Father Jake asks, in the comments below, if we’re familiar with George Lakoff. Yes, indeed! And coincidentally, there’s a piece by Michael Erard about Lakoff’s work today in The Texas Observer. It ends on this very provocative note:
As long as liberals and progressives insist that having the facts on their side is all that matters, they are doomed to impotence. The next move for the left in the frame war is to accept that it’s okay to cherry-pick reality as long as it conforms to a frame that’s morally acceptable. According to Lakoff, we already do it every day.
Lakoff believes Dems are getting killed (metaphorically speaking, of course) in their framing of the issues: conservatives are masterful wordsmiths, carefully selecting the terms and phrases that are sure to generate an emotional response. That response will resonate, no matter how much logic the receiver applies.
Then they pair those emotion-prompting terms and phrases with their pet planks. Thus we get “partial birth abortion” and “death tax” and “values” and “tax relief” and… You know them all. (Perhaps there should be a study of “susceptibility” to framing tricks? Or has there been? Perhaps Lakoff himself has done one?)
Here’s a great Wikipedia page that introduces George Lakoff, if you’re not familiar with his work. I’m hoping to pick up and read his newest book, Don’t think of an elephant!, during my semester break.
Your homework: Figure out how to get a nation half full of “frameable” thinkers to begin thinking of poverty and war and environmental destruction as MORAL issues.
- Other stuff —
- One Ohio precinct has already restated election results, reducing Bush’s “broad, national victory” by 4000 votes:
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – An error with an electronic voting system gave President Bush 3,893 extra votes in suburban Columbus, elections officials said.
Franklin County’s unofficial results had Bush receiving 4,258 votes to Democrat John Kerry’s 260 votes in a precinct in Gahanna. Records show only 638 voters cast ballots in that precinct.
Bush actually received 365 votes in the precinct, Matthew Damschroder, director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, told The Columbus Dispatch.
State and county election officials did not immediately respond to requests by The Associated Press for more details about the voting system and its vendor, and whether the error, if repeated elsewhere in Ohio, could have affected the outcome…
(There’s more.) Now, that’s just not going to help curtail theories like these, is it? Actually, I really hope the election was stolen again, because then I could think more charitable thoughts about the 59 million who appear to have voted for Bush. And there certainly are great, looming mysteries — such as the fact that early voting in three states was leaning toward Kerry, and the exit polls were pointing toward Kerry (yes, yes, “grain of salt” and all)… But then “PRESTO (CHANGO?)!”, Bush wins.
- Jonathan Chait today:
Dear rural/exurban Christian conservative voters:
Congratulations on your election victory.
By going to the polls in unprecedented numbers Tuesday, you overwhelmed an enormous Democratic turnout and returned President Bush to office, along with a number of very conservative senators. Now Bush is preparing to repay your efforts by moving immediately on your highest priorities: a flat tax and privatizing Social Security.
Oh, wait. You didn’t particularly hanker for those things, did you? The election is so far in the past now that it has receded into a hazy memory. But as I recall, you voted for Bush because of his position on one issue — he opposes gay marriage — and on the general principle that he is a godly man who shares your values. Now Bush has decided, conveniently enough, that those values are identical to those of his wealthy financiers. (Go to any meeting of the Club for Growth, a group of affluent, libertarian-leaning Bush backers who mostly live in Washington and New York City. I’m sure you’ll find them, like victorious Okla-homophobe Sen. Tom Coburn, deeply concerned about rampant high school lesbianism in the Sooner State.)
Bush is claiming the election as a mandate. There are, however, a couple of ways to interpret that. The conventional meaning is that a candidate gained office by promising to do a certain thing. Ronald Reagan in 1980 had a mandate to cut taxes and bolster the military. Bill Clinton in 1992 had a mandate to raise taxes on the rich, expand healthcare, reform welfare. Those were the central promises of the two campaigns.
Bush uses the word somewhat differently. As he told reporters Thursday, “I earned capital in the campaign — political capital — and now I intend to spend it.”
What that means is that all you small-town folk voted for him not to pursue an agenda but just because he embodies family values. That gives him political power that he can use for purposes utterly unrelated to the source of his popularity. Sure, Bush mentioned some of these purposes in the campaign. But the references tended to be perfunctory and in code. Start with taxes.
Though Bush talks about tax “simplification,” he doesn’t seriously believe it. He has littered the tax code with complicated new provisions, including a ludicrous corporate tax bill stuffed with special provisions for sausage producers, foreign dog-race gamblers and the like. Simplification really means making the tax code flatter — i.e. less progressive. He doesn’t care about making taxes simpler; he just wants rich people to pay a smaller share of them. There’s little evidence to suggest small-town Ohioans flocked to the polls so they could have a portion of George Soros’ tax burden shifted onto themselves.
On Social Security, Bush was just as evasive. Here, again, the tiny minority of people who closely follow this understood his code words. He wants to divert Social Security taxes into private accounts. Because those taxes pay for the benefits of current retirees, his plan would require cutting benefits or driving the national debt even higher.
Bush, of course, went to great pains to distance himself from these unpleasant facts. In 2001, he appointed a commission that proposed three plans to partly privatize Social Security, but he declined to embrace the panel’s findings. A few weeks before the election, a New York Times Magazine story reported that Bush told GOP donors he planned to push privatization after the election. John Kerry’s campaign circulated a nonpartisan study showing what the benefit cuts in one of the commission’s plans would entail. Bush’s spokesman dismissed the charge that he favored privatization or benefit-cutting as a “false, baseless attack.”
Here’s what Bush said Thursday: “I had asked [Daniel Patrick Moynihan], prior to his passing, to chair a committee of notable Americans to come up with some ideas on Social Security, and they did so. And it’s a good place for members of Congress to start.”
Got that? Last week, if you had described Bush as advocating the commission’s plans, he would have denounced you for promoting a hysterical lie. Now they are at the top of the list of things he’s saying he was elected specifically to enact.
Meanwhile, what about opposing gay marriage, the one mandate Bush might legitimately claim? Earlier this year, Bush barely lifted a finger in support of a constitutional amendment banning it. (Compare this to the furious arm-twisting he performs to get moderates to back his tax cuts.)
If he has a mandate to do anything, it’s to bring up the amendment again. However, he’s said nothing about doing so, and nobody expects him to.
No surprise there — it’s hardly in the Republican Party’s interest. If gay marriage is banned everywhere, what’s going to bring all those heartland conservatives to the polls next time?
- So here I am, being a typical liberal and focusing on facts instead of creating alternate realities, but I just can’t let go of this “mandate” and “broad, national victory” merde. Neither can Editor and Publisher’s Greg Mitchell:
(November 05, 2004) — I have to admit that I am a little confused by all this talk of “man date” by Republican leaders in the days since the election. I thought they were opposed to same-sex fooling around.
You might forgive my confusion, however. I heard and read that word so often on Thursday my head is still spinning.
As Doyle McManus and Janet Hook of the Los Angeles Times put it, Bush aides “repeatedly” made the point that their man had won by such a wide margin he should be given full rein to institute new policies (or perhaps enact new wars). Did McManus and Hook consider this a bit overblown? No, they repeated the talking point, declaring that “Bush can claim a solid mandate of 51% of the vote.”
A Wall Street Journal editorial called the mandate “decisive.” To the New York Sun it was an “extraordinary mandate.” Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post said the “endorsement” was “resounding.” Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard capitalized the word, saying that Bush’s Mandate was greater than the Nixon landslide of 1972 and Reagan’s sweep in 1984. Peggy Noonan got so excited that she paraphrased Bush in his victory speech saying, “Honey, I’m not just going to lower your taxes. I am transforming the tax system.”
Now, where I come from (a “red” county, by the way), 51% is considered a bare majority, not a comfortable margin. If only 51% percent of my family or my editorial staff think I am doing a good job, I might look to moderate my behavior, not repeat or enlarge it. At the minimum, I would not assert that I was overwhelmingly popular.
Yet one reporter or columnist after another obligingly used the term mandate, after Vice President Cheney delivered it from on high on Wednesday. We’d expect that from Peggy Noonan (and more), but not necessarily from the many mainstream reporters who endorsed the idea.
Here’s David Sanger in today’s New York Times: “Mr. Bush no longer has to pretend that he possesses a clear electoral mandate. Because for the first time in his presidency, he can argue that he has the real thing.”
Now, it’s true that President Bush got more votes than any winning candidate for president in history. He also had more people voting against him than any winning candidate for president in history.
As the Wall Street Journal’s Al Hunt observed, it was “the narrowest win for a sitting president since Woodrow Wilson in 1916.” And a Gallup poll conducted after the election found that 63 percent of voters would prefer to see Bush pursue policies that “both parties support” compared to only 30 percent who want Bush to “advance the Republican Party’s agenda.”
I’ve seen the word “mandate” a hundred times since the election but I have not encountered anyone making the following point: With nearly 115 million votes cast, if just 140,000 had gone a different way in Ohio we would not be talking about who is going to replace Colin Powell in the Bush cabinet, we’d be calling for abolishing the electoral college during President-elect Kerry’s first term.
Yet President Bush in his press conference on Thursday said he was ready to spend all his “political capital” on bold policies. It seems he now has new media capital to spend as well.
- Josh Marshall very succinctly describes what we should all be fearing right now:
“But this is what I fear will be a growing pattern in this second term: an effort to use a narrowly secured majority not only to govern, even govern aggressively, but to make institutional changes that strip away the existing powers and rights of large minorities. These formal and informal checks and balances constitute the governmental soft-tissue that allows our political system to function.”
He gets even more specific, suggesting that Bush is creating something very close to a parlimentary democracy. The whole post is worth reading.
Perhaps Teresa Nielsen Hayden put it best, this week: “225 years is a pretty good run for a republic, historically speaking.”