Ming the Mechanic:
Framing and Politics

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Framing and Politics2004-09-07 23:10
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George Lakoff is a professor of cognitive linguistics who's specialty is dissecting "framing" in politics. Like, the ways in which conservatives and liberals position issues to support their respective moral worldviews. Brilliant man.
Language always comes with what is called "framing." Every word is defined relative to a conceptual framework. If you have something like "revolt," that implies a population that is being ruled unfairly, or assumes it is being ruled unfairly, and that they are throwing off their rulers, which would be considered a good thing. That's a frame.

If you then add the word "voter" in front of "revolt," you get a metaphorical meaning saying that the voters are the oppressed people, the governor is the oppressive ruler, that they have ousted him and this is a good thing and all things are good now. All of that comes up when you see a headline like "voter revolt" — something that most people read and never notice. But these things can be affected by reporters and very often, by the campaign people themselves.
He points out that conservatives generally seem to be better at these tricks than liberals. Read, republicans vs democrats. Lakoff recently wrote a book called "Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate", and he wrote several others. There's a recent interview with him here and an older one here.
Q: Why do conservatives appear to be so much better at framing?

A: Because they've put billions of dollars into it. Over the last 30 years their think tanks have made a heavy investment in ideas and in language. In 1970, [Supreme Court Justice] Lewis Powell wrote a fateful memo to the National Chamber of Commerce saying that all of our best students are becoming anti-business because of the Vietnam War, and that we needed to do something about it. Powell's agenda included getting wealthy conservatives to set up professorships, setting up institutes on and off campus where intellectuals would write books from a conservative business perspective, and setting up think tanks. He outlined the whole thing in 1970. They set up the Heritage Foundation in 1973, and the Manhattan Institute after that. [There are many others, including the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institute at Stanford, which date from the 1940s.]

And now, as the New York Times Magazine quoted Paul Weyrich, who started the Heritage Foundation, they have 1,500 conservative radio talk show hosts. They have a huge, very good operation, and they understand their own moral system. They understand what unites conservatives, and they understand how to talk about it, and they are constantly updating their research on how best to express their ideas.
Makes sense of course. Investing heavily in propaganda machinery and techniques. But the differences stick much deeper than that, to the basic world views that motivate the different kinds of behavior, and he explains that well too.
Q: Why haven't progressives done the same thing?

A: There's a systematic reason for that. You can see it in the way that conservative foundations and progressive foundations work. Conservative foundations give large block grants year after year to their think tanks. They say, 'Here's several million dollars, do what you need to do.' And basically, they build infrastructure, they build TV studios, hire intellectuals, set aside money to buy a lot of books to get them on the best-seller lists, hire research assistants for their intellectuals so they do well on TV, and hire agents to put them on TV. They do all of that. Why? Because the conservative moral system, which I analyzed in "Moral Politics," has as its highest value preserving and defending the "strict father" system itself. And that means building infrastructure. As businessmen, they know how to do this very well.

Meanwhile, liberals' conceptual system of the "nurturant parent" has as its highest value helping individuals who need help. The progressive foundations and donors give their money to a variety of grassroots organizations. They say, 'We're giving you $25,000, but don't waste a penny of it. Make sure it all goes to the cause, don't use it for administration, communication, infrastructure, or career development.' So there's actually a structural reason built into the worldviews that explains why conservatives have done better.
That's clear. He also provides good advice on how one might change things like that. In particular, being more knowledgable about frames and worldviews, and using them.
Q: You've said that progressives should never use the phrase "war on terror" — why?

A: There are two reasons for that. Let's start with "terror." Terror is a general state, and it's internal to a person. Terror is not the person we're fighting, the "terrorist." The word terror activates your fear, and fear activates the strict father model, which is what conservatives want. The "war on terror" is not about stopping you from being afraid, it's about making you afraid.
So, don't use your opponent's framing. And get beyond arguing about facts.
Frames trump facts. The facts alone will not set you free. You have to reframe the issues before the facts can become meaningful and powerful.
It matters rather little that the president is a bumbling semi-literate coke-head alcoholic with a criminal record who can hardly speak and who freezes under pressure, who spent hundreds of billions on a devastating war on false premises, plunged his country deeper into debt that anybody, and created an oppressive police state. Doesn't matter at all if the framing is expertly executed. What at least half the population is left with is an impression of a clear agenda and an ability to take decisive action. What a masterpiece.

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7 Sep 2004 @ 23:32 by jazzolog : More On Lakoff
Here is even more information for the interested reader on Lakoff and the art of framing. http://www.newciv.org/mem/persnewslog.php?did=63&vid=63&xmode=show_article&artid=000063-000261&amode=standard&aoffset=0&time=1094602909  

7 Sep 2004 @ 23:44 by ming : Lakoff
Ah, I thought I had seen that name before.  

13 Sep 2004 @ 16:12 by Jon Husband @ : Really hard to believe ...
... it's unfolded as it has ... but it's real now.

That was one smart move you made, evacuating you and family from Los Angeles (where the end of the world happens before it happens every where else ;-)  

22 Jan 2007 @ 14:26 by J.S. @ : Beyond the surface.
Although Lakoff seems to have done his research on "framing", which is not some earth shattering or even new idea, his work is biased to the left. This can be seen if nearly every idea he puts forth. Biased research or ideas is not good research.  

17 Dec 2009 @ 09:07 by G.H. @ : Everything's Biased
Everything is biased. I would challenge you to find a news source or writing that isn't biased in any way (besides C-SPAN, that's cheating).  

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