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I can't give enough kudos to George Lakoff:

Crossposting J. Rospars thread from BFA

Lakoff on the Conventions

In case you missed it, linguist George Lakoff has been doing a daily commentary on the language Republicans have used at their convention.

Reviews of Monday's, Tuesday's and Wednesday's subtle linguistic frames are already online.

He also provided some advice for Democrats after our convention--all are worth reading.

Originally posted to Genf on Fri Sep 03, 2004 at 12:50 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Required reading!!!! (4.00)
    Please recommend this diary

    There is SOOOOOO much good stuff in Lakoff's articles:

    Monday night with Guiliani and McCain

    Here's the frame that emerged:

    We're still in this thing. Here's the picture, here's the guy who was there, this is happening now. We're a nation at war.

    And it's not just our war on terror, it's the global war on terror, equivalent to the war against the Nazis and the Cold War, which is why the speakers invoked Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan. Our freedom is at stake. Freedom, freedom, freedom. Nothing is more important, no sacrifice is too great.
    Therefore the leader we need must not only be strong and tough, but resolute, unyielding, unchanging, with no taste for "appeasement, accommodation and compromise." Bush, not the "flip-flopper" Kerry.

    McCain's speech framed the Iraq War as an inseparable part of the Great War on Terror, a battle of Right versus Wrong, of Good versus Evil -- a war of necessity, not choice. "We must fight; we must," he said, calling the Iraq war a "rendezvous with destiny" (quoting FDR on World War II) and arguing "there was no status quo to be left alone." The argument is that, although apparently Saddam Hussein didn't have weapons of mass destruction, he would have had them sooner or later. Exactly when isn't important, because as Giuliani said, Saddam "was a weapon of mass destruction himself." When the literal isn't there, the metaphorical will do.

    Effective framing is equally about what's excluded from the frame. Frames, once established, are hermetically sealed. You can only think within the frame, only reason with what the frame allows.

    When you focus tightly on something like the events of September 11 and a war between good and evil, you are choosing to omit other details and issues. For example, neither speaker once mentioned the name Osama bin Laden; al Qaeda was only mentioned a few times. The fact that both are still at large and functioning cannot be part of the frame celebrating our incremental victories in the "global war on terror" and the triumph of George W. Bush. Neither McCain nor Giuliani mentioned the thousand American soldiers killed in Iraq except in the most abstract terms, as heroes or sacrifices. The tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have been killed are also omitted, as are the new terrorists recruited as a result of the Iraq War. Halliburton is not mentioned, nor Abu Ghraib. Oil is not mentioned. There's no oil in the fight-for-freedom frame.

    In the frame, people like us are good, and terrorists are just evil. There's no attempt to understand the causes of terrorism, why ordinary kids grow up to become terrorists. Although both McCain and Giuliani took pains to spell out that the bad guys were Islamic fundamentalists, those who had "hijacked a great religion," not ordinary Muslims, they excluded from the frame other kinds of terrorists, such as the Irish Republican Army or Timothy McVeigh.

    There are many other things that are excluded from the official framing of the "global war on terror," such as oil, the economy, the deficit, health care, jobs, education, taxes, and the effects of global trade. The implication is that none of these things matter if every American is in mortal danger, even those in the swing states where there's little to no chance of a terrorist strike.

    But rationality is not at issue here. People think in terms of frames. If this frame is accepted, all such "rational" arguments will be beside the point. Negating the frame would just reinforce it. The facts alone won't do the job.

    If you don't want this frame accepted, you have to puncture it effectively by using what the public already believes (for example, that Iraq is a disaster area), and you have to offer a strong, positive alternative frame.

    And fast.

    This is why Rove didn't want to run against Dean in the first place. Dean/Obama 2008/12

    by Genf on Fri Sep 03, 2004 at 01:53:34 AM PDT

  •  that guy should be a kerry spokesman (4.00)
    seriously they need someone who can respond from a place of strength not defensive cowering.
  •  One Man think tank (none)
    (and the FOUNDATION of my grad. thesis on metaphor in language learning)

    tee hee

  •  Lakoff is brilliant (none)
    Thanks for pointing us to his commentary on the RNC. And I hope to the stars that someone in the Kerry campaign is listening.

    "you may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one" - Lennon

    by eugene on Fri Sep 03, 2004 at 08:00:19 AM PDT

  •  Why does Lakoff hate America? (none)
    Professor Lakoff has assembled a very impressive body of work and a sound political lingustics theory. Why in the world Kerry and the DNC haven't adopted these messaging strategies is beyond me. We used them to great advantage for DFA in our little piece of Ohio during the primaries in bringing the Reagan Dems and moderate Republicans over to our side.

    Testimonial here: Folks, this shit works! Use it.

    A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought... -- Oliver Wendell Holmes

    by em dash on Fri Sep 03, 2004 at 08:18:35 AM PDT

  •  I'm in his class. (none)
    I'm auditing his seminar course "Language, Thought, and Politics:  The Framing of Issues in the 2004 Election".  It just started.

    Everyone must read his book, "Moral Politics:  How Liberals and Conservatives Think."  Or his new book coming out in a week or so: "Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate."  I read the book this summer and it provided a framework for me to think about my value system, which is clearly superior to that crazy conservative value system.

    Conservatives understand how to communicate their moral values better than Liberals.  IN addition, they are more organized.  Lakoff helps you understand and give voice to what you feel, that Liberal Morality is superior to Conservative morality.  We just need to reclaim the high ground through language and organization.  

    So get the book!

    •  I'm halfway through (none)
      I like his ideas but his writing style is a little academic for me.  I do some heavy skimming as he explains each metaphor in painful detail.

      I hope his new book is a little more directed for mass consumption- these are ideas that any progressive should implement- or at least consider.  (I'd start with some of the more kneejerk hosts on Air America)

      •  Me too (none)
        I found the first half of the book really slow going. I think it was because Lakoff made such a strong, detailed case, and I was already convinced after the first few pages.

        The second half was a much better read, and the whole book is brilliant.

    •  Lucky you. (none)
      I'm in his class.

       He was on Bill Moyers a while ago. A brilliant man.
      If you have the time an occasional diary about the class would, I'm sure, be appreciated by many people here.

      "...the definition of a gaffe in Washington is somebody who tells the truth but shouldn't have." Howard Dean

      by colleen on Fri Sep 03, 2004 at 06:34:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Lakoff (none)
        You bet.  I'll take notes and report on some of the better stuff we talk about in class.  I'll ask if I can share some his files with you all.  He has tons of material on Frank Luntz.

        I do believe the next book will be for mass consumption.  I know it will be shorter.  Moral Politics was definitely an Academic Exercise for the most part, but still a great read.

  •  He's brilliant. (4.00)
    I saw him interviewed on some news show (Bill Moyers??), and loved this:

    You've said that progressives should never use the phrase "war on terror" -- why?

    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.

    Next, "war." How many terrorists are there -- hundreds? Sure. Thousands? Maybe. Tens of thousands? Probably not. The point is, terrorists are actual people, and relatively small numbers of individuals, considering the size of our country and other countries. It's not a nation-state problem. War is a nation-state problem.

    Since then, every time I hear a democrat say "war on terror" I cringe.

    ...and everytime a Republican gets elected, God puts a baby bunny in a blender and hits frappe.

    by whometense on Fri Sep 03, 2004 at 11:54:49 AM PDT

    •  what's the alternative? (none)
      •  I'm no phrasemaker, (4.00)
        but at the very least something like "fight against terrorism" would be a good start.

        ...and everytime a Republican gets elected, God puts a baby bunny in a blender and hits frappe.

        by whometense on Fri Sep 03, 2004 at 12:20:06 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Stomp out terrorism (4.00)
          image of stomping out a fire before it get out of control.

          or root out the terrorist - signifing that these are selected individuals not entire countries.

          This is why Rove didn't want to run against Dean in the first place. Dean/Obama 2008/12

          by Genf on Fri Sep 03, 2004 at 12:29:02 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  And the noun? (none)
            We must continue the "Root-out of terrorism!"

            George Bush is losing the "Stompfest of terrorism!"

            •  You're all using the same frame as the neocons (none)
              War on terror, war on terrorism, stomping out terrorism, they're all
              the same frame.  They're all based on the notion that there's
              a war on between "us" and "them", they being "terrorists".
              But as Lakoff notes, war is about nation-states, and "terrorists"
              is not a fixed body of persons who can be reduced or stomped out
              or forced to surrender.  The reality is more nuanced, and thus
              harder to frame.  One idea is blowback -- we armed the mujhadeen
              in Afghanistan and that came back to bite us in the ass.
              And stirring hornet's nests.  The important and factual matter is
              that this is all the result of disastrous U.S. foriegn policy;
              it's not just a bunch of black hats who hate us white hats.
              The thing is, I don't think many Americans are ready or willing
              to look in the mirror and not see a white hat.
          •  They aren't 'selected individuals' (none)
            Terrorism is a tactic; anyone can do it.  One of the memes that the Bushies
            use is that their attempt to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq is
            being thwarted by "selected" individuals -- "insurgents", "Ba'athists",
            "foreign nationals" (not meaning us), etc.  But it's the majority of
            the Iraqi population that is opposed to the American invasion and
            occupation and the imposition of a puppet regime, and that's who we're
            waging war against in Iraq, and that's who we designate as "terrorists".
            And rather than "root out" Al Qaeda from Afghanistan, their ranks are
            swelling through recruitment -- new "terrorists" come into the fold every
            day, and the more violent we are in our "war", our "stomping", our
            "rooting out", the more they recruit.  And the longer we support Israel's
            oppression of the Palestinians through massive infusions of weaponry, the
            longer we will breed those who oppose us ans seek to strike back at us.
            And Palestinian suicide bombers cannot be "rooted out" without killing
            every man, woman, and, especially, child.  To only way to stop creating
            suicide bombers is to stop creating the conditions that produce such
            fatal desperation.
            •  Selected as opposed to (none)
              nation states or a group of nationals or a religion.

              They are selected by a process of intelligence gathering not just rounding up people willy nilly and beating and torturing them in jails.

              This is why Rove didn't want to run against Dean in the first place. Dean/Obama 2008/12

              by Genf on Sat Sep 04, 2004 at 04:11:22 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  You're not really addressing the issue (none)
              Yes, we all agree we need a new foreign policy.

              By changing that policy we are likely (but not  necessarily) going to dry up the pool of al qaeda recruits.

              Do you not however agree that al qaeda needs to be stopped from attacking Americans?

              Does this endeavor have a name?

      •  The alternative is understanding geopolitics. (none)
        Aliens studying the Earth would find that one nation, while having only about 5% of the world's population, spends over 40% of all military spending and uses over 25% of the world's resources.  They would find that that military might is often used to brutalize and terrorize other populations to enforce the flow of those resources, and the threat of its use backs up economic brutalization.  In other words, that nation wages wars of terror.  And the victims of that terror sometimes strike back with guerrilla actions and attacks on easy targets -- high gain for miminum expenditure, given their far smaller resources (the military folks call this "asymmetric warfare").  And the nation's propagandists refer only to these counterattacks as "terrorism", while the actions that provoked them are hidden or denied or mischaracterized, but of course are never accurately described.  Rather, the propagandists do all they can to portray the nation and its inhabitants as inherently good, so its actions are invariably seen by the majority of the nation's population as well-motivated, even if occasionally mistaken.  The claimed motivations are spreading freedom, self defense, bringing about peace; aggression is recast as preemptive prevention of aggression, offense as defense, unilateral armament as disarmament, and so on.  And the aliens would note that the behavior of this nation is not unique or even unusual on planet Earth, and seems to flow from certain common aspects of human culture and the human psyche.
      •  Maybe... (none)
        ...the term "security alliance" could help reframe the issue.

        "Security" is more positive than "war", and "alliance" both contrasts with failed unilateralist policies and plays to Kerry's expected strength.

        The sentence:

        "You can no more make 'war on terror' than 'war on fear' -- let's talk about something that makes practical sense, not a war on a feeling."

        captures a fair amount of Lakoff's point. Then:

        "We need a strong security alliance that leaves terrorists with no place in this world to hide. This means building alliances in parts of the world where the present administration has been making enemies."

        The medium shapes the message -- we need new new media, more biased toward truth.

        by technopolitical on Sat Sep 04, 2004 at 12:56:17 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Lakoff on NOW (4.00)
    Lakoff was on NOW with Bill Moyers a few weeks ago (following Frank Luntz the week before), and I posted a diary about his interview then, with some of the specific suggestions he made for reframing the debate. Some relevant discussion and comments there that folks might want to refer back to.

    From another country under U.S. military occupation ... FREE HAWAII!

    by scottmaui on Fri Sep 03, 2004 at 04:27:48 PM PDT

  •  Is the moral politics worth buying? (none)

    Lots of people see the world in Black and White. It is mostly just shades of grey.

    by Davinci on Fri Sep 03, 2004 at 07:04:22 PM PDT

  •  Review of Lakoff's New Book Just Posted! (none)
    I just posted my review of Don't Think of An Elephant in a diary entry (opens in new window). It was also published on my blog and in Random Lengths News (though not on its web page).

    I reviewed Moral Politics for the Christian Science Monitor back in 1996, so I do have some idea what I'm talking about.

    The Structure of Lies In A Land Without Silence--Let's put the information back in the information age!

    by Paul Rosenberg on Fri Sep 03, 2004 at 09:35:34 PM PDT

  •  Dean (none)
    I believe Lakeoff was an advisor to Dean--you know, the guy who was unelectable.  

    Not to worry, since Kerry is electable, he doesn't need guys like Lakeoff.

    "One god, one market, one truth, one consumer. Just a quiet peaceful dance, for things we will never have." --Zack De La Rocha, "Down Rodeo"

    by Subterranean on Sat Sep 04, 2004 at 12:02:11 AM PDT

    •  Is this a troll? Satire? (none)
      Everyone needs Lakoff.  As for whether Kerry is electable -- we'll see.
      •  Subterranean (none)
        is not a troll.

        That's dripping sarcasm about how Kerry was sold to undecideds in the primarys on the theory that as honest and courageous as Dean is, it was better to vote for Kerry because he was "electable."

        •  Sounds like a troll to me. (none)
          The comment, not the person.

          My preferences on policy were Kucinich, then Dean, then Kerry.
          But Dean is not a skilled politician and would have been creamed
          by the Bushies, far worse than he was by the DLC, and I think many
          people sensed that.  And I believe that Dean has acknowledged some of his weaknesses.  If Lakoff was advising Dean, he wasn't listening very well.

  •  Maybe... (none)
    we should deflate the power of the word terrorist.  Use it more frequently to describe familiar things.  

    The weather service kind of terrorizes us with tornado and hurricane warnings all the time.  

    The media terrorize us everyday with news stories to capture our attention to increase ratings and circulation.

    Insurance companies terrorize us so we buy insurance.

    Politicians terrorize us to get elected.

    Advertising for all sorts of things terrorize us into buying all sorts of goods and services.  Maybe we should make a list.

    Defanging the word might help in a lot of ways.

  •  Why won't they listen (none)
    to Lackoff's brilliant insight and turn the W into 'weak' as he suggests so convincingly? 'Wrong' implies that the people who voted for him were wrong (they might have been, but no one wants to hear that).
    Another thing, the strict father routine is really hard to beat in less educated constituencies around the world. Doesn't JK have some hip-hop chops?

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