First, I have to say that George Lakoff has done an excellent job of explaining to the progressive community how Republicans use language and framing to their advantage. Additionally, the strict-father model seems to be a pretty good represenation of the conservative mindset.
However, it occured to me while reading Lakoff’s book a while ago that Lakoff’s suggestions for how progressives should respond seemed both unwieldy and naive. These blog posts by Ezra Klein (here and here) put forth the same basic ideas far more articulately than my first impressions. (More below the jump)
The critique of Lakoff’s suggestions that the his guidlelines are unwieldy are acknowledged by Lakoff himself in his book and he suggests that this problem will be solved by further research, which seems reasonable.
However, his real problem is that his gender neutral nurturing parent doesn’t exist. There are no gender neutral people so its awfully difficult to come up with imagery and language to evoke that. Furthermore, some of his best individual suggestions on particular issues (I like a few of them) don’t really fit in this model’s framework. For instance, I cannot for the life of me figure out how the idea that taxes are what one pays for the privledge of living in a peaceful and prosperous society (a good idea from Lakoff) is directly related to the concept of a nurturant parent. Lakoff’s explanation of the connection seemed rather tortured to me.
I think there has long been a progressive/liberal/labor counter frame (instead of a me, me, me, and my familty frame that is the strict-father frame). It’s called SOLIDARITY and liberals have used it quite succesfully for a very very long time. It’s about community, bonding together, and fighting for your fellow man (or woman). It’s about a world where there is something greater than just me, myself, and I. Lakoff’s frame on taxes, one of his few decent ones fits well here.
Anyway, my biggest problem with Lakoff is that he looks at all the “Orwellian language” (eg. The Clear Skies Initiative, death tax) the Republicans use and then advises progressives to expose Republican uses of Orwellian language but not to try to do some language twisting of our own. Essentially, Lakoff is advocating worse than bringing a knife to a gun fight. He’s advocating bringing a Teddy Bear. For instance, there is no reason why Senator Clinton and Senator Reid’s birth control bill should not have been titled the “Abortion Reduction Act of 2005.” I’d like to have seen Santorum or Frist try to explain their way out of opposing that one when a 30 second ad saying they voted against it gets run.
This wouldn’t udnermine the pro-choice position in my opinion. After all when the Republicans talk about the “Clear Skies Initiative” they don’t seem to worry about this making more people want environmental protection and undermining their ideology. Lakoff also seems to assume that certain frames such as the War on Terror and certain emotions such as fear inherently fall under the strict-father model. I think that certain frames are at any particularly time tied to an ideology but I’m not so sure that they are wedded to them because a certain ideology inherently runs on a certain psychological model (such as the strict-father model). I think that models such as the strict-father model are the guidelines that ideologues use to stake a claim to certin frames. It is quite possible for frames to be stolen (take for example the concept of X Party Represents the Common Man). I discussed all of this in more depth in the this old diary.
I also think that there is a way to appeal what I will call Solidarity voters and strict-father voters. I think its the frame of leadership. This frame can activate both models in my opinion, something which Lakoff seems to not to invision as possible. In strict-father, leaders are needed to give us all instruction (note the practical idolotry of Bush’s persona by many conservatives). On our side, we see leadership as someone seizing the initiative to lead all of us to make the world a better place (when you frame government in these terms, “BIG Government” doesn’t sound nearly as scary). By using a “leadership” theme in most of our statements, Democratic candidates should be able to attract following from those with differing mental mindsets.
Feel free to discuss below any other critiques you have of Lakoff and other ideas for framing beyond the gender neutral nurturant parent model. Or feel free to critique my views as well.