society… Empathy in this sense is a threat to conservatism, which features individual, not social, responsibility and a strict, punitive form of “justice.” It is no surprise that empathy would be a major conservative target in the Sotomayor evaluation… But the target is not empathy as it really exists. Instead, the conservatives are reframing empathy to make it attackable. Their “empathy” is idiosyncratic, personal feeling for an individual, presumably the defendant in a legal case. With “empathy” reframed in this way, Charles Krauthammer can say, echoing Karl Rove, “Justice is not about empathy.” The argument goes like this: Empathy is a matter personal feelings. Personal feelings should not be the basis of a judicial decision of the Supreme Court. Therefore, “justice is not about empathy.”

He unpacks this argument very effectively through the rest of the piece. At the end he recommends that Democrats, to innoculate voters from such conditioning:

…should go on offense. They need to rally behind empathy — real empathy, not empathy reframed as emotion and personal feeling. They need to speak regularly about empathy as being the basis of our democracy. They need to point out that empathy leads one to notice real social and systemic causes of our troubles and to notice when and how judicial decisions and legislation can harm the most vulnerable of our countrymen. And finally that empathy is the reason that we have the principles of freedom and fairness — which are necessary components of justice.

Basically he’s arguing that Democrats need to actively problematize these preconscious assumptions, pulling them out into the light of day. Two things:

  1. I like that he’s confident enough in the merit of Democratic arguments that he’s willing to make this point. For all of the bluster Democrats have always been weirdly tentative (battered wife-like) about making clear the absurdity of these kinds of strategies.
  2. Americans hate finding out that they’ve been manipulated. Who likes to be made a sucker? So, to the Democratic Party strategists out there: Confidence people!

Bonus treat: Samantha Bee interviews Frank Luntz (the Republican framing guru) about the art of “spraying perfume on dog-turds”:

LUNTZ: What is your manipulation, is my education and explanation.

Nihilist much?


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