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Democrats, you lack discipline!
October 16, 2003 11:53 AM   Subscribe

How conservatives control the political debate: linguist George Lakoff (previously discussed here, here and here) examines how "frames" are used in political discourse. In a more recent article, he looks specifically at how Schwartzenegger's election was framed. But if that's all too boring, you can just make Arnold say what you want him to say [Flash.]
posted by homunculus (25 comments total)

 
Damn liberal media!

But seriously, this is what the boatloads of cash buy for them.


The 'conservatives' (and I'm using that word loosely to call these neocon nutjobs conservative) outspent everyone else in the 2002 election by over $200 milliion! That brings results baby!

The boatloads of cash come from the Rangers and the Pioneers and the large corporations, who, of course, NEVER expect anything in return, just doing their patriotic part.

Uh huh..
posted by nofundy at 12:02 PM on October 16, 2003


"Every time the phrase tax relief is used, and heard or read by millions of people, this view of taxation as an affliction and conservatives as heroes gets reinforced."

Er, I see this Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis whining crap continues on the Left and the Right.
posted by dgaicun at 12:10 PM on October 16, 2003


From the start, the media made Arnold the man to beat. Every story about any other candidate or Davis was about how they would measure up to "The Terminator".
posted by 2sheets at 12:30 PM on October 16, 2003


"I want to be the people's governor. I will do the people's work, and I will take responsibility and be accountable to you. I swear I will not kill anyone."

"I speak directly to the people. Well I've got news for you: you are mine now! You belong to me!"


I like the sound board.
posted by homunculus at 12:46 PM on October 16, 2003


The "strict father family" vs. "nurturing parent family" frame is also being run up the flagpole today over here on Mother Jones. Evil patriarchical 'fathers.' Good nurturing gender-neutral 'parents.' Heh heh.
posted by jfuller at 12:46 PM on October 16, 2003


dgaicun, I know what Sapir-Whorf is about, but I don't see it in this context. Can you elaborate?
posted by archimago at 12:48 PM on October 16, 2003


> From the start, the media made Arnold the man to beat.

Except, be it noted, the same visionary, prophetic American Prospect magazine linked in the fpp.

> Every so often in life you have to go out on a limb. So here
> goes: Arnold Schwarzenegger will not be the next governor
> of California.

Superior self-delusion, TAP guys, well up to your usual standard.
posted by jfuller at 12:53 PM on October 16, 2003


I read the Mother Jones article, and I saw at least something of a discrediting of the nurturing family/patriarchal thesis. Well, it more or less says you can't explain politics with it, or at least totally explain it that way - which should seem pretty obvious to anyone who has studied politics enough. I imagine there's a smidgen or germ of truth in the thesis, but what you're talking about is more authoritarianism, which isn't necessarily right-wing. However, you're almost certainly talking about social conservatism, whether the economic stance is left or right-wing.
posted by raysmj at 12:59 PM on October 16, 2003


I'm a longtime fan of Lakoff, because he is able to articule why the Left is losing. All ye clueless Democrats: if you want a jump on turning your capsized party right side up, check the man out.
posted by scarabic at 1:10 PM on October 16, 2003


Lakoff's article was a good read, but i did have to choke on the last of the Five categories fo Progressive Culture:
The Future. Progressive values center on our children's future -- their education, their health, their prosperity, the environment they will inherit and the global situation they will find themselves in.
I always shudder when people start harping on the "our children" angle. It seems like the easiest, most simplistic rationalle to do the right thing.

and yes... i do have a wonderful daughter of my own, but the point never resonates.
posted by bluno at 1:12 PM on October 16, 2003


In terms of framing discussion, has anyone noticed how the media/politicians pervasively use war metaphors to describe things. Take the "war on drugs" or "the battle for the white house", etc. The last time I checked the presidency was not won through aggression but through voting (exception given to last election). Anyway, I'm sick of hearing the language of war used in non-war contexts. It warps the discussion.
posted by quadog at 1:22 PM on October 16, 2003


quadog: you would prefer sports metaphors?

Otherwise, "the control" of a debate seems to gravitate back and forth between the "neo-cons" (conservatives) and the "neo-Calvinists" (liberals). Remember back in the Clinton years where it seemed *every* democrat would insist on speaking only on *that days* talking points?

And then it sounded like a broken record with "The Big Four" talking points. What were they? "The Environment, Health Care, Education and Something." Even if the subject was what brand of cigar Bill smoked.

So now it's the republican's turn. And we're shocked, *shocked* that they're BS'ing just as hard.
posted by kablam at 1:51 PM on October 16, 2003


dgaicun, I know what Sapir-Whorf is about, but I don't see it in this context.

Lakoff complains that the term "tax relief" is influencing how people think about the issue*. Similarly conservatives complain about terms like "homophobe" on similar grounds. In both cases they are worried that the language itself will affect people's thoughts. There is no evidence that this the case. Really, its petty to complain about this stuff.

*Central to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is the idea of linguistic relativity--that distinctions of meaning between related terms in a language are often arbitrary and particular to that language. Sapir and Whorf took this one step further by arguing that a person's world view is largely determined by the vocabulary and syntax available in his or her language (linguistic determinism). Whorf in fact called his version of the theory the Principle of Linguistic Relativity. . . . Political scientists appear to give the idea more credence, as the continuing programs to eliminate sexist and other politically incorrect language demonstrate.
posted by dgaicun at 2:03 PM on October 16, 2003


I always shudder when people start harping on the "our children" angle.

As well you should. That tactic is essentially a sort of veiled threat; ie: "Do what I say or your children will suffer."
posted by PsychoKick at 4:45 PM on October 16, 2003


I love that soundboard. : )
posted by SisterHavana at 5:20 PM on October 16, 2003


dgaicun, it's as absurd to suppose that the language people use to talk about the world has no effect on their thoughts and attitudes as it is to suppose that it determines them. Have you actually read Lakoff (who's spent his entire career studying this stuff), or are you just applying your own predetermined frames?
posted by languagehat at 5:31 PM on October 16, 2003


I've noticed one problem with discussing the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (one I had when first considering it, too) is that some people seem to interpret it as saying language totally constrains thought. While I suppose you can derive that from the idea that thought is language (exists in some linguistic circles, I think), my guess is that most people see language as a tool for articulation of thought, and like most tools, influences (though not necessarily determines) your work.

More simply: of course language influences thought, but it doesn't determine it.

However, influence is not a trivial thing.
posted by weston at 6:18 PM on October 16, 2003


haha, the democrats have been doing this for years.

every tax cut proposed is decried as "a windfall for the rich".

any time anyone says anything critical about someone who is a minority, they're automatically racist regardless of whether their observation is valid or not.

however, if a minority holds opinions contrary to mainstream democratic beliefs, they're vilified as an uncle tom or clearly suffer from some form of self-hatred.

we give assloads of money public schools and the democrats have controlled nearly every school board and teachers union in the country for the last 40 years, but any mention of an idea to fix schools that doesn't involve just throwing more money at them is automatically painted as "anti-education" or as "anti-child".

words and phrases are coopted such that opponents are automatically framed into an unfavourable position before the merits of the positions are even in the picture.

like "peace" protestors and anti-war vs. pro-war.

no one is pro-war. but people who claim that they are for "peace" invariably argue for the continuation of a state of affairs that cannot be considered peaceful. they say that it's better to leave people to cower in fear. that it's better to leave people to be raped and killed. that it's better to ignore clear problems until they're way too big to ignore any longer. that it's better to leave people with no hope for the future, than for us to trouble ourselves to use some foresight and take the more difficult path by actually do something about a dangerous and brutal dictator.

other people think that's a really bad idea, but because those who hide under the bed whimpering "let's do everything we can to try to make everyone like us" have successfully framed themselves as being "for peace", those who disagree on the actual methods for how to go about getting to an actually peaceful state are held up as being "pro-war" or "pro-violence".

i mean, one group is clearly for peace and because everyone decent and moral wants peace and love and flowers, anyone who disagrees with them is automatically against peace.

right? see the framing going on?

by having one group successfully position itself as being "for peace", they automatically start out with an inherent advantage because it's common sense that no one reasonable could be against peace. and that's before you ever get to looking at what the different groups are actually proposing and the effects in the real world that their proposals would create if they were put into practice.

as another example of framing, think pro-choice vs. pro-life.

pro-abortion people want you to think of it as being a struggle between the forces of good who want you to have the choice to do what you want and the forces of evil who want to control you and keep you from making choices.

anti-abortion people want you to think of it as being a struggle between the forces of good who want to save the lives of children and the forces of evil who want to be able to kill them with no repercusions.

neither side of that particular issue have been able to convincingly frame the debate to the entirety of the public in the manner of their choosing, but that's not for a lack of trying.

it's laughable to say that conservatives control the political debate by framing discussions.

feh.
posted by wrffr at 10:09 PM on October 16, 2003


See, wrffr -- Lakoff is trying to frame the debate as "those framing conservatives and the liberals who expose them". Why, it's a meta-frame!
posted by dhartung at 10:47 PM on October 16, 2003


this reminds of another dirty rotten conservative cheat: the yeah-well-they-did-it. remember the Trent Lott mess? what was the talking point? "well Robert Byrd was in the KKK!" yeah he was, half a century ago, meanwhile Lott waxed nostalgic for the dixiecrats in two thousand and freakin' two.

and we see it again here! "oh well the democrats have been doing it for ages, everytime you (X) some democrat does (Y). everytime!"

and the notion that no-one is pro-war is a bit loopy to me. you should've been on the anti-idiotarian rottweiler (I won't dignift it with a link) or fark about 7-8 months ago.
posted by mcsweetie at 5:51 AM on October 17, 2003


dgaicun, it's as absurd to suppose that the language people use to talk about the world has no effect on their thoughts and attitudes as it is to suppose that it determines them.

Simly saying "words effect thoughts" is so ambiguous it doesn't really mean much. My reasoning isn't marginal or "absurd". Either the phrase 'tax relief' is brain-washing people or it isn't. Either the phrase 'pro-life' is reversing the values of those who speak it or it isn't. If I use the term 'Dutch treat', does it raise in me some sort of primal anti-dutch feelings? Maybe, i guess. It doesn't pass the smell test in mind, but I guess it's an empirical claim. It's an empirical claim and I put the burden on Lackoff to prove that conservative language (i.e. tax cuts, pro-life), or liberal language for that matter, is somehow tricking (influencing) people to vote a certain way, for a reason independent of conservative or liberal philosophy. If everyone said "tax relief" instead of "tax cuts" (or whatever) would there be no more liberals? Would there even be less liberals?? I guess that would be true in a world where the words make the thoughts.
posted by dgaicun at 7:52 AM on October 17, 2003


Either the phrase 'tax relief' is brain-washing people or it isn't.

Sorry, dgaicun, but life isn't that simple. None of this is either-or. I maintain that it's absurd to think that people who use the phrase "tax relief" think about taxes, and make decisions, in exactly the same way as people who use the phrase "tax cuts." Saying "would there be no more liberals?" is a red herring. You're free to disagree.
posted by languagehat at 8:11 AM on October 17, 2003


In both cases they are worried that the language itself will affect people's thoughts. There is no evidence that this the case.

Wish I could find one on Google, but there have been studies that demonstrate that female students will be more likely to think of themselves in certain future positions if their readings include gender-neutral language. (E.g. If they read about "firefighters" rather than "firemen" they are more likely to consider becoming firefighters.) It does seem sort of silly at first, at least to me, but language really can have a strong impact on beliefs.
posted by callmejay at 8:29 AM on October 17, 2003


I maintain that it's absurd to think that people who use the phrase "tax relief" think about taxes, and make decisions, in exactly the same way as people who use the phrase "tax cuts."

Unless, of course, they do. Let's try this with another word, and I'll demonstrate my point: Do you, languagehat, call people who are against abortion "pro-life"? I do. I also support abortion on demand.

I suppose the same for you. I'll bet you call them "pro-lifers", yet, at the same time I'll bet you don't think there's any real "life" involved in there.

Now if I read a column where someone started whining about how the term "pro-life" should be actively protest and switched to "abortion-haters" or "homicide-bomber" or some shit like that, so liberals could "reclaim the debate" I would probably roll my eyes too, for the same reason. I see no reason to take it seriously as a political corcern instead of an aesthetic one.

That is all.
posted by dgaicun at 8:30 AM on October 17, 2003


OK, maybe that's not all. Here's another example of what I'm talking about. A week or so ago, Greg Easterbrook wrote about rape on his New Republic blog. His basic concern was that in the real world, sex is more complicated than the "no means no" crowd believes. Easterbrook maintains that 'no' does not in fact always mean 'no' and many times means 'yes'. His solution for this is to raise the bar; instead of 'no', he says, women should have to clearly say to men 'This is rape', so there is no ambiguity left in the situation.

The next day Dahlia Lithwick responded to Easterbrook's opinion in a way that strongly relates to the way I see language:
Here's what Easterbrook's suggestion ignores: Once upon a time the word "no" had social meaning, too. It didn't lose its social meaning because the word "no" is ambiguous. (If someone asks to borrow my Honda and I say "no," it's clear I haven't consented.) The word "no" has lost meaning because in this situation we choose to ignore its directive to desist. So, why would we possibly take "This is rape" more seriously? Easterbrook suggests that the very word "rape" would chill any sentient man. Maybe for a year or two, until "This is rape" becomes subject to the same social forces that suggest to Easterbrook that "no" merely means "try harder."

Soon there will be Harlequin Romances featuring heroines in heaving bodices breathing, "But Sir ... This is rape," just before being delightedly ravished. Soon, "Oh baby, this is rape," will be the answer to "Oooooh, talk dirty to me."

The problem is not one of nomenclature.
In other words it is not the words we have to take seriously, but the reinforcement of what words mean. The words are symbols for thought, they are not, in fact, the thoughts themselves, or the directors of thought. Language is the servent of thought, not the other way around.
posted by dgaicun at 9:13 AM on October 17, 2003


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