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The Santorum Strategy
March 13, 2012 9:52 AM   Subscribe

The Santorum Strategy Linguist George Lakoff explains how Santorum is helping reinforce right wing beliefs.
posted by drezdn (121 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Conservative language, even when argued against, activates and strengthens conservative brain circuitry.

I'd argue against this idea, but I'm afraid of the consequences for my brain circuitry.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:00 AM on March 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


This is something I've often said. I've never understood why the Democrats are so limp and accepting of the Republicans' setting the subject under debate, the tone and the very language of the debate.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:00 AM on March 13, 2012 [19 favorites]


Because a) liberals in general think "we are all in this together" and wrongly believe that conservatives value inclusion of viewpoints and reasoned debate, so they don't notice the framing and b) Democrats are all too happy to move rightward because MONEY.
posted by DU at 10:03 AM on March 13, 2012 [16 favorites]


Lakoff's message is important but I think opening this up with statements about brain circuitry is not useful, and sort of makes it look as though knowledge of neurobiology is crucial in making the case he's making and that you just have to take his word for it on the relevant details, which can be turned into a huge red herring.
posted by Anything at 10:12 AM on March 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


This guy again? He's setting up a caricature of the "liberal" "moral system" against a caricature bordering on straw-man of the "conservative" "moral system," making huge generalizations we are to accept at face value, while engaging in exactly the sort of condescension that makes the "liberal" "moral system" repugnant to many voters.

Really, the whole project is an enormous attempt at self-gratification. "Liberalism is based on empathy and responsibility, while conservatism is based on patriarchy, and the only reason anyone believes it is because they're so stupid they've been tricked by the parroting of unsuspecting media talking heads."

For f*ck's sake. Own up to the idea that someone might actually, genuinely disagree with your moral system for principled reasons, not because they're ignorant or are suffering from nefarious neuro-linguistic programming.
posted by valkyryn at 10:12 AM on March 13, 2012 [26 favorites]


I've never understood why the Democrats are so limp and accepting of the Republicans' setting the subject under debate, the tone and the very language of the debate.

I think part of the reason is that so much liberal rhetorical praxis over the past, what, fifty odd years has been rooted in a hermeneutics of suspicion. The way to get a cookie and a pat on the head in liberal/lefty circles is to expose the hidden nastiness (homophobia, sexism, racism, classism etc.) behind whatever someone is saying. You see it in almost every Metafilter thread where we enthusiastically compete to expose the shameful assumptions lying behind even the most anodyne opinions.

But of course Lakoff's point (and there's a lot of research backing this up) is that arguing against a particular worldview or debunking a particular myth tends, ultimately, to strengthen the myth in people's minds. As liberals we love playing with the enemy's claims and exposing their weaknesses--but what the mind retains out of that exercise is the enemy's claims and not the exposure of their fragility.

What we haven't had a great deal of stomach for on the left for a long time is ringing proclamations of shared ideals. It's our mode to be suspicious of ideals, to add a "yeah, but" to all such statements ("yeah, but that's all very well for privileged white males...but what about..." being the default version). We don't like slogans and simplifications, we don't like moral certainty. But in the political marketplace, slogans, simplifications and moral certainty are gold.
posted by yoink at 10:13 AM on March 13, 2012 [56 favorites]


makes it look as though knowledge of neurobiology is crucial in making the case he's making and that you just have to take his word for it on the relevant details, which can be turned into a huge red herring.

No kidding. Even if we were to grant him all of his assertions on neurobiology, his political descriptions are painted, not with a broad brush, but with an industrial-grade sprayer.
posted by valkyryn at 10:14 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even if President Obama is re-elected, he will have very little power if the Republicans keep the House, and a great deal less if they take the Senate. And if they keep and take more state houses and local offices around the country, there will be less and less possibility of a liberal future.

This.
Ultimately, I think part of the reason the primaries have been such a circus is because the real efforts are being made on the state and local levels to win the Senate, further build their majority in the House, and grab even more statehouses. If one of the clowns happens to accidentally win the White House, so much the better.

The conservatives have figured-out that they can accomplish far more of their goals by controlling state government, rather than continue to wage these battles of stalemate on the Federal level. Sure, they will continue to work to build their power in Congress, and hope to capture the White House, but the real money and efforts are in the state legislatures, where it's proving to be relatively easy to curtail workers' rights, starve public education, and restrict abortion to a point where it is all but eliminated.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:14 AM on March 13, 2012 [21 favorites]


But of course Lakoff's point (and there's a lot of research backing this up) is that arguing against a particular worldview or debunking a particular myth tends, ultimately, to strengthen the myth in people's minds.

Really though, isn't this what conservatives do just as often as liberals do? Lakoff paints things as if conservatives were entirely active and liberals entirely reactive, i.e., conservatives do not ever interact with liberal ideas and liberals only respond to conservative ideas.

This is just nonsense. Conservatives spend plenty of time attacking liberal positions. They may be wrong-headed attacks, but the ideas are still getting out there. Basically, Lakoff seems to be saying that when conservatives talk about liberal ideas, conservatives win, but when liberals talk about conservative ideas, conservatives still win.

If the neurobiology works the way he says it does, this doesn't make any damn sense.
posted by valkyryn at 10:17 AM on March 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think Democrats need much better positive messaging, expressing and repeating liberal moral values

Seriously. I have no idea what the Democrats stand for other than "not the Republicans."

But of course Lakoff's point (and there's a lot of research backing this up) is that arguing against a particular worldview or debunking a particular myth tends, ultimately, to strengthen the myth in people's minds.

Yep. I've linked it a few times before, but "the smart idiot effect"
posted by mrgrimm at 10:17 AM on March 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Really, the whole project is an enormous attempt at self-gratification. "Liberalism is based on empathy and responsibility, while conservatism is based on patriarchy, and the only reason anyone believes it is because they're so stupid they've been tricked by the parroting of unsuspecting media talking heads."

Well, sure, he's a liberal so he thinks liberal values are better than conservative ones--that's tautologically true. But you miss the point of his argument. It's not "liberals are nice, therefore they lose political arguments." He thinks the American Right has adopted a more effective way of promoting its agenda in the political marketplace than the Left has done and he wants the Left to emulate those tactics. That's a claim that's fairly independent of any value judgments you might offer about conservative vs. liberal values.
posted by yoink at 10:18 AM on March 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Basically, Lakoff seems to be saying that when conservatives talk about liberal ideas, conservatives win, but when liberals talk about conservative ideas, conservatives still win.

Conservatives talk about liberal ideas using conservative language and framing.

Liberals talk about conservative ideas...using conservative language and framing.

That's the difference.
posted by DU at 10:20 AM on March 13, 2012 [45 favorites]


I think his central point, that language frames discussions and therefore not only how we approach problems but how we conceive and identify problems in the first place, is true and important. But I take issue with this:

And language, far from being neutral, activates complex brain circuitry that is rooted in conservative and liberal moral systems. Conservative language, even when argued against, activates and strengthens conservative brain circuitry. This is extremely important for so-called "independents," who actually have both conservative and liberal moral systems in their brains and can shift back and forth.

The author is simplifying and conflating so much here for rhetorical purposes as to constitute a misleading and very tendentious argument. He's making it sound like "conservative" and "liberal" are not only ideologically stable over time, which is untrue, but that they have simple, essential neural incarnations that could be differentiated on a purely biological basis, which I suspect is not the case.

He's trying to use quasi-biological terminology to make it sound as though his argument is rooted in empirical facts. He needn't use a neurobiological orientation to establish that playing your opponent's game is always a losing proposition.

The more important insight is that deciding what is a problem and what is not is a crucial political process, and deserves at least as much attention as how problems are solved.
posted by clockzero at 10:23 AM on March 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


I've never understood why the Democrats are so limp and accepting of the Republicans' setting the subject under debate, the tone and the very language of the debate.

Obama markedly did not do that at all in his 2008 campaign. From the primaries all the way to the election he never really let the debate focus on his relative inexperience or any other areas he was weak in, and always managed to spin the situation toward his talking points. Contrast that to Kerry's inept campaign against Bush where he let the swiftboat attacks and flip flopping allegations drown out any attempt to establish a coherent message of his own.

Personally I think the rhetoric is less about changing the minds of voters and more about effectively pandering to views that already exist. Republicans have had a lot of success in recent years pandering to rich people via promises to reduce taxes and to religious white people with racial and religious rhetoric. That will increasingly not work at all as the boomers get older and the country's demographics shift toward having more minority voters and whatnot. A politician is not going to get a hispanic voter to respond to a dog whistle racist comment designed to get rural white folk on their side, and they're not going to be able to scare people by talking about gay marriage when most of the voting population has grown up in a time when being gay is considered a normal everyday thing. The fact that the Republicans keep hammering the same outdated cultural points is probably more of a sign that the Republicans are having a hard time transitioning in a changing cultural climate than it is that they can keep preaching to the choir and have that magically rewire people's brains to agree with them.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:23 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is just nonsense. Conservatives spend plenty of time attacking liberal positions. They may be wrong-headed attacks, but the ideas are still getting out there. Basically, Lakoff seems to be saying that when conservatives talk about liberal ideas, conservatives win, but when liberals talk about conservative ideas, conservatives still win.

I agree that he's making the difference sound more absolute than it is (and certainly Conservatives do spend a lot of time engaging with liberal ideas)--but I do think that clear and uncompromising espousal of positively stated moral ideals is far more common among conservative politicians than it is among liberal ones in the US. You'll get a lot more "the family is the bedrock of American society" and "God has given the US a moral imperative to lead" and so forth on the Right than whatever equivalents might be on the left ("Look, of course we think capitalism is a great engine of economic advancement, but we also think it needs certain safeguards to mitigate the damage it can occasionally do and to ensure that its rewards are more evenly diffused throughout the population--not that we're socialists, of course, but...").
posted by yoink at 10:24 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


What we haven't had a great deal of stomach for on the left for a long time is ringing proclamations of shared ideals. It's our mode to be suspicious of ideals...

I agree with the first sentence, but not what follows. I've thought for a long time that when conservatives started to win in America was not in 1964 with Goldwater but in the 50s with McCarthy. The Left was put majorly on the defensive and has never regained control of the debate. One generation had to tone it way down and succeeding generations have never had a good example to follow or anyone to set a far-left Overton Window edge. We need a new (set of) strong Left leader(s) to make it OK to be loudly leftist (outside of academia) again.
posted by DU at 10:24 AM on March 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


I prever the Santorum Reaction myself.

Fun game : Grand Ayatollah or Grand Old Party?
posted by jeffburdges at 10:26 AM on March 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


[A couple comments removed. If you cannot refrain from calling other users of the site lying assholes, stay out of the thread entirely.]
posted by cortex at 10:27 AM on March 13, 2012


I've thought for a long time that when conservatives started to win in America was not in 1964 with Goldwater but in the 50s with McCarthy. The Left was put majorly on the defensive and has never regained control of the debate.

Meh--many of the great triumphs of American liberalism post-date the 50s. Civil Rights legislation, Medicare, the Great Society. It's true that McCarthyism made hard-left politics virtually inexpressible in America in the 50s, but it's not true that you see the broad middle of American politics take a hard rightward turn in the 50s and 60s. The real swing comes with Nixon's Southern Strategy and accelerates markedly with Reagan.
posted by yoink at 10:29 AM on March 13, 2012


...Ronald Reagan as a not-too-bright mediocre actor who could not possibly be elected president. I remember liberals making fun of George W.Bush as so ignorant and ill-spoken that Americans couldn't possibly take him seriously. Both turned out to be clever politicians who changed America much for the worse.

No. Both were indeed half-wits. but they had a political machine behind them that turned them into monsters.
posted by Splunge at 10:30 AM on March 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


All I need do is read the comments for many of the posts at Truthout and see how cliche ridden readers of that site are.

If Rick S. et al are linguistically right, then why are the women voters turning back to the Democrats, as every poll indicates?
posted by Postroad at 10:30 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lakoff's message is important but I think opening this up with statements about brain circuitry is not useful, and sort of makes it look as though knowledge of neurobiology is crucial in making the case he's making and that you just have to take his word for it on the relevant details, which can be turned into a huge red herring.

There was a study a few years ago suggesting that when you add neuroscience-y bits to an explanation of a particular behavior, people tend to give it more weight than they would without the neuroscience (or "neuroscience"). It's highly likely Lakoff is familiar with this study, and I wouldn't put it past him to use that sort of device to make this article more persuasive.
posted by logicpunk at 10:32 AM on March 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ronald Reagan as a not-too-bright mediocre actor who could not possibly be elected president. I remember liberals making fun of George W.Bush as so ignorant and ill-spoken that Americans couldn't possibly take him seriously. Both turned out to be clever politicians who changed America much for the worse.

No. Both were indeed half-wits. but they had a political machine behind them that turned them into monsters.


Yeah, I agree. He's putting too much emphasis on their individual identities and failing to recognize the structural issues and hidden political actors that put them in the white house and then used them to accomplish awful things.
posted by clockzero at 10:33 AM on March 13, 2012


There was a study a few years ago suggesting that when you add neuroscience-y bits to an explanation of a particular behavior, people tend to give it more weight than they would without the neuroscience (or "neuroscience"). It's highly likely Lakoff is familiar with this study, and I wouldn't put it past him to use that sort of device to make this article more persuasive.

This is delightfully ironic.
posted by clockzero at 10:34 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


There was a study a few years ago suggesting that when you add neuroscience-y bits to an explanation of a particular behavior, people tend to give it more weight than they would without the neuroscience (or "neuroscience").

That's amusing, but the effects he is describing are very widely attested in the literature. Google "the continued influence effect" and you'll come across any number of studies that show that when you debunk a myth it tends to strengthen belief in the myth or when you post a correction to an article it tends to propagate the original error.
posted by yoink at 10:37 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


...it's not true that you see the broad middle of American politics take a hard rightward turn in the 50s and 60s.

I didn't claim you do or would. Even when the impetus behind the Left disappears all the institutions and so forth existed. Those can drift intellectually unguided for some time and even make "progress" but eventually will run out of steam. And indeed, in the 70s, about 20 years (i.e. one generation) after when I say it happened, we see the Left basically disappear.
posted by DU at 10:39 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


There was a study a few years ago suggesting that when you add neuroscience-y bits to an explanation of a particular behavior, people tend to give it more weight than they would without the neuroscience (or "neuroscience"). It's highly likely Lakoff is familiar with this study, and I wouldn't put it past him to use that sort of device to make this article more persuasive.

The thing is that people rightfully get more resistant to specific tricks that are thusly used to prop up arguments, and I'd expect a few years to be quite enough for the pendulum to swing back on such a trend.
posted by Anything at 10:41 AM on March 13, 2012


That's sort of off topic though
posted by Anything at 10:45 AM on March 13, 2012


I didn't claim you do or would. Even when the impetus behind the Left disappears all the institutions and so forth existed. Those can drift intellectually unguided for some time and even make "progress" but eventually will run out of steam. And indeed, in the 70s, about 20 years (i.e. one generation) after when I say it happened, we see the Left basically disappear.

Perhaps. I'm skeptical of such longue duree arguments--they're essentially unfalsifiable (tell me where we'll be 20 years from now and if you're correct--and we're still alive--I'll give you a whole packet of cookies). I don't see an American left that is aimless and leaderless in the wake of McCarthy. Far from it. In fact it's easier to point to dynamic and visionary voices on the American left in the 50s, 60s and 70s than on the American right. The Republicans essentially gave up on ever winning control of Congress in those decades. Eisenhower was a moderate Republican who was despised by the conservative wing.

And getting back to Lakoff's argument--what does a successful left (no, not a radical left, but a left nonetheless) look like in the 50s and 60s? It looks like people making bold declarations about moral purpose and high ideals ("Ask not what your country can do for you..." "War on Poverty!" "The Great Society" etc.e tc.). It doesn't look like a bunch of people sitting around poking fun at whatever the conservatives were saying.
posted by yoink at 10:50 AM on March 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Liberals talk about conservative ideas...using conservative language and framing.

Agreed, and it's maddening. A good example would be the inheritance tax - called, of course, the "death tax" by the right.

So no, Democrats don't use that term, but they're boxed into the original term, when it would probably be far, far more effective to pull an FDR and start talking about economic royalists, start talking about an American aristocracy that doesn't want to pay its fair share, and simply wants to pass it all down to keep its heirs in clover.

Democrats/the left used to know how to do this. They've either forgotten or simply turned away from it.
posted by kgasmart at 10:52 AM on March 13, 2012 [35 favorites]


I've thought for a long time that when conservatives started to win in America was not in 1964 with Goldwater but in the 50s with McCarthy.

This is of course the flipside theory of why the Right is so weak in Europe. The Nazis flushed them out, they were defeated and never really recovered.
posted by DU at 10:54 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Democrats use framing, too.

Politics isn't about brainwashing, it's about economics. And the money is backing 'conservative' policy. That's why the Republicans happily toe the party line, and the Democrats don't too vociferously oppose them.

We don't need to figure out the right incantations to get the proletariat to vote our way, we just need to figure out a way to properly buy politicians so they vote our way.
posted by empath at 10:57 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think Lakoff said that "I know you are, what am I," is the only thing those guys hear. I'm not sure who "those guys" are, though.

This is scaring me. How do get past this without using the words "lying," or "asshole?" I've seen our current president do this numerous times, but I just can't seem to get the hang of it.

I hope Obama gets re-elected, because I enjoy having an adult at the helm.
posted by mule98J at 10:59 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Politics isn't about brainwashing, it's about economics. And the money is backing 'conservative' policy. That's why the Republicans happily toe the party line, and the Democrats don't too vociferously oppose them.

That's too simplistic. The big money, after all, is still directed by "brains" that entertain beliefs about what is best for that money. What Romney, Santorum et al. are proposing to do is actually counter to the long-term best interests of those monied interests. If we could persuade them of that we could shift the political landscape accordingly.
posted by yoink at 11:06 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


the Right is so weak in Europe

Have you been to Europe? The right is definitely not weak here.
posted by Summer at 11:07 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Have you been to Europe? The right is definitely not weak here.

Americans on both the right and the left have constructed a fantasy Europe where even the "right" are all committed social democrats. It's bizarrely resistant to, well, daily news reports that demonstrate its absurdity.
posted by yoink at 11:10 AM on March 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Have you been to Europe? The right is definitely not weak here.

Relative the Right in America it sure is.
posted by DU at 11:14 AM on March 13, 2012


I'm glad for this article and subsequent because I was starting to get a little optimistic about the coming election and now I'm plunged back into pessimism, fear and not a little nausea about the USA's future.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:17 AM on March 13, 2012


"subsequent discussion"
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:17 AM on March 13, 2012


Conservative language, even when argued against, activates and strengthens conservative brain circuitry.

I have no idea what this means or how it would be tested if I did know, but I'm imagining something like that machine Alex was hooked up to in A Clockwork Orange.

DU: There's no Right in Europe because the Nazis flushed them out.
Europeans: No ... We still have a Right.
DU: Not what I define as a Right!


And that, my friends, is "framing" in action.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:25 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Linguistic counter-infiltration is a damn hard slog.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:26 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Right in Europe have risen fast in the polls but I have the impression that a relatively large portion of the support they get is not open and public. I don't think that's the case in the US.
posted by Anything at 11:29 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the reasons that it is not happening is that there is a failure to understand the difference between policy and morality, that morality beats policy, and that moral discourse is absolutely necessary. This is a major reason why the Democrats lost the House in 2010.

Lost me here.

The Democrats lost the House in 2010 for a reason and a half. First, because the economy was in the crapper and a Democrat was President. The half a reason is that -- while I haven't checked -- it's almost certainly the case that several Democrats squeaked through to victory in 2008 whose only hope of retaining their seat was another Democratic landslide.

That's all. No discourse needed. No policy versus morality needed. If you're on the other side, no rejection of Obama's policies needed. Just the boring regularities of American national elections.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:31 AM on March 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Relative the Right in America it sure is.

This is much, much less true than Americans generally appear to believe. For one thing, there's really no American electoral equivalent of the genuinely hard-right (i.e. neo-fascist) political parties that command consistent significant minorities of the vote in most European countries (the National Front in Britain and in France, for example, or the Freedom Party in Austria).

But also, just look at the way Europe and the US have handled the recent economic crisis. Europe has taken a far more "conservative" approach than the US has. The US left bemoaned the small scale of Obama's stimulus package--but at least we had a stimulus package. We've had lots of jaw-jaw about slashing spending and cutting deficits--but we haven't actually done anything so insanely stupid. Europe, on the other hand, is merrily plunging itself into recession as it chases the chimera of "austerity" off a cliff.

There are still historical legacies of the welfare state in most European countries that are enviable from the perspective of the US--but the difference is not as stark as many would have us believe and the notion that a right-wing European politician would be a left-wing Democrat in the US is just laughably wrong. Right wing European politicians tolerate their welfare state legacies (to the extent that they do) in the same way that Right wing US politicians do. That doesn't mean that they are ideologically committed to them.
posted by yoink at 11:33 AM on March 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


For f*ck's sake. Own up to the idea that someone might actually, genuinely disagree with your moral system for principled reasons,

I'd like to believe that that was the case because then I could believe they were amenable to rational discourse.

Unfortunately, when I get the opportunity to interrogate them more closely, they're either suckers who've bought into an ideology that's been sold to them against their own economic interests, or they're the bastards who are doing the selling in order to further their own economic interests.

The whole principles thing is just one of the devices conservatives use to fuck the working class in the USA. "Don't be accepting no Obamacare. You need to stand on your own two feet." translates to "Keep on paying through the nose for health care, morons. And if you even dare to question us, we'll fuck you so hard you'll spend the rest of your life on the proctologists bills, even if you've got great cover -- which you're never going to have, sucker."
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:35 AM on March 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Is there any neuro/linguistics research that backs his assertions up? Because his assertions about repetition run against what we know about public opinion, both individual and macro.

At least, what I think we know; I'm not a behaviorist and don't follow that research closely. But what I remember is that individuals are highly resistant to incoming messages that run against their predispositions, and that public discourse (especially from the President) doesn't have any consistent effect on aggregate public opinion.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:35 AM on March 13, 2012


If I speak at one constant volume, at one constant pitch, at one constant rhythm, right into your ear...you still won't hear, you still won't hear, you still won't hear...
posted by trackofalljades at 11:38 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, when I get the opportunity to interrogate them more closely, they're either suckers who've bought into an ideology that's been sold to them against their own economic interests, or they're the bastards who are doing the selling in order to further their own economic interests.

The whole principles thing is just one of the devices conservatives use to fuck the working class in the USA. "Don't be accepting no Obamacare. You need to stand on your own two feet." translates to "Keep on paying through the nose for health care, morons. And if you even dare to question us, we'll fuck you so hard you'll spend the rest of your life on the proctologists bills, even if you've got great cover -- which you're never going to have, sucker."


These two paragraphs basically translate as "I'd like them to disagree with me and be principled, but when I interrogate them, it turns out they disagree with me, so they're not principled!"

Congratulations on making that world view work, I guess.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:42 AM on March 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


For f*ck's sake. Own up to the idea that someone might actually, genuinely disagree with your moral system for principled reasons,

They agree that they have "principled" reasons for holding a certain moral system, but not a rational one that is amenable to fact-based and outcome-based analysis.

In any negotiation, what you want to do is show that each side of the negotiation can get a good outcome, in part by possibly even expressing the argument in the other side's language. That's the liberal approach, but it completely misdiagnoses the issue, which is that there's a zero-sum game afoot. It doesn't actually matter that one set of health care policies might create a set of better outcomes, if the moral/"principled" case is that those policies shouldn't exist in the first place. And by trying to argue the case from the other side, it's just reinforcing the "principles" of the opposition, as if they were in any way valid, rather than a set of principles and a moral matrix that has to be fought against.
posted by deanc at 11:50 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


But what I remember is that individuals are highly resistant to incoming messages that run against their predispositions, and that public discourse (especially from the President) doesn't have any consistent effect on aggregate public opinion.

That's true (i.e., that the President's "bully pulpit" is largely a political myth), but not what Lakoff is talking about. He's not saying "liberals just need to make better arguments for their positions"--in fact that's really the exact thing he's saying we shouldn't do. He's saying that it's a waste of time trying to persuade people of the rightness of a particular policy or the desirability of some particular initiative. What he's talking about is the pervasive effect of a style of expression that would be caught up and repeated in myriad sites: talking heads on TV, bloggers, politicians, comedians etc. etc. etc. He's talking about how one goes about influencing people's "predispositions" rather than the appeals you make to them on the basis of those predispositions.

Now it may well be that those predispositions are completely immune from that total cultural environment (what you hear on the TV news, what you read in the paper, what you hear on the radio etc. etc.), but if so that would seem a rather remarkable fact.
posted by yoink at 11:55 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Own up to the idea that someone might actually, genuinely disagree with your moral system for principled reasons.

Yes, yes, your precious principles are exactly as valid as reality-based positions. Wouldn't want to tarnish your principles with any established facts or anything. So sorry to have questioned your sterling principles, my good sir.
posted by Aquaman at 12:01 PM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Conservative language, even when argued against, activates and strengthens conservative brain circuitry.

Growing up in rural Alabama served to drive my already liberal politics into the radical left. Now that I live in the People's Republic of (aka District of) Columbia, I find myself softening my far-left slant. So tell me how this works exactly and I can start seeing the effects?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:07 PM on March 13, 2012


Part of the Republican strategy is to get liberals to argue against them

Bullshit, they aren't looking for an actual argument, they are looking to humiliate the "elitists" by broadcasting any time anyone even slightly left of center crosses a leftist taboo line or every time a leftist does/says something they consider stereotypically "liberal."

See! See how that leftist is racist?!? See how "socialist" they are?!?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:11 PM on March 13, 2012


Growing up in rural Alabama served to drive my already liberal politics into the radical left. Now that I live in the People's Republic of (aka District of) Columbia, I find myself softening my far-left slant. So tell me how this works exactly and I can start seeing the effects?

By definition you're identifying yourself as an exceptional case. Unless your argument that everybody in rural Alabama ends up a lefty because everybody in rural Alabama is a conservative.

Most people end up adopting and accepting the value system they're raised in--and that's as true of conservatives as it is of liberals. We can confidently predict that a generation from now, Alabama will be more religious and more conservative than California--and that's not because everyone in California has a fierce love of "facts" that somehow bypassed Alabama, and nor is it because everyone in California was raised in rural Alabama and everyone in rural Alabama was raised in a hippy commune in San Francisco.
posted by yoink at 12:12 PM on March 13, 2012


Bullshit, they aren't looking for an actual argument

What part of Lakoff's article makes you think that he is suggesting that they are?
posted by yoink at 12:14 PM on March 13, 2012


not what Lakoff is talking about

Yeah, I know, but this still seems to run counter to basic models of opinion formation (Zaller, or Lupia/McCubbins).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:15 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Most people end up adopting and accepting the value system they're raised in--and that's as true of conservatives as it is of liberals. We can confidently predict that a generation from now, Alabama will be more religious and more conservative than California

I wouldn't be so confident. Two generations ago in Alabama a Republican couldn't get a cup of coffee and three generations ago they were forming Socialist parties and organizing black laborers in a club called the "Black Panthers."
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:16 PM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Conservatives talk about liberal ideas using conservative language and framing.
Liberals talk about conservative ideas...using conservative language and framing.
That's the difference.

Yes, but.

If the two sides are ever going to find a dialogue, there will have to be some agreement on terms, and sometimes no neutral alternative exists. If neither side concedes the language for the sake of just finding a damn means of communicating with each other, then real communication can never happen. What has resulted is both sides talking past each other, speaking in bland talking point generalities. We don't have debates, we have euphemism recitals that occasionally degenerate into put-down contests.

I think what rather should be done is call out speakers who are obviously talking in meaningless positioning statements and dog-whistle signals. Almost everything any of the Republican candidates have said on the record has been of this nature, all of them except Ron Paul who has mostly refused to play that game. Of course, when they refuse to play it means that their more odious views end up on the air unvarnished, so I kind of see why they do it. Doesn't mean they shouldn't be called out for it.
posted by JHarris at 12:18 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


What part of Lakoff's article makes you think that he is suggesting that they are?

Probably the part I quoted.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:18 PM on March 13, 2012


Probably the part I quoted.

You mean the quote where he says nothing at all about them wanting "an actual argument"? That one? Yeah, I think I see the problem.

Lakoff is saying that the conservatives want liberals to argue against their positions because in doing so they will solidify the hold that conservative framing of the issues has on people's minds. He nowhere suggests (and it would, in fact, be directly counter to his position) that conservatives are trying to provoke liberals into some high-minded exchange of ideas (i.e. "an actual argument"). The whole strategy would fall apart, in fact, if conservatives were to fall into the same trap that they've set for the liberals.
posted by yoink at 12:28 PM on March 13, 2012


So, would it be crazily off base to suggest that what Lakoff would prefer to see is a positive account of liberal ideas that has viral appeal, versus one that reacts to the views of opponents?
posted by lodurr at 12:31 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Two generations ago in Alabama a Republican couldn't get a cup of coffee

Indeed--because they were still so mad at Abraham Lincoln for freeing the slaves. And the "Democrats" they elected were all about to become Republicans.

and three generations ago they were forming Socialist parties and organizing black laborers in a club called the "Black Panthers."

Yes, three generations ago Alabama was paradise for the black man.
posted by yoink at 12:33 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Funny that he would use the term "argue" when all he means is "yell at".
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:33 PM on March 13, 2012


Is there any neuro/linguistics research that backs his assertions up? Because his assertions about repetition run against what we know about public opinion, both individual and macro.

There has been a ton of research on what is called the priming effect of language, this looks to be a pretty good survey of the cognitive linguistic aspects of this phenomenon.
posted by kaspen at 12:34 PM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


valkyryn: "against a caricature bordering on straw-man of the "conservative" "moral system""

Part of the problem is that the many of the people arguing on behalf of the conservative moral and economics systems are also using them as straw-men.
posted by schmod at 12:35 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Funny that he would use the term "argue" when all he means is "yell at".

I take it that the ones you think are doing this "yelling" are the Republicans? Again--he's not talking about Republicans arguing with liberals. He's saying that the Republicans want the liberals to argue with their positions. It really doesn't matter if they're yelling or not, so long as they're repeating the Republican framing of the issue.

Or, you know, you could just read the piece.
posted by yoink at 12:38 PM on March 13, 2012


Yes, three generations ago Alabama was paradise for the black man.

And you won't find an argument from me here on that point (see what did there?). But there was a large and active progressive, leftist (as in Communist) movement in Alabama as late as the 1940's. Those people's grandchildren are sadly now debating whether to pull the lever for Santorum (a Catholic even!) or Gingrich. All it took was two generations and a lot of pandering to racism to get the decendents of "yellow dog" Democrats to turn into Tea Baggers.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:40 PM on March 13, 2012


Sorry, that survey is not public access, here's an earlier and more accessible article by the same author: Syntactic Priming in Language Production.
posted by kaspen at 12:41 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


If Rick S. et al are linguistically right, then why are the women voters turning back to the Democrats, as every poll indicates?
posted by Postroad at 10:30 AM on March 13 [+] [!]


You may have missed the recent turning point where repug figurehead Limbaugh summed up the last hundred-odd years of conservative reactionary thought by just saying that all women are whores.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:42 PM on March 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've thought for a long time that when conservatives started to win in America was not in 1964 with Goldwater but in the 50s with McCarthy. The Left was put majorly on the defensive and has never regained control of the debate.

What do you mean "started"? McCarthy was the second Red Scare, the first having occurred in 1919-20.
posted by valkyryn at 12:44 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The legislator from Georgia who drew on his experience as a veternarian as his background in woman's health legislation didn't help the GOP either...
posted by mikelieman at 12:45 PM on March 13, 2012


Funny that he would use the term "argue" when all he means is "yell at".

M: An argument isn't just contradiction.
A: It can be.
M: No it can't. An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.
A: No it isn't.
M: Yes it is! It's not just contradiction.
A: Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position.
M: Yes, but that's not just saying 'No it isn't.'
A: Yes it is!
M: No it isn't!
(repeat as needed)
posted by madajb at 12:48 PM on March 13, 2012


Metaphor and blending theory is really where its at these days in the non AI-wannabe cognitive sciences these days, in my opinion, and it's really unfortunate this conversation kind of sucks, but then again Lakoff set it up to be this dichotomous blah blah about father figures and 'how dare you characterize me like that' back and forth. Lakoff was a seminal figure in establishing metaphor studies as a serious and significant avenue of research, but ever since Howard Dean it's just been these horribly reductive political obsessions of his. If anyone wants a good tome to really get in to what Lakoff is failingly getting at here, I strongly recommend Fauconnier and Turner's The Way We Think. There's also a huge number of freely downloadable publications on Turner's website that are of value if you just want to dip into it.
posted by kaspen at 12:49 PM on March 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Those people's grandchildren are sadly now debating whether to pull the lever for Santorum (a Catholic even!) or Gingrich.

(Also a Catholic!)
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:01 PM on March 13, 2012


Also a Catholic

I did not know that! Well, two catholics or a mormon. I'm surprized Ron Paul isn't getting more support. Wait, he's not Jewish or something is he? Boy, there are some bigoted old assholes rolling in their graves today (all thanks to that Quaker Nixon)!

Now seems like a good time to point out that Alabama is the only state to choose an avowed Socialist for it's state quarter.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:09 PM on March 13, 2012




The conservatives have figured-out that they can accomplish far more of their goals by controlling state government, rather than continue to wage these battles of stalemate on the Federal level. Sure, they will continue to work to build their power in Congress, and hope to capture the White House, but the real money and efforts are in the state legislatures, where it's proving to be relatively easy to curtail workers' rights, starve public education, and restrict abortion to a point where it is all but eliminated.

I've always felt the GOP's positions were more calculated bids to stay in office rather than end games. Certainly there are some authentic cross-burners among them but mostly they are exploiting an aging population anxiously clinging to tradition in the face of a dwindling national economy.
posted by deathpanels at 1:22 PM on March 13, 2012


This is not old news. Lenin said as much, "A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth"* There is more than one factor at work. Part of it is simply repetition. But we're also selective and will happily pick things that support our world view and reject things that make us look or feel bad.

So if it's part of your world view that blacks are inferior, you'll happily pick up on the "Barack Obama is a Muslim" meme because it supports your view that he's bad without you having to admit you are prejudiced. (Note, I'm not saying everyone opposed to Obama is racist, but I'd lay odds that a majority of those who believe he's Muslim are.)

*Ironically, everyone believes he said this, but there is no confirmed citation. :-)
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 1:33 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always felt the GOP's positions were more calculated bids to stay in office rather than end games.

Yes, and this is another problem the Democrats have. The Democrats can complain all day about the arc of history and the long term value of their beliefs. But in the long term, we're all dead, and the Republicans seem to do a pretty good job of understanding and exploiting short-term trends to get elected, which allows them to gain power and pass legislation that serves their interests.

Yes, the Republicans are going to be on the losing side of the gay marriage issue in 20 years. However, exploiting the gay marriage issue from 2004-2010, allowed them to make tangible political gains in many cases that allowed them to control important levers of government at crucial moments.

Sometimes the short term game is as important as the "long game."

Not that I think the Democrats should have opposed gay marriage, but that there's value to gauging short term hot-button trends as wedge issues to win elections.
posted by deanc at 1:33 PM on March 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


I've always felt the GOP's positions were more calculated bids to stay in office rather than end games. Certainly there are some authentic cross-burners among them but mostly they are exploiting an aging population anxiously clinging to tradition in the face of a dwindling national economy.
posted by deathpanels at 4:22 PM on March 13


Not sure if eponysterical.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:42 PM on March 13, 2012


So, would it be crazily off base to suggest that what Lakoff would prefer to see is a positive account of liberal ideas that has viral appeal, versus one that reacts to the views of opponents?

Yup, this is pretty much what Lakoff's been advising since the days of Bush v. Gore. His key point - for liberal politicians and other progressives duking it out in the realm of public opinion - is that being right and having reams of facts and data and science and nuanced and imminently defensible policy positions and all that stuff is not how you win the war of ideas in the contemporary media marketplace.

You need to take your superior (to you) ideas, frame them in ways that resonate with people on the level of instinct and emotion and feed into their pre-existing moral narratives, and then hammer at them over and over and over again. In the case of health care, for example, instead of talking endlessly about how the policy would work and what it would cost and "single-payer" this and "no, they're not death panels" that, you'd simply pick a frame - "we take care of our own in America" or "health care for all, just like liberty and justice" something - and just refer every single thing you say back to that frame. Screw the nuance. Screw the facts. Win that reptile mind, because in the end it's the only way to win the rest of the fight.

You can agree or disagree with Lakoff, but be clear that although he's a devout liberal, he's not arguing about what's right or wrong, merely what he believes, based on decades of study as a linguist, actually works.
posted by gompa at 2:14 PM on March 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


This guy again?

Yeah, "this guy" is one of the major linguistic theorists (specifically a semanticist) of his generation. So unless you have parallel accomplishments, maybe show a little respect for his knowledge and don't speak of him like he's some bullshit party hack, you know?
posted by spitbull at 2:49 PM on March 13, 2012


Anybody who dismisses my insane opinions as some sort of self-reinforcing denial system is a party hack.
posted by clarknova at 3:02 PM on March 13, 2012


Yeah, "this guy" is one of the major linguistic theorists (specifically a semanticist) of his generation. So unless you have parallel accomplishments, maybe show a little respect for his knowledge and don't speak of him like he's some bullshit party hack, you know?

Expertise in one field doesn't make you an expert in every field.
posted by empath at 3:04 PM on March 13, 2012


"Unfortunately, when I get the opportunity to interrogate them more closely, they [conservatives] are either suckers who've bought into an ideology that's been sold to them against their own economic interests..."

I've always found this bit of rhetoric a little confusing. Isn't it (at least sometimes) more noble to pursue something out of conviction rather than simple economic self-interest, and conversely less noble to do so out of self-interest?
posted by cosmic.osmo at 3:26 PM on March 13, 2012


CheeseDigestsAll: "This is not old news. Lenin said as much, "A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth"* There is more than one factor at work. Part of it is simply repetition. But we're also selective and will happily pick things that support our world view and reject things that make us look or feel bad.

So if it's part of your world view that blacks are inferior, you'll happily pick up on the "Barack Obama is a Muslim" meme because it supports your view that he's bad without you having to admit you are prejudiced. (Note, I'm not saying everyone opposed to Obama is racist, but I'd lay odds that a majority of those who believe he's Muslim are.)

*Ironically, everyone believes he said this, but there is no confirmed citation. :-)
"

This reminds me of another phrase. "What I tell you three times is true." From here.
posted by Splunge at 4:08 PM on March 13, 2012


I only remember the subject vaguely but I think there was an FPP about how a small group of people who are persistently arguing a certain viewpoint can make a huge difference in the wider community towards their opinion. Might have relevant points for this discussion. Can anyone find it?
posted by Anything at 4:18 PM on March 13, 2012


Although this has the veneer of being up-to-date with LubeFroth as the focal point, the analysis seems like warmed over 2004. It seems to me that the Occupy movement both got leftist concerns aired more openly AND those concerns did not necessarily fall in line with this familial analysis of how liberals supposedly think.
posted by O Blitiri at 4:28 PM on March 13, 2012


Expertise in one field doesn't make you an expert in every field.

Precisely. He could be the best semanticist of his or any generation. Doesn't mean he knows squat about politics. Tying a sophisticated neuro-linguistic/neuro-biological theory onto a half-baked description of humans as political animals in general and American political animals in particular, and the result is going to be bullshit. Sophisticated bullshit I grant, but still bullshit.

He wants to tell me that ideas are imparted and reinforced by repetition, I got no problem with that. Heck, my own pedagogical philosophy leans pretty heavily that way. I'm all for more rote memorization and less hippy-dippy hand holding. It's all sounding like warmed over classical education, but whatever. Either way, I don't think those credentials let him tell me that conservatives are this way and liberals are that way but that they should really be this other way.
posted by valkyryn at 4:55 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I only remember the subject vaguely but I think there was an FPP about how a small group of people who are persistently arguing a certain viewpoint can make a huge difference in the wider community towards their opinion. Might have relevant points for this discussion. Can anyone find it?

Minority Rules: Scientists Discover Tipping Point for the Spread of Ideas:
Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. The scientists, who are members of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at Rensselaer, used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion.
posted by deanc at 5:52 PM on March 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Highly recommended.. This is one of the most important books I have read in the last 5 years.

Having spent time in the world of cognitive science, I can't recommend this book highly enough. I wish there was a simple primer to Lakoff's conclusions in this realm, because most of his extrapolations come from very good experimental research.

It's not like we have a choice about the way we think, re: policy issues. Our brains are wired from early experience - i.e we're talking about physical pathways in the brain.

Thus, if you want to frame a political meme, or idea - and make it stick - you have to be very strategic about the language that you use.

VERY rough summary: in the extreme, what Lakoff is saying is that conservative see the world as a dangerous place that requires strict rules of behavior to avoid. If one breaks the rules, one puts oneself and others in danger. OTOH, liberals (again, in the extreme, because most people lie between these extremes, and variate between them, depending on the issue) see the world as a place where nurturing and love conquer all.

Example:
- The arch conservative will often make a case for killing someone who has committed murder. The criminal broke the rule; that behavior violated the "rules" and to stop that behavior from spreading, we need ti kill the criminal to set an example and keep her from killing, again
- The arch liberal might see this same criminal as someone who grew up in unfortunate, challenged circumstances, and make a case for nurturing based "re-education" and rehabilitation.

Thus, we MUST understand that these positions are largely driven by the metaphorical frames that filter ALL of our reality - whether it be about political policy, or anything else. This is not mumbo-jumbo; it's good, beginning brain science. (we will learn more, much more, in ther next 20 years - we will be astounded by what we find - guaranteed).

So, let's say we're talking about health care reform. If I'm a liberal and I want to make a point about the benefits of universal health care, I MUST keep the conservative frame in mind. How do I do that? First, I talk about health care within the context of the rules of behavior that conservatives hold most dear. I talk about benefits to the family unit; I talk about benefits to family fiscal health - and I pound those benefits home in very easy-to-understand language. I don't let the conservatives re-frame my arguments by saying that I am "breaking the rules of the Constitution" by making health care universal, or "breaking common sense rules of personal accounting by making health care cost more". Regarding the latter, I counter by making a case about how much more - down the road - health care will cost our society as a result of having to treat people who have not been able to access health care, and have thus become a burden on everyone else, thus costing us MORE than if we were lacking universal health care.

Note that all the while you are framing scenarios and making arguments that speak to the rule-based frame of the conservative mind.

This strategy is an ever-evolving one, because people catch on. Metaphors - like language - evolve. Without getting into numbing detail, a thought is a neuro-chemical event. We must understand that all of the above is often intuited by those who are good at convincing people; they know how to make a compelling story that will help re-frame metaphors, without actually understanding the brain science behind the process. In fact, this is almost 100% the case, today. That will change as we come to understand these processes better. YOU can bet that both camps have read Lakoff's work, just as marketers have.

Enough said. Go read the book. It's not a page-turner; it can be dry. Try to glean some of the basic ideas. It will help you understand what Lakoff is saying, and how what he is saying is essential to helping making our nation a better one, from the political perspectives ranging from moderate-right to moderate-left. We need to get away from extremes, on both sides. The strategic use of language is one powerful way to do that. Lakoff has given us an early field guide.
posted by Vibrissae at 6:01 PM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's a link to a worthy coversation on the possible evolutionary origins to political orientation.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 6:35 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is not mumbo-jumbo; it's good, beginning brain science.

Meh. It's also, you know, one of the fundamental principles of rhetoric. See also Immanuel Kant. Adding some neuro-biology is cool and all, as far as it goes, but I stand by my theory that his conclusions are unremarkable if interpreted charitably (What, you mean the best way to communicate is to repeat simple ideas ad nauseum? Who knew?! Surely no one has thought of this before!) and bogus if not (Say what you like about the brain chemistry, that isn't how conservatives and liberals actually behave).
posted by valkyryn at 7:29 PM on March 13, 2012


Santorum Picks Up Win in Alabama
posted by unliteral at 8:02 PM on March 13, 2012


valkyryn: What, you mean the best way to communicate is to repeat simple ideas ad nauseum?

No, what Lakoff means is a lot more complicated than sound bites - yours, or mine. Read Lakoff's book. What's ironic about your post is that Lakoff's conclusions neatly categorize your thinking, as well. Not perfectly, of course, but you fit very nicely. Rebel against that idea, if you want, but you're spitting in the wind. "The sum is more than the whole of the parts", but getting a better idea of how the parts work is a good begging to better understanding the whole. Kant would have had no idea what Lakoff is talking about, in the latter's time. Do yourself a favor and stop resting on old assumptions. There's a whole new world of counter-intuitive research that defies what Kant and his predecessors (and followers) would be very surprised by.
posted by Vibrissae at 8:09 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Santorum Picks Up Win in Alabama

And Mississippi! After tonight one thing's is certain; Newt Gingrich has officially become the Iraqi Defense Minister of the 2012 GOP race. (Who does that make Mitt? The imaginary WMD's?)
posted by octobersurprise at 8:24 PM on March 13, 2012


Democrats/the left used to know how to do this. They've either forgotten or simply turned away from it.

Something that is interesting about the organic, almost accidental Occupy movement is that the 1%/99% rhetoric has reclaimed some of this lost territory. It's the first messaging in a long time on the left that has resonated and even multiplied.
posted by dhartung at 11:39 PM on March 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Basically, Lakoff seems to be saying that when conservatives talk about liberal ideas, conservatives win, but when liberals talk about conservative ideas, conservatives still win."

Actually, that makes perfect sense. Liberals have a more complex (IMO, much more highly developed) worldview than conservatives. The whole point of conservatism is to conserve what exists and avoid change. Liberalism is a tougher sell than conservatism because you need things like empathy and imagination.

Tax cuts for Paris Hilton, bombing muslims, and shitting on poor, brown, and gay people? For people who think that's what America needs, they're already caught up in a redundant cycle of positive feedback regarding their worldview. They are quite literally immune to facts.
posted by bardic at 2:00 AM on March 14, 2012


Is santorum brown a color yet? It appears unliteral's link picks a slightly more yellowish shade of brown, probably too variable for an official color.

Onion : Santorum Relieved No One Has Asked Him About Interracial Marriage Yet
posted by jeffburdges at 2:50 AM on March 14, 2012


(all thanks to that Quaker Nixon)!

... who was officially Episcopalian, for what it's worth.

(Why don't we have any Congregationalists running for office anymore?)
posted by lodurr at 7:29 AM on March 14, 2012


empath: Expertise in one field doesn't make you an expert in every field.

valkryn: Precisely. He could be the best semanticist of his or any generation. Doesn't mean he knows squat about politics.

Except, as has been established repeatedly in this thread:
  1. He's talking about semantics. This is applied linguistic theory. It's his area of specialty, in which he's generally acknowledged to be a leading thinker.
  2. One of his major arguments is, and has been for many years, that framing theory is a particularly good way to understand one aspect of politics. So again, politics is relevant.
You're more or less saying that you shouldn't expect to be taken seriously if you apply the teachings of your discpline to the real world. Which is kind of insane, really.
posted by lodurr at 7:34 AM on March 14, 2012


100 comments and nobody remarked on the repeated use of the absurd oxymoronic brain-twisting phrase "radical conservative"?
posted by sfenders at 7:38 AM on March 14, 2012


'Oxymoron' is kind of a strange concept.

Radical conservatism is quite real and is oxymoronic only if the terms are understood in a superficial way. Political conservatism is almost never really about conserving or preserving existing traditions or ideas. Instead, it usually concerns itself with what it imagines to be an earlier tradition or idea which is regarded to be superior. Said ideas rarely map well to actual past ideas.

So, a lot of conservatism is ultimately concerned with social change, some of it fairly radical.
posted by lodurr at 7:51 AM on March 14, 2012


BTW, from the age of about 11 to 17, I would have self-described as a 'radical conservative.'
posted by lodurr at 7:52 AM on March 14, 2012


who was officially Episcopalian, for what it's worth

I have never heard that. Do you have a source?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:18 AM on March 14, 2012


Why don't we have any Congregationalists running for office anymore?

You mean like the one in office now?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:19 AM on March 14, 2012


Nixon as episcopalian: My source would have been Wikipedia, but now it says he was a Quaker. (I wouldn't argue with him being a quaker, it's just that I'd seen him identified as Episcopalian. In his time, you did that for political & professional reasons. My dad, e.g., in order to actually be able to get jobs, stopped identifying himself as a Spiritualist.)
posted by lodurr at 8:38 AM on March 14, 2012


... also, what's your source for identifying Obama as a Congregationalist? That would be pretty surprising. I've only ever even heard of a handful of extant Congregationalist churches, and they were all in NY or New England.

(If you want to argue that United Church of Christ is Congregationalist because it was formed by the merger of two churches, one having the term "congregational" in its name, I would just want to note that there's not a lot in the United Church of Christs practices that distinctively resembles those of the Congregationalist churches of old.)
posted by lodurr at 8:42 AM on March 14, 2012


100 comments and nobody remarked on the repeated use of the absurd oxymoronic brain-twisting phrase "radical conservative"?

It's a reasonable synonym for "reactionary"
posted by deanc at 9:26 AM on March 14, 2012


Radical conservatism is quite real and is oxymoronic only if the terms are understood in a superficial way.

I would say it's when the terms are understood in the traditional way that it fails to make any literal sense. To me it seems like "conservative" is usually understood to mean something entirely different these days in American politics, so it's quite appropriate to use such an oxymoron to describe the sort of attitude it clearly refers to, which I'd otherwise have trouble naming; but that doesn't make it any less absurd.
posted by sfenders at 10:22 AM on March 14, 2012


Politically, the UCC is the Congregationalist church of old. There may not be a whole lot of resemblance, but neither would John Quincy Adams recognise what was happening on Sunday inside most UUA churches in this day and age. Only about 10% of Congregationalists did not join the merger that formed the UCC.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:59 AM on March 14, 2012


BTW, from the age of about 11 to 17, I would have self-described as a 'radical conservative.'

Almost every teenage boy goes through a "radical conservative" phase. Hard not to.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:46 AM on March 14, 2012




I would say it's when the terms are understood in the traditional way that it fails to make any literal sense.

Right, well, that's just an illustration of the fact that we don't understand how we use words like 'conservative' and 'radical.'
posted by lodurr at 12:36 PM on March 14, 2012


Politically, the UCC is the Congregationalist church of old. There may not be a whole lot of resemblance, but neither would John Quincy Adams recognise what was happening on Sunday inside most UUA churches in this day and age. Only about 10% of Congregationalists did not join the merger that formed the UCC.

Right, then, well, next time I'll be sure to make it Anabaptists. Unless you're going to tell me there's a modern church with an affiliated president that's the political equivalent of the Anabaptists?
posted by lodurr at 1:25 PM on March 14, 2012




This is much, much less true than Americans generally appear to believe. For one thing, there's really no American electoral equivalent of the genuinely hard-right (i.e. neo-fascist) political parties that command consistent significant minorities of the vote in most European countries (the National Front in Britain and in France, for example, or the Freedom Party in Austria).

I think you have this backwards. Those extremist parties don't seem all that different in extremism - a little more in some areas, less in others, not much overall - the main difference is they speak openly instead of dogwhistling and couching their words so as to avoid scaring independents. But compare them - the most support the National Front has ever had is 0.6%, compared with fifty times that - open mainstream support - in the USA for a platform of racial purity, xenophobia, religious rule, etc.

Some of what is within the overton window here is more extreme than the most extreme things voiced by extremist parties whose mere existence caused national freak-outs in other countries I've been to.

Actually, that's a better way to put it - the Overton window in the USA is far to the right of the Overton window in most other countries (not counting dictatorships and shitholes). Sure, all countries have their nutball parties, but in the USA, the nutball party is the biggest or second biggest player.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:43 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


(But it's only recently that it's gone off the deep end. It didn't use to be an extremist party)
posted by -harlequin- at 9:43 PM on March 14, 2012


One of the things I like about Santorum is that he's so relatively open about his trogloditism. Sure, he dogwhistles from time to time, but it's mostly right there in the open.

Also, 'English only' is moronic. I suppose I should find a cleverer way to say that, but what the hell...
posted by lodurr at 7:45 AM on March 15, 2012


Nixon frequently mentioned his Quaker background.

Trinity UCC does identify as an offshoot of Congregationalism, although it is newer than the UCC merger and does not use the word in its name. I grew up in a Congregational UCC church and can say that the traditions are alive and well, and in particular the historical resonance is felt. Whether an 18th century Congregationalist would recognize himself in ourselves is an open question, but we hope he would understand the evolutionary process.
posted by dhartung at 11:12 AM on March 15, 2012






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