Don’t Think of an Elephant – Guest Post by Arthur Ritter

Elephant

While Lakoff is an unabashed Berkeley progressive, he said Democrats are decades behind in understanding how to frame issues in a way that can reach swing voters.
“Protection is part of the progressive moral system, but it has not been celebrated enough,” Lakoff writes in Don’t Think of an Elephant. For example, progressives should start calling federal regulations “protections.” If they start re-framing Trump’s promise as “getting rid of two-thirds of federal protections” — and spell out what some of those environmental and health and water quality “protections” are — there might be less support for repealing federal regulations, Lakoff said.

“Every progressive knows that regulations are protections, but they don’t say it,” he added. Similarly, “taxes” are actually “investments in public resources.” Government investment pays for the infrastructure on which private industry and everything else is built, Lakoff said. “Roads, bridges, public education, national banks, the patent office, the judicial system, interstate commerce, basic science for drug development — all of that is financed by government investments.” Yet Democrats allow Republicans to frame the debate in terms of tax “relief,” he said.

Lakoff met with Barack Obama when he was still a Senator, and tried to get him to change the terms of the debate more than 10 years ago. When he arrived at the Senate office, he got a round of applause from Obama’s staff and found all of his books in speechwriter John Favreau’s office. But when he gave Obama a copy of his book Thinking Points, Obama immediately handed it off to Favreau. “Obama assumed framing was about messaging, and it was about giving speeches. He is a very good speaker, so …” Lakoff trails off. “Obama did a lot of things right in 2008 when he was running, but then he dropped it. He understood the idea, but he didn’t apply it consistently. I think he believed he could balance both sides, but he wasn’t prepared for the culture wars that he encountered.”

Lakoff believes it’s a mistake for Democratic politicians to move toward the center in an effort to reach more moderate voters. The Republicans have moved further to the right, and they continue to win elections. What Democrats need to do is articulate their message in terms of metaphors that voters can understand, and stick to their core values, Lakoff said.

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