Framing the Debate : Part 1
Framing the Debate : Part 2
Lakoff describes how the differing priorities of the conservative and liberal political groups has resulted in the conservatives dominating the media. He comments that “In the right’s hierarchy of moral values, the top value is preserving and defending the moral system itself. If that is your main goal, what do you do? You build infrastructure. You buy up media in advance. You do things like give fellowships to right wing law students to help them through law school”.
He elaborates on this by pointing out that “The right wing think tanks get large block grants and endowments. Millions at a time. . . These institutions build human capital for the future. . . the interns are building lifetime networks. . . These are social networks that will pay dividends for years and years. The conservatives who built the think tanks are not dumb people.”
In contrast, progressive foundations focus on providing direct services to people in need and are focused on providing the most help for the most people – and on ensuring that no money is wasted.
The Conservative Mindset
Lakoff describes the conservative mindset as being the “strict father model” which views the world as a place where people compete to succeed and where there are winners and losers. Critically, this mindset believes that, if people are disciplined and pursue their self-interest in this land of opportunity, they will become prosperous and self-reliant.
When translated to government social programmes, this mindset believes that “It is immoral to give people things they have not earned, because they will then not develop discipline and will become dependent and immoral. . .if there are a lot of progressives in Congress who think that there should be social programmes, and if you believe that social programmes are immoral, how do you stop these immoral people. It is quite simple, what you have to do is to reward the good people - the ones whose prosperity reveals their discipline and hence their capacity for morality – with a tax cut, and make it big enough so that there is not enough money left for social programmes. By this logic, the deficit is a good thing. As Grover Norquist says “It starves the beast”’
Most people have both “strict father” and “nurturant” models to some degree. Thus, liberals are able to understand a John Wayne movie, whilst conservatives are able to understand a program like the Cosby Show. In addition, many people have different models in different aspects of their lives, for example “Reagan knew that blue-collar workers who were nurturant in their union politics were often strict fathers at home. He used political metaphors that were based on the home and family , and got them to extend their strict father way of thinking from the home to politics.”
An example of how this is done is given in the form of Frank Luntz, a conservative language expert. One of Luntz’s recent books of language guidlelines commented that the science was increasingly going against the conservative position on global warming, but that this could be countered by using the right language. “People who support environmentalist positions like certain words. They like the words “healthy”, “clean”, “safe” because these words fit frames that describe what the environment means to them. Therefore, says Luntz, use the words healthy, clean and safe whenever possible, even when talking about coal or nuclear power plants”
It’s the values, stupid !
Many politicians believe that if they just tell people the facts, then people will act according to their best interest and vote for them.
Yet, this is not what happens. For example ”In the 2000 election, Gore kept saying that Bush’s tax cuts would go only to the top 1% and he thought that everyone else would follow their self-interest and support him. But poor conservatives still opposed him.”
Cognitive scientists such as Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have shown , that people do not necessarily vote in their self-interest. Instead, they often vote their identity, or values, or who they identify with.
Regarding the “collateral damage” the has come with Us military adventures since 9/11, Lakoff comments that ““The argument the killing civilians in retaliation would make us as bad as them works for liberals, not for conservatives. The idealistic claim of the Bush administration that is the they intend to wipe out all terrorism. What is not mentioned is that the United States has systematically promoted a terrorism of its own and has trained terrorists, from the contras to the mujahideen, the Honduran death squads and the Indonesian military. Will the US government stop training terrorists? Of course not. It will deny that it does so. Is this duplicity? Not in terms of conservative morality and its view of good versus evil and “lesser evils (such as collateral damage and support for dictators)”. Indeed, Newt Gingritch has commented on the Fox network that “Retribution is Justice”.
Lakoff further describes the Iraq invasion as being viewed by the Bush administration as an invasion that “furthers our self-interest in controlling the flow of oil from the world’s second largest known reserve, and in being in the position to control the flow of oil from central asia. This would guarantee energy domination over a significant part of the world. The United States could control oil sales around the world. And in the absence of alternative fuel development, whoever controls the worldwide distribution of oil controls politics and economics”