Lakoff: Why Conservatives Sell Their Wildly Destructive Ideology Better Than Democrats
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Romney's assumption here is that democracy is based on the "liberty" to seek one's self interest with minimal regard to the interests or well being of others. People who are good at this will succeed, and they deserve to. People who are not good at this will fail, and they should. In Romney's speech, "The Freedom to Dream," he used the word "freedom" 29 times. This is what he means.
Although Obama intends to argue against this understanding, he unintentionally feeds it. He does so in three ways: First, by accepting and reinforcing many of Romney's central frames (often by negating them); second, by moving to the right in his own argumentation; and third, by not spelling out his own moral principles explicitly right from the start.
First, here are three examples of Obama repeating Romney's frames (in bold):
"Governor Romney and his allies in Congress believe deeply in the theory that the best way to grow the economy is from the top down."
"They maintain that if we eliminate most regulations, if we cut taxes by trillions of dollars, if we strip down government to national security and a few other basic functions, the power of businesses to create jobs and prosperity will be unleashed and that will automatically benefit us all."
Republicans "believe that if you simply take away regulations and cut taxes by trillions of dollars, the market will solve all of our problems on its own."
Though Obama's statements are supposed to be taken sarcastically, they actually are positive, straightforward, easy to understand versions of Romney's positions and beliefs.
Second, Obama argues for his willingness to compromise by giving examples of his "bipartisanship," where he did just what conservatives wanted and had argued for as the right thing to do: cutting taxes and eliminating regulations. Here is Obama:
"Understand, despite what you hear from my opponent, this has never been a vision about how government creates jobs or has the answers to all our problems. Over the last three years, I've cut taxes for the typical working family by $3,600. I've cut taxes for small businesses 18 times. I have approved fewer regulations in the first three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his."
Conservatives talk endlessly about "cutting spending." The president uses the same frame: "I've signed a law that cuts spending and reduces our deficit by $2 trillion.
Language is important here, as well as policy. "Spending" is a conservative term; it suggests a needless draining of financial resources, a waste of money. But most of that money was "invested" in our people or used to maintain our infrastructure -- not just "spent". Though a tax reduction for working families may very well have been a good idea, the term "cutting taxes" is a conservative term, suggesting that taxes in general are bad and should be "cut."
There is of course a deeper problem here. Anyone this me-too-conservatism might appeal to would most likely vote for a real conservative over Obama.
Third, in his speech, the president gives a long list of perfectly reasonable policies: ending oil subsidies, investing in education, hiring more teachers and pay them better, not deporting young immigrants, investing in clean energy, encouraging energy innovation, supporting R&D tax credits, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, reforming the tax code, eliminating tax breaks for businesses that ship jobs overseas, strengthening Medicare and Medicaid, and so on.
No such list is going to be remembered by most of those who heard it. Moreover, what is said first matters; it sets the moral frame. In his speech, Obama first repeats the Romney frames, opposes them to numbers and policy lists, and only at the end talks about his own moral vision.