Frames

Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate–The Essential Guide for Progressives
It’s too late to order this and get it before the election– and honestly, it wouldn’t matter if you could. Tuesday is too soon to change much. But you should still buy this book right now and read it, because the conversations you have over the next four years could shape the next one.

George Lakoff has been talking about framing since ’96, but only now has it started taking hold in the progressive imagination as a way to take back American values — liberty, equality, freedom– from the conservative stronghold that distorts those values into liberty to invade anyone who we don’t like, equality for the rich to manipulate the system to get richer and avoid responsibility to the very system that provides the infrastructure that allowed them to become rich, and freedom to destroy the future of the country by endangering American industry through an uneducated workforce by providing education only to those who can pay for it.

The mind is full of shortcuts that normally make us more efficient in our daily lives, but can be also exploited: one example is frames. Frames are short phrases that stand for a body of thinking. Conservatives use them them when they speak of “tort reform” “tax relief” “voter revolt.” It’s all about language– when “tax evasion” is reframed by conservatives as “tax relief” there is no way a progressive can argue against “relief.” But we can talk about responsibility, we can talk about repaying our debts, we can talk about fairness. We can talk about the fact that thriving companies thrive on what taxes have bought for them. Lakoff writes:

Corporations, businessmen, and investors benefit from taxpayer investments most of all. Taxpayers have paid for our financial institutions: the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission, our national banks, and the courts, 90 percent of which are used for corporate law. If you want to start a business, you don’t have to build highways, invent computer science, construct the Internet, train your scientists, build a banking system, build and maintain a court system. The taxpayers have done all that for you.

You see, there are no self-made men. If you make a bundle in business, it was made possible by taxpayer investments. The rich have gotten more dividends; they should pay for the investments that make their businesses possible. It’s only fair.

If we can talk about our values in a way that is open, honest and clear with frames that evoke our values, we can begin to help people shape a vision of a better America in which every citizen is a citizen, entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I know that sounds old, but really that is the basis of American values. And if one citizen is deprived of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness because we have failed to make sure people are earning a living wage, have healthcare and education, and have opportunities to work, earn and grow into productive citizens we have failed not only America but ourselves.

I used to be afraid to blog on politics, because I was afraid of the debate. I’d feel so angry and so helpless. But now I know why it was so hard to argue– I didn’t have the right language, and I was making the same mistakes many progressives make: I was arguing within conservatives’ frames. But now it’s time for me to stand up for what I believe with not only the conviction of those beliefs, but the language of them.
Read an excerpt