George Lakoff

George Lakoff: 10 Rules for Resistance Against Trump

(Editor's note: A summary of 10 points for effectively resisting Trump has recently been a viral sensation. Those points came from a talk retired linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff gave last year in northern California. Here are those takeaways followed by Lakoff's summation of his talk at Sonoma State University.)

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The President Is the Nation: The Central Metaphor Trump Lives By

Metaphors in the Brain

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The Answers to Two Big Questions About Trump and the GOP That Keep Befuddling Progressives

Progressives are stumped. They keep asking the same two questions over and over again on social media, TV, and radio:

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It Would Be a Lot Easier to Protect Important 'Regulations' from Trump's Onslaught If We Stopped Calling Them That

The American Majority got 2.8 million more votes in the 2016 election than the Loser President. That puts the majority in a position to change American political discourse and how Americans understand and think about politics. As a start, what is needed is a change of viewpoint.

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What Happens in Our Minds When We Say 'Donald Trump' - A Sound Symbolism Tour by a Cognitive Linguist

As strange as it may sound, the sound symbolism of a name has become an unnamed central issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. As a cognitive linguist, my job is to study the issue and, at the very least, to name it.

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Lakoff: Pay Close Attention - Trump Means Exactly What He Says

Editor's note: This analysis is a followup to Lakoff's previous piece, Understanding Trump,

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Understanding Trump

There is a lot being said about Trump by intelligent and articulate commentators whose insights I respect. As a longtime researcher in cognitive science and linguistics, I bring a perspective from these sciences to an understanding of the Trump phenomenon. This perspective is hardly unknown—more than half a million people have read my books. Yet you will probably not read what I have to say in the New York Times, nor hear it from your favorite political commentators. You will not hear it from Democratic candidates or party strategists. There are reasons for that, and we will discuss them later in this piece. 

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George Lakoff: Why Pope Francis Killed It on Addressing Climate Change

Beginning with my book Moral Politics in 1996 (Ch. 12), I have been arguing that environmental issues are moral issues. There I reviewed and critiqued conservative metaphors of nature as a resource, as property, as an adversary to be conquered.

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Obama Has Real Power as President to Fix Inequality Without Congress - Let's See Him Use It

There are enough people guessing what the president will do. This is about what he almost certainly won’t do, but what I would like him to do.

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The NY Times Uncovers Conservative Attacks and Then Prints One of Its Own; Both Are On The Front Page

The NY Times has many virtues and some important flaws. Both were evident on the paper’s front page this week and there is a lot to be learned by what did and did not appear there.

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Obama Reframes Syria: Metaphor and War Revisited

President Obama has reframed his position on Syria, adjusting the Red Line metaphor: It wasn’t his Red Line, not his responsibility for drawing it. It was the Red Line drawn by the world, by the international community — both legally by international treaty, and morally by universal revulsion against the use of poison gas by Assad. It was also America’s Red Line, imposed by America’s commitment to live up to such treaties.

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Lakoff: Why Extreme Conservatives Like the Sequester

Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, Robert Reich and other major economists have pointed out that the deficit is not an urgent economic problem and that, to the contrary, the economy would be helped by an increase in public investment and harmed by drastic cuts. The Sequester would hurt the economy, millions of people, and the country as a whole.

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Why Even Republicans Loved Obama's State of the Union

Political journalists have a job to do — to examine the SOTU’s long list of proposals. They are doing that job, many are doing it well, and I’ll leave it to them. Instead, I want to discuss what in the long run is a deeper question: How did the SOTU help to change public discourse? What is the change? And technically, how did it work?

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Lakoff: Mass Murder Is Not "Freedom"

Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom? — Barack Obama, Newtown Address, December 16, 2012

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Michigan Republicans' Corporate Servitude Law

Michigan has just passed a corporate servitude law. It is designed to take away many of the worker rights that unions have conferred throughout their history: The right to a living wage.  The right to equal pay for women. The right to deferred payments in the form of pensions. The right to negotiate workplace standards and working conditions. The right to overtime pay.

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Lakoff: Why the Fiscal Cliff Metaphor Won't Die

Writers on economics have been talking since the election about why the “fiscal cliff” metaphor is misleading. Alternative metaphors have been offered like the fiscal hillfiscal curb, and fiscal showdown, as if one metaphor could easily be replaced by another that makes more sense of the real situation. But none of the alternatives has stuck, nor has the fiscal cliff metaphor been abandoned. Why? Why do some metaphors have far more staying power than others, even when they give a misleading picture of a crucial national issue?

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Global Warming Systemically Caused Hurricane Sandy

Yes, global warming systemically caused Hurricane Sandy -- and the Midwest droughts and the fires in Colorado and Texas, as well as other extreme weather disasters around the world. Let's say it out loud, it was causation, systemic causation.

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Lakoff: What Obama Needs to Do in Tomorrow's Debate

As Nate Silver, NY Times polling expert put it, “Instant polls conducted after the debate are suggestive of something between a tie and a modest win for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.”

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Lakoff: What Obama Did Wrong in the First Debate

You don’t win a presidential debate by being a policy wonk. Obama violated all the basics of presidential debating. The best defense is a good offense. You have to set the terms of the debate and press those terms. Obama failed. Here are those basics:

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George Lakoff: What to Watch for in the Presidential Debates

I’ve been applying cognitive linguistics and neuroscience to politics in six books over the past two decades. The ideas in those books were on display in many of the speeches at the Democratic National Convention. Look for them in the debates. They include:

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George Lakoff: How Romney-Ryan's Budget Would Destroy America's Soul

America was born with a great soul, a moral view of Democracy in which citizens care about their fellow citizens and join together to take responsibility not just for themselves but for each other, for America as a union, a joint enterprise. The government's job was to carry out that moral vision and to do so it created what we call The Public, the provision of basic protection and empowerment for all.

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Obama v. Romney: Two Radically Different Visions Of America's Future

America is divided about its future. Should it keep and expand the system that brought past opportunity, prosperity and freedom? Or should it dismantle that system?

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Why the GOP Campaign for the Presidency Is About Guaranteeing a Radical Conservative Future for America

The Santorum Strategy is not just about Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. It is about pounding the most radical conservative ideas into the public mind by constant repetition during the Republican presidential campaign, whether by Santorum himself, by Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul, by an intimidated Mitt Romney, or by the Republican House majority. The Republican presidential campaign is about a lot more than the campaign for the presidency. It is about guaranteeing a radical conservative future for America.

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Obama and the Dems Just Sound Too Wonky on Health Care

Barack Obama ran the best-organized and best-framed presidential campaign in history. How is it possible that the same people who did so well in the campaign have done so badly on health care?

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What Biden Needs to Do to Nail the Debate

In the first debate, Obama did what he needed to do: convince a majority that he has what it takes. But there is room for improvement.

1. Obama kept working within McCain's frames: Earmarks, tax policy, military policy as foreign policy, and so on. McCain would say something false using one of his frames, and Obama would be lured into correcting McCain in McCain's own frame and then stay in it. Rule 1: Change to your frame.

2. A simple thing: Instead of saying "I agree with Sen. McCain ...," Obama should try "Sen. McCain agrees with me that ..." The former frames McCain as setting the standard. The latter frames Obama as setting the standard. Or try " Sen. McCain and I agree" if you are stressing bipartisanship.

3. Obama's answers kept drifting off and falling in intonation at the end. Both beginnings and endings should be short and passionate.

4. Obama missed a great opportunity when McCain said he would freeze nonmilitary spending. A short, but powerful list of what would be cut and how it would affect people's lives could have been devastation. This can still be done however, even by Biden on Thursday.

5. McCain used "no second holocaust" to effect last week in courting the Jewish vote, which could be decisive in Florida. Obama and Biden need to use it, while pointing to Olmert's anti-bombing position along with Olmert's reasons.

6. Obama didn't take the opportunity to talk about foreign policy at the level of the person, not the state -- about foreign policy issues like poverty, hunger, disease, clean water, women's oppression, ethnic cleansing, refugees, global economics, and so on. Military experience doesn't help with these vital issues, and McCain is inexperienced in them.

The reason the list is short is that Obama did so well.

The Democrats are assuming that Biden will win easily over Palin. I hope so, but Palin should not be underestimated. She is being tutored and much of what she will do should be obvious. She will attack Obama viciously, but with humor. I think she will come out as a populist identifying Obama and Biden with Wall Street and say that McCain improved the Paulson bill by going to Washington. She may argue that a corporate income tax cut will put money in the economy. That one's easy to rebut: corporations that need bailouts have losses not incomes and so cutting their taxes would be pointless. But such logical arguments won't carry the day with Conservative Populists. Biden will have to come on at the beginning as a populist attacking the need for such a bailout.

Remember that polls among conservative populists are running more than 100-to-1 against. Also remember that conservative populists see liberals as elitists, and will see Biden negatively if he comes on as a policy wonk trying to upstage Palin on her ignorance about issues. Biden needs to be short, to the point, passionate, and should not forget the Big 5 reasons people vote for a presidential candidate: Values, Authenticity, Communication and Connection, Trust, and Identity. He has to undercut McCain on these, and support himself and Obama on them.

Again, look for the obvious from Palin: She will repeat "That's gotcha journalism" when asked embarrassing questions. She and McCain are the populist reformers fighting Wall street, indentifying Obama and Biden with Wall Street, and touting no taxpayer bailout, private insurance, cutting corporate taxes, cutting spending, the defense of Georgia from the Russians, and drilling to lower energy costs. She will drop the names of the leaders she met in NY at the UN. She will call Obama too liberal and an orator with no content. She will bring back Reverend Wright and Bill Ayres. She will talk about being pro-life and saving the family and the Second Amendment.

Biden will have to practice not falling into any of these frames, but responding (or if possible starting) with framing of his own that casts McCain in a bad light in all these cases and draws her into his framing. I assume those prepping him for the debate will have already told him all of this.

Biden should go after McCain. He should call him a Yes-man for Bush 90 percent of the time, especially on deregulation of Wall Street (which caused this economic crisis), on refusing to fund alternative energy, on starting the Iraq War and not going after Osama bin Laden, and on privatizing -- and eventually ending -- social security. A debate on whether McCain is Yes-Man will displace the maverick frame from public discourse.

Biden should go after McCain's gambling, and point out his gamble last week, which resulted in his messing up the bill to fix the economic crisis. In a crisis, you need a cool head, not an impulsive gambler. There should be a public discussion about McCain as a gambler.

Biden should not let McCain get away with his remark about freezing all spending except for the military and veterans. He should look at the audience and say, if you have a child who has or needs college loans, Sen. McCain will take them away. If your schools get federal funding for education, say for special needs, Sen McCain will eliminate it. If your town gets ... (fill in your favorites), Sen. McCain will cut it -- and give your money instead via tax breaks to wealthy people and corporations who don't need it.

Biden should also go into the nonmilitary aspects of foreign policy, especially those at the level of the person: poverty, hunger, disease, water, ethnic cleansing, women's oppression, and so on. McCain has not experience working on such people-oriented issues, where military experience doesn't count.

Biden should criticize Palin for making women who've been raped pay for their own rape tests, on not being pro-life after birth because of her views of children's health care, on helping to raise the rate of teenage pregnancies and hence abortions by being against sex education, and on helping to bring back back-alley abortionists by supporting laws that would have the government interfere with the intimate decisions that only individual women should be making. Lack of sex education, lack of pre-and post-natal care, and bringing on the return of back-alley abortionists supports a culture of death, not life.

This is the opportunity to bring up Palin's Road to Nowhere, built from earmark funds, and going nowhere, routed through a nature preserve -- a place that shouldn't even have roads.

Biden doesn't have to prove himself in this debate. Palin does have to prove herself. That means Biden can hold back, give short but powerful responses, and try to prevent gaffes.

Finally, there is "gotcha journalism." If Palin brings it up, the right response is that journalists have a job to do, to find out what candidates know and believe, and that experienced candidates know how to respond by communicating clearly what they really do know and do believe.

MoveOn Ad Exposes the True Betrayers

Betrayal is everywhere in the news. We learned from the Washington Post that Alan Greenspan said in his new book, "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." Not keeping our country safe, as the troops were told. Not democracy. Not Weapons of Mass Destruction. Not al Qaeda. Oil! All those lives and maimings about oil! Are you shocked, shocked? It is Betrayal of Trust of the highest order: "Politically inconvenient ... everyone knows ..." Oil was not discussed at the Petraeus hearings. The silence in Washington has been polite.

MoveOn's "General Betray Us?" ad has raised vital questions that need a thorough and open discussion. The ad worked brilliantly to reveal, via its framing, an essential but previously hidden truth: the Bush Administration and its active supporters have betrayed the trust of the troops and the American people.

MoveOn hit a nerve. In the face of truth, the right-wing has been forced to change the subject -- away from the administration's betrayal of trust and the escalating tragedy of the occupation to of all things, an ad! To take the focus off maiming and death and the breaking of our military, they talk about etiquette. The truth has reduced them to whining: MoveOn was impolite. Rather than face the truth, they use character assassination against an organization whose three million members stand for the highest patriotic principles of this country, the first of which is a commitment to truth.

New York Times columnist Frank Rich, right about so many things, got it wrong when he criticized the ad in his Sunday column.

He overlooks the fact that the "distraction" he worries about has led the supporters of the Iraq occupation to endlessly evoke the Betrayal of Trust frame, identifying themselves with the Betrayer of Trust in that frame. The betrayers themselves took MoveOn's bait.

Thanks to their making it a national issue, we can now proceed to discuss their Betrayal of Trust on the national stage they have conveniently provided. The importance of this frame is discussed in "Betrayal of Trust: Beyond Lying" -- Chapter 6 of Don't Think of an Elephant!

Betrayal is a moral issue, and with respect to war, mass destruction, maiming, and death, it is a moral issue of the highest order. Betraying trust is a matter of deception that knowingly leads to significant harm. There is little doubt that the Iraq War and its aftermath have done considerable harm -- to our troops, to the Iraqi people, and to our nation as whole. It is equally clear that there has been a considerable amount of deception in the instigation of the war and throughout the occupation. In short, there has been, and continues to be, a considerable betrayal of trust. It goes well beyond the general and the fudging of his figures.

The issue is this: Who has been betraying the trust of the American people -- including our troops -- in bringing about the American invasion of Iraq and in continuing the occupation? What were the acts of betrayal and with what consequences? And is a betrayal of trust still going on, and if so where, how, and by whom?

I have developed a deeper look at these issues. You can read that in my new article Iraq and the Betrayal of Trust. But meanwhile, let's talk about one of the traps we should stay out of: The Politeness Trap.

Bush took advantage of certain conventions of etiquette and politeness when he sent Petraeus to testify before Congress. Those conventions hold that one does not criticize the symbolic stand-in for the military, even when the uniform-wearing stand-in is on an overt political mission that is at the heart of the Administration's continuing betrayal of trust. Decorum can be put to political use, and Bush did just that.

Bush was using a familiar right-wing tactic: identifying himself with a military uniform and the stature of the military in general, when he had no military stature himself. Rudy Guiliani used the same tactic in his ad in Friday's New York Times: by associating himself with Petraeus' rank and role, hoping some of the stature of the military would rub off on him. The implicit message is an attack on MoveOn: in pointing out Petraeus' deception, MoveOn, so Giuliani implies, was being disrespectful of the military itself. This is a typical right-wing attack on progressives, and progressives shouldn't stand for it. They should not be allowed to hide behind the troops. The troops themselves have been betrayed. None of us wants to hear it, to know it, to acknowledge it. Least of all me. It disgusts me how the troops have been betrayed by people saying, "Support our troops." But it is true, and millions of us must start saying so. There are unacknowledged villains behind this carnage.

In a country that takes its freedoms seriously, freedom of speech must be maintained. Betrayal through deception is much worse than being impolite. Where tens of thousands of deaths and maimings are concerned, it is immoral not to point out betrayals when they are real. It is patriotic to root out betrayal on grand scale wherever it occurs.

The American people have been betrayed by the architects and apologists for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. By avoiding the politeness trap in a patriotic, direct, and factual way, MoveOn correctly framed the betrayal of trust for what it is. And right now, the apologists for the occupation seem to be forgetting a lesson we thought Frank Luntz had schooled them on. They are quite busy invoking the frame of betrayal of trust, a frame that clearly best fits them. That frame is essential to bringing an end to the tragedy in Iraq.

12 Traps That Keep Progressives From Winning

Richard Wirthlin, chief strategist for former president Ronald Reagan, made a discovery in 1980 that profoundly changed American politics. As a pollster, he was taught that people vote for candidates on the basis of the candidates' positions on issues. But his initial polls for Reagan revealed something fascinating: Voters who didn't agree with Reagan on the issues still wanted to vote for him.

Mystified, Wirthlin studied the matter further. He discovered just what made people want to vote for Reagan. Reagan talked about values rather than issues. Communicating values mattered more than specific policy positions. Reagan connected with people; he communicated well. Reagan also appeared authentic -- he seemed to believe what he said. And because he talked about his values, connected with people and appeared authentic, they felt they could trust him. For these four reasons -- values, connection, authenticity and trust -- voters identified with Reagan; they felt he was one of them. It was not because all of his values matched theirs exactly. It was not because he was from their socioeconomic class or subculture. It was because they believed in the integrity of his connection with them as well as the connection between his worldview and his actions.

Whatever we may think of Reagan, this has been a winning formula for conservatives for the past quarter century. Progressives need to learn from it. Politics is about values; it is about communication; it is about voters trusting a candidate to do what is right; it is about believing in, and identifying with, a candidate's worldview. And it is about symbolism. Issues are secondary -- not irrelevant or unimportant, but secondary. A position on issues should follow from one's values, and the choice of issues and policies should symbolize those values.

One misunderstanding, common among progressive circles, is that the Reagan and George W. Bush elections were about "personality" rather than anything substantive. Nothing is more substantive than a candidate's moral worldview -- and whether he or she authentically abides by it.

Wirthlin's discovery happened to be about a presidential candidate, but it applies much more broadly. It should be taken to heart by all progressives: Concentrate on values and principles. Be authentic; stand up for what you really believe. Empathize and connect with the people you are talking to, on the basis of identity -- their identity and yours.

Progressives have not only failed to understand Wirthlin's discovery, they have also not understood recent advances in cognitive science, so they continue to fall into a number of traps. These are traps of our own making, however, and we can get out of them without having to change anything about our values. This is cause for optimism. The purpose of this handbook is to lay out the anatomy of progressive values, ideas and arguments to free us from traps we have fallen into.

1. The Issue Trap

We hear it said all the time: Progressives won't unite behind any set of ideas. We all have different ideas and care about different issues. The truth is that progressives do agree at the level of values and that there is a real basis for progressive unity. Progressive values cut across issues. So do principles and forms of argument. Conservatives argue conservatism, no matter what the issue. Progressives should argue progressivism. We need to get out of issue silos that isolate arguments and keep us from the values and principles that define an overall progressive vision.

2. The Poll Trap

Many progressives slavishly follow polls. The job of leaders is to lead, not follow. Besides, contrary to popular belief, polls in themselves do not present accurate empirical evidence. Polls are only as accurate as the framing of their questions, which is often inadequate. Real leaders don't use polls to find out what positions to take; they lead people to new positions.

3. The Laundry List Trap

Progressives tend to believe that people vote on the basis of lists of programs and policies. In fact, people vote based on values, connection, authenticity, trust, and identity.

4. The Rationalism Trap

There is a commonplace -- and false -- theory that reason is completely conscious, literal (applies directly to the objective world), logical, universal and unemotional. Cognitive science has shown that every one of these assumptions is false. These assumptions lead progressives into other traps: assuming that hard facts will persuade voters and that voters are "rational" and will vote in their self-interest and on the issues, and that negating a frame is an effective way to argue against it.

5. The No-Framing-Necessary Trap

Progressives often argue that "truth doesn't need to be framed" and that the "facts speak for themselves." People use frames -- deep-seated mental structures about how the world works -- to understand facts. Frames are in our brains and define our common sense. It is impossible to think or communicate without activating frames, and so which frame is activated is of crucial importance. Truths need to be framed appropriately to be seen as truths. Facts need a context.

6. The Policies-Are-Values Trap

Progressives regularly mistake policies with values, which are ethical ideas like empathy, responsibility, fairness, freedom, justice and so on. Policies are not themselves values, though they are, or should be, based on values. Thus, Social Security and universal health insurance are not values; they are policies meant to reflect and codify the values of human dignity, the common good, fairness and equality.

7. The Centrist Trap

There is a common belief that there is an ideological "center" -- large group of voters either with a consistent ideology of their own or lined up left to right on the issues or forming a "mainstream," all with the same positions on issues. In fact, the so-called center is actually made up of biconceptuals, people who are conservative in some aspects of life and progressive in others. Voters who self-identify as "conservative" often have significant progressive values in important areas of life. We should address these "partial progressive" biconceptuals through their progressive identities, which are often systematic and extensive.

A common mistaken ideology has convinced many progressives that they must "move to the right" to get more votes. In reality, this is counterproductive. By moving to the right, progressives actually help activate the right's values and give up on their own. In the process, they also alienate their base.

8. The "Misunderestimating" Trap

Too many progressives think that people who vote conservative are just stupid, especially those who vote against their economic self-interest. Progressives believe that we only have to tell them the real economic facts, and they will change the way they vote. The reality is that those who vote conservative have their reasons and we had better understand them. Conservative populism is cultural -- not economic -- in nature. Conservative populists see themselves as oppressed by elitist liberals who look down their noses at them, when they are just ordinary, moral, right-thinking folks. They see liberals as trying to impose an immoral "political correctness" on them, and they are angry about it.

Progressives also paint conservative leaders as incompetent and not very smart, based on a misunderstanding of the conservative agenda. This results from looking at conservative goals through progressive values. Looking at conservative goals through conservative values yields insight and shows just how effective conservatives really are.

9. The Reactive Trap

For the most part, we have been letting conservatives frame the debate. Conservatives are taking the initiative on policy making and getting their ideas out to the public. When progressives react, we echo the conservative frames and values, so our message is not heard or, even worse, reinforces their ideas. Progressives need a collection of proactive policies and communication techniques to get our own values out on our own terms. "War rooms" and "truth squads" must change frames, not reinforce conservative frames. But even then, they are not nearly enough. Progressive leaders, outside of any party, must come together in an ongoing, long-term, organized national campaign that honestly conveys progressive values to the public -- day after day, week after week, year after year, no matter what the specific issues of the day are.

10. The Spin Trap

Some progressives believe that winning elections or getting public support is a matter of clever spin and catchy slogans -- what we call "surface framing." Surface framing is meaningless without deep framing -- our deepest moral convictions and political principles. Framing, used honestly at both the deep and surface levels, is needed to make the truth visible and our values clear. Spin, on the other hand, is the dishonest use of surface linguistic frames to hide the truth. And progressive values and principles -- the deep frames -- must be in place before slogans can have an effect; slogans alone accomplish nothing. Conservative slogans work because they have been communicating their deep frames for decades.

11. The Policyspeak Trap

Progressives consistently use legislative jargon and bureaucratic solutions, like "Medicare prescription drug benefits," to speak to the public about their positions. Instead, progressives should speak in terms of the common concerns of voters -- for instance, how a policy will let you send your daughter to college, or how it will let you launch your own business.

12. The Blame Game Trap

It is convenient to blame our problems on the media and on conservative lies. Yes, conservative leaders have regularly lied and used Orwellian language to distort the truth, and yes, the media have been lax, repeating the conservatives' frames. But we have little control over that. We can control only how we communicate. Simply correcting a lie with the truth is not enough. We must reframe from our moral perspective so that the truth can be understood. This reframing is needed to get our deep frames into public discourse. If enough people around the country honestly, effectively and regularly express a progressive vision, the media will be much more likely to adopt our frames.

This is an excerpt from Lakoff's forthcoming book, Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision, A Progressive's Handbook.

Bush Is Not Incompetent

Progressives have fallen into a trap. Emboldened by President Bush's plummeting approval ratings, progressives increasingly point to Bush's "failures" and label him and his administration as incompetent. For example, Nancy Pelosi said "The situation in Iraq and the reckless economic policies in the United States speak to one issue for me, and that is the competence of our leader."

Self-satisfying as this criticism may be, it misses the bigger point. Bush's disasters -- Katrina, the Iraq War, the budget deficit -- are not so much a testament to his incompetence or a failure of execution. Rather, they are the natural, even inevitable result of his conservative governing philosophy. It is conservatism itself, carried out according to plan, that is at fault. Bush will not be running again, but other conservatives will. His governing philosophy is theirs as well. We should be putting the onus where it belongs, on all conservative office holders and candidates who would lead us off the same cliff.

To Bush's base, his bumbling folksiness is part of his charm -- it fosters conservative populism. Bush plays up this image by proudly stating his lack of interest in reading and current events, his fondness for naps and vacations and his self-deprecating jokes. This image causes the opposition to underestimate his capacities -- disregarding him as a complete idiot -- and deflects criticism of his conservative allies. If incompetence is the problem, it's all about Bush. But, if conservatism is the problem, it is about a set of ideas, a movement and its many adherents.

The idea that Bush is incompetent is a curious one. Consider the following (incomplete) list of major initiatives the Bush administration, with a loyal conservative Congress, has accomplished:

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Republicans frame immigration

In a keen study, George Lakoff unearths the agenda behind the language used in the heated inmmigration debate.

On May 15th, in an address from the Oval Office, President Bush presented his proposal for "comprehensive immigration reform."

The term "immigration reform" evokes an issue-defining conceptual frame -- The Immigration Problem Frame -- a frame that imposes a structure on the current situation, defines a set of "problems" with that situation, and circumscribes the possibility for "solutions."

"Reform," when used in politics, indicates there is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed -- take "medicare reform," "lobbying reform," "social security reform." The noun that's attached to reform -- "immigration" -- points to where the problem lies. Whatever noun is attached to "reform" becomes the locus of the problem and constrains what counts as a solution.

To illustrate, take "lobbying reform." In the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal, "lobbying reform" was all the talk in the media and on Capitol Hill. The problem defined by this frame has to do with lobbyists. As a "lobbyist" problem, the solutions focused on Congressional rules regarding lobbyists. The debate centered around compensated meals, compensated trips, access by former Congressmen (who inevitably become lobbyists) to the floor of the Senate and House of representatives, lobbying disclosure, lobbyists' access to Congressional staff and the period of time between leaving the Congress and becoming a registered lobbyists.... Read the rest HERE.

Framing Katrina

This article is reprinted from the American Prospect.

Hurricane Katrina exposed far more than rank incompetence and negligence by Bush administration officials. It showed Americans, in full force, the intellectual bankruptcy of modern conservatism.

With millions of Americans displaced in the hurricane's aftermath, and thousands needlessly injured or dead, the nation witnessed the pillars of modern conservative ideology -- less government, lower taxes, a strong defense -- crumble. Conservatives have lectured Americans for three decades about the evils of government and the need for a stronger nation. Turns out, the biggest threat to America's future and security is the complete dominance of government by a conservative ideology incapable of understanding and addressing our greatest needs.

Whoever succeeds in framing Katrina will have enormous power to shape America's future. Progressives started out with the framing advantage, because empathy, responsibility, and fairness are what progressives are about. Conservatives started out with a big disadvantage, because they promised to protect us and they failed.

But the conservatives filled the framing gap so quickly and effectively that, if progressives don't respond immediately, conservatives may be able to parlay this disaster into an even greater power grab than they made out of September 11.

Here's where the Katrina framing war stands. Conservatives understand full well the importance of framing. They are busily framing Katrina to advance their right-wing agenda and expand their power. Their message is simple: The hurricane proves that conservatives were right all along.

  • Katrina showed what happens when state and local officials become dependent on the federal government and fail to take responsibility for making security their top priority. Conservative commentators have, additionally, used Katrina as demonstrating the inadequacy of government in general and as providing a rationale for shrinking it further.
  • Katrina reveals the dangers of environmental organizations that sue to stop levee-raising projects in order save an obscure species. Katrina proves that we must expand our domestic oil and gas production by opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and eliminating environmental protections.

  • Katrina showed that the nation needs capable corporations like Wal-Mart and Halliburton to take responsibility for delivering services, massive cleanups, and large-scale rebuilding. Prevailing wage laws and environmental regulations must be suspended so private companies can do their work.
  • Katrina showed the importance of individual responsibility. Those who failed to take individual responsibility to get out suffered greatly or even died. Those who stayed behind to loot or act in otherwise unlawful ways revealed the underbelly of urban liberalism and government welfare.

  • Katrina sets our priorities straight: rebuilding homes and businesses rather than spending on government entitlement programs like the Medicare drug benefit, Medicaid, the Centers for Disease Control, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, global AIDS funding, and so on.

Katrina's drain on the economy makes tax cuts all the more necessary as a spur to economic growth. Whenever conservatives have their back to the wall, they redouble their efforts and turn disaster -- literally and figuratively -- into ideological and political gain. Right-wing leaders are using this moment as another chance to solidify power by appealing to the general conservative principles that have been developed and disseminated for decades. By contrast, progressives for the most part don't understand deep framing -- framing at the level of values and principles. Progressives are trying to win but they are fighting on the wrong battlefield altogether. They are telling truths -- lots of them, of all kinds. A buckshot load of truths, mostly aimed at Bush:

  • Bush lacked leadership.

  • Bush was told in advance and didn't respond in time.

  • Bush had sent the National Guard to Iraq when its ranks were needed at home.

  • Bush loaded the Federal Emergency Management Agency with incompetent political hacks like Michael Brown.

  • Bush took money from levee reconstruction and used it for the war and to render tax cuts.

  • Bush failed to preserve the wetlands that would have mitigated the storm surge, reversing Clinton policy.

  • Bush has refused to address global warming, which contributes to the frequency and severity of hurricanes.

These truths might temporarily tarnish the Bush administration, perhaps making his ratings go down a few points for a while. But without the power of deep frames to hold them together and back them up, these truths will disappear from the public debate and they will fail to advance the broader truth: that Katrina proves the failure of conservatism.

What have we learned that can help progressives frame the discussion going forward?

Government is not the problem. Conservative government is the problem. The Bush administration's actions have only reinforced the need for smart government that protects the public good, not an anti-government ideology that puts private interests above common needs. Relentless budget cuts and misplaced policy priorities left vital government response capabilities uncoordinated, stripped of critical funding, and in the hands of political novices. These were the results of deliberate decisions by our nation's conservative leaders following the failed principle that less government is always better. When America needed its officials to step up to the challenge of a massive disaster, conservative government let us down.

Conservatives claim to be the promoters of a strong defense, but ended up delivering only weakness and uncertainty. For years, conservatives have championed their supposed strength and resolve, but then withered in the face of a calamitous national event. They have failed to protect our nation and prepare it for adversity. Four years after 9-11, the nation's Army is severely overstretched and under-recruited. The nation -- and our National Guard and Reserves who are supposed to help us here at home -- is bogged down in Iraq. Terrorist networks are growing across the globe. Chemical plants remain unguarded. And our newly created Department of Homeland Security can't handle the aftermath of a hurricane. Even leading conservatives are voicing concerns about what would happen to our people if the nation were to suffer a biological or chemical attack in the current security environment. This is not what the country thinks of as a strong defense.

Taking care of the wealthy first does nothing to ensure shared sacrifice and mutual responsibility for America's future. For the first time in history, a wartime president and his allies in Congress have sacrificed the nation's well-being to their ideology by asking nothing from those that have prospered so much from the collective work of all Americans. After cutting taxes for the wealthy after 9-11 and before the war in Iraq, conservatives now have the audacity to claim that Katrina should actually speed up the move to repeal the estate tax for millionaires. The culmination of 30 years of conservative dreams and proposals has produced little more than a destabilized economy racked by corruption and misplaced priorities that favor the needs of the few over the national interest.

To help Americans think about values, progressives must place these truths in the larger context. We must use them to demonstrate the strength of progressive philosophy compared with the failings of conservatism. We must communicate these truths as part of a positive, values-based vision of government and society, not just to prevent another Katrina tragedy but to stop the conservative juggernaut in its tracks and save our nation from the far greater disaster of conservatism itself.

What should progressives say?

The tragedy of Katrina was a matter of values and principles. The heart of progressive values is straightforward and clear: empathy (caring about and for people), responsibility (acting responsibly on that empathy), and fairness (providing opportunities for all and a level playing field from which to start). These values translate into a simple proposition: The common wealth of all Americans should be used for the common good and betterment of all Americans. In short, promoting the common good so that we can all benefit -- and focusing on the public interest rather than narrow individual gain -- is the central role of government. These are not just progressive values. They are America's values.

Katrina shines a light not only on the failure of conservative values but especially on their fundamentally un-American character. Since the days of the colonies, when the commonwealths of Massachusetts and Virginia were formed, Americans have pooled their common wealth for individual aspirations.

Today's right-wing conservative values are just plain un-American in this context. This is a country where people pull together in the face of disaster. They don't just tell one another to sink or swim. Sink-or-swim conservatism is not in the American tradition, or the American heart. Empathy, mutual responsibility, fairness, and community -- all progressive values -- are part of this heritage. As Katrina showed, Americans hold a deep sense of shared fate and want an effective government that represents these values, does its job, and serves the people valiantly. Americans want to act responsibly and contribute. Katrina proved it. Those are the central progressive values. Americans have them.

It is time for progressives at all levels -- from our political leaders and policy-makers to our public intellectuals to our activists to ordinary Americans who care about their country -- to articulate our values, fundamental American values, and repeat them proudly and consistently. The truth is that conservative values have failed America and are threatening the well-being of our nation. America is, and has always been, a progressive country. We care. We act responsibly. We want a level playing field for all to succeed, and a sense of national community. That is what makes us progressives.

These are the deep truths that need to be told starting now. There can be no delay. Conservatives from the administration to Congress to think tanks to FOX News are busy framing Katrina their way. Once it is framed, it is hard to reframe. Now is the time to speak out.

This article can be found on the American Prospect website.
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