Lakoff & Progressive Majority

I should mention something that George Lakoff pointed out, regarding the terms abortion and pro-choice. Abortion comes from the notion of aborting, getting rid of, and it's this identification of such word usage that is damaging to the Democrats concern for privacy and freedom. Choice comes from the language of consumerism, whereas Life comes from morality, so is it any wonder that values trump business in the emotive response of the middle voter? No one wants an abortion, and no one wants to make that choice. It's done out of concern for life. What terms we use to describe the protection of a woman from the intrusion of the government are critical to the success of persuasion. "Choice" is not there anymore.

Let me put in a plug here for Progressive Majority, who has really put together some excellent training panels. There's a whole tier of speakers that are policy driven, and a number of high-profile leadership speakers, then there's a campaign training track that's put on by PM. I've attended all the big-name events, and went to a couple of the big favorite writers, like Lakoff and Franks, but it's been in the training tracks where I've learned a few new tools and ideas. It's easy in campaigns to funnel your energies into one or another specialty, say political, field or fundraising, but I don't think the internet is like that, but instead, that it changes the entire campaign, and ought to be engaged by all parts of the campaign. In the Dean campaign, we had an internet operation, which I liked to refer to as the first of its kind, but also the last. A well run campaign uses the internet by bringing on individuals within each of the existing campaign areas, that work together and apart. The absolute worst implementation is for the campaign to let the hackers or the web designers take on the role of strategic implementation. Formulation and implementation of internet strategy  from the leadership of the campaign is what most often is missing. Rare still, is the decision-maker that knows what to do in this area, and even rarer are those in such situations that are willing to cede control in an area they are not with expertise. But they are emerging. I've often said that Joe Trippi's greatest strength was his ability to listen to the first 3-4 sentences of one of the latest-greatest ideas, and then go "yea, yea, but you don't understand..." and not only be able to jump to the conclusion based on his getting it, but a couple of steps ahead, and bring in the politcal implication alongside the use of the internet strategically. Anyway, throughout attending these training tracks, I've been able to sit-in on listening to the fundraiser, the field organizer, and the communication operation, and what I see is connections all across.

Tags: Democrats (all tags)



So what terms would you suggest using instead of "abortion" and "pro-choice"?  You can't just avoid the concepts altogether -- you still need words to represent them.
by sparkyfry 2005-06-03 05:58AM | 0 recs
Re: Good Question
I've suggested Freedom of Choice, which I think is an improvement over Pro-Choice. Freedom to make personal medical decision also encompasses decisions about contraception and fertilization.

goplies had an interesting Lakoff diary, Time for Progressives to Grow Up that recommended expanding beyond the metaphor of the nuclear family:

A New Frame: Strong Communities

In times of war, when fear is being consciously stoked to keep a populace in "freeze" mode, the Right's strict father frame carries strong appeal. Fearful creatures duck for cover. We try to cast out those who might rock the boat. Frightened, we look for a strong protector. And this is precisely why progressives must not fall back on nurturing themes. In addition to holding the radical Right accountable for its mean-spirited, anti-democratic outrages, as mentioned above, we must get tough in at least two other ways.

First, we must more effectively show just how our security is threatened, not secured, by today's strict-father "protectors." We can show how dreadfully ill-prepared to defend ourselves we are when anti-government ideology has its hold on Washington, leading to under-funding our "first responders"; to 15,000 highly vulnerable private chemical plants in charge of their own security; and to health care dependent on giant drug companies.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-06-03 06:33AM | 0 recs
I believe Pro Choice should really be ProLife and ProLife should really be ProBirth.

People in the ProBirth camp do not protect Life at all stages, they are mainly interested in having that life "born".

People currently labeled ProChoice are mainly concerned with life after birth, therefore ProLife.

by inNYC 2005-06-03 06:33AM | 0 recs
Anti-Abortion is better
Don't give them that much credit. They are not "pro" anything. They are also anti-family and anti-woman.
by Gary Boatwright 2005-06-03 06:35AM | 0 recs
Re: Anti-Abortion is better
No, I disagree - most of them are indeed "pro" a few things: Pro Business, Pro Death as in War and Capital Punishment.
by inNYC 2005-06-03 06:49AM | 0 recs
Re: Anti-Abortion is better
Pro-Death is good. On capital punishment I prefer Pro-Execution of Innocents. For Pro-Business I would substitute Pro-Corporate Corruption.

The Democrats are pro-business. Republicans are pro-corruption.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-06-03 08:19AM | 0 recs
Re: Anti-Abortion is better
The number of abortions hasn't increased under Bush, but the drop in abortions has stopped.  Therefore, these policies are NOT pro-birth NOR anti-abortion.  
by Robert P 2005-06-03 10:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Anti-Abortion is better
What's your source? Bush has eliminated government tracking and reporting on abortions. All I've seen are private studies.
by Gary Boatwright 2005-06-03 12:20PM | 0 recs
Re: Anti-Abortion is better
There are a some "seamless garment" Catholics and others who do oppose abortion, and euthanasia along with war and the death penalty. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) would be a good example of one of these, and someone I would truly call pro-life.

However, in political life, these are few and far between. The pro-life movement is full of "pro-birthers" who oppose abortion as well as any sort of aid that would help these women take care of these kids. If you want to make abortion illegal and fire unwed pregnant school teachers you are NOT pro-life but you are certainly anti-woman.

by wayward 2005-06-03 07:45PM | 0 recs
Lakoff And The Internet
What you say about the internet is also true about Lakoff. People consistently misunderstand Lakoff by trying to treat him as if he's in this box, which has to compete with, dominate or subordinate itself to these other boxes--such as specific issues. This is analogous to the situation you describe in which the internet operations are a world unto themselves.  

Both approaches are mistaken. Lakoff's work and the internet both need to be fully integrated, in synergy with, not in competition with (or isolation from) other aspects of their respective realms. As Lakoff himself says, in "The Foreign Language of Choice:

The emphasis on framing and language is not a covert attempt to push women's issues that are controversial -- be it abortion or contraception -- off the progressive agenda. Quite to the contrary, it is a refusal to accept the conservative definition of the issues involved, and put forward a positive vision, based on deeply progressive values and moral perspective.

The process takes some time, to be sure, but the payoffs are substantial.

On the issue of how to deal with the abortion issue, Lakoff, goes on to say:

[R]ather than trying to respond to some discussion about "abortion," we should actively, positively, put forward these four ideas -- personal freedom, zero tolerance for unwanted pregnancies, taking back life as a value, and protecting rape victims in this country from being forced to bear the children of their rapists.

The reasoning, in more detail, goes like this:

Let's begin with the two ideas that Howard Dean talked about in his interview with Tim Russert. First, Dean reparsed the issue in terms of personal freedom. He brought up the case of Terry Schiavo...

The second reparsing that Dean did in that interview was to take up the question of unwanted pregnancies itself. No one wants unwanted pregnancies, and there's no reason why we should have them since have the means to prevent these pregnancies.... the right-wing is actually creating unwanted pregnancies.

I would take this analysis further and argue that we should not allow the right-wing to take ownership of the value of life -- that is our value. And the first place we have to start talking about the value of life is on the issue of infant mortality....

Conservatives have been killing babies -- real babies have been born and who people want and love. They have been responsible for the death of children in this country at an astounding rate -- and we should discuss this situation openly.

In addition, by denying access to contraception -- by stopping the distribution of condoms, for example -- the right-wing is exposing people to AIDS, and therefore, again, supporting death. Furthermore, by refusing to implement policies that would lower the incidence of toxins in our environment, conservatives are actually threatening the health of newborn babies....

In short, the right-wing is imposing a culture of death on this country and we shouldn't stand for it. Progressive values and politics are committed to preserving and nurturing life.

Finally, I'm not sure of the exact numbers, but approximately 28,000 women in this country each year become pregnant as the result of a rape. That's a huge number and it occurs all over America. Here is the question that we must raise: should the federal government force a woman to bear the child of her rapist?

By denying a rape victim access to family planning, to contraception, and to medical operations to end a pregnancy, the conservatives are, in effect, in favor of forcing rape victims to bear the children of their rapist....

Lakoff concludes his article saying:

Martha Burk is right in saying that the Democrats have been too afraid to address women's issues directly. But the failure is deeper and more extensive. Democrats have been slavishly adhering to polls that have been shaped by Republican framing, Republican language. As a result, they have not been raising the most important issues in our society, be it with regard to women, the environment, or peace.

To me, this approach to fundamentally reframing issues sounds precisely like the wholesale seemless integration of the internet into political campaigns.  In both cases, were talking transformation, not addition.  We're talking rearrangement, not displacement.

by Paul Rosenberg 2005-06-03 06:48AM | 0 recs
I still think we should take it... and make it our own.
by Parker 2005-06-03 06:55AM | 0 recs
Re: 'Pro-life'
how do we start?  Mass media has already turned late-term abortion into Partial Birth (like a little bit pregnant, can there be such a thing as a partial birth?)
by inNYC 2005-06-03 07:06AM | 0 recs
Re: 'Pro-life'
Redefine "Pro-life" in terms of proactively reducing abortions without legislation which had been proven not to reduce abortions but just harrass women.
by Parker 2005-06-03 07:11AM | 0 recs
Re: 'Pro-life'
Better yet.  Point out the following, that under Republicans we have
  1. Higher infant mortality rates.
  2. More homeless infants and children.
  3. More hungry infants and children.
  4. More infants and children suffering from curable diseases (thanks to cuts in neonatal blood testing).

Tell people that under Democratic pro-life policies the United States of America will be known for:
  1. The lowest infant mortality rate in the world.
  2. No homeless infants or children.
  3. No hungry children in our country in this century.
  4. An End to Curable Childhood Diseases.
by Robert P 2005-06-03 10:55AM | 0 recs
Re: 'Pro-life'
So, then the election of a Democrat will bring the Second Coming?  And what happens to the Party if I :Tell people that under Democratic pro-life policies the United States of America will be known for:

The lowest infant mortality rate in the world.

No homeless infants or children.

No hungry children in our country in this century.

An End to Curable Childhood Diseases.
and  it doesnt come to pass? Do I say I'm sorry?

by shadow1 2005-06-03 11:37AM | 0 recs
Better, Not Best
Just because the GOP is Manichean in outlook doesn't mean have to be, too. We can't claim that we will make everything perfect--only the delusional can make that claim. But we can rationally claim to make things better. And if past experience is any guide, we will.

So, make reasonable promises based on past performance.  Is that so hard to do?  Is it too radical, perhaps?

by Paul Rosenberg 2005-06-03 11:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Better, Not Best
Tell that to 'chuckles' above.
by shadow1 2005-06-03 12:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Better, Not Best
I think he did.
by Gary Boatwright 2005-06-03 01:02PM | 0 recs
Re: Better, Not Best
who would know better than you.
by shadow1 2005-06-03 01:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Better, Not Best
Only the Shadow knows.
by Gary Boatwright 2005-06-03 10:59PM | 0 recs
Re: Better, Not Best
As I mentioned above, I've been incommunicado, mea culpa for the late reply.  You are right to some extent, we can't claim to make everything perfect - which is why I didn't say we would end war or murder or disease.  I see nothing wrong with stepping up to the plate and saying we will end homelessness for infants and children - less expensive than a Beemer in every pot (the republican agenda).  I see nothing wrong with saying we will end curable childhood diseases - test at birth, if the kid has the disease, you give them the right drugs and voila cured.  Hence, CURABLE diseases, not DISEASE.  

As for infant mortality, not only can we have a lower infant mortality rate, but it is our duty to have a lower infant mortality rate.  What kind of person could argue against doing everything possible to lower the infant mortality rate?  Who?  

by Robert P 2005-06-14 11:39AM | 0 recs
Re: 'Pro-life'
I've been out of town, pardon the late return...

Perhaps I should have said the United States of America will strive for ...

But, that just sounds wishy-washy, which is exactly what the Democrats always get blasted for.  Kennedy didn't say that we should try to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, but good golly that is a lot to ask, so maybe by the end of the century, if not then, someday, or at least we will TRY to put a man on the moon.

Why can we put a man on the moon, spend billions on space-based warfare, but not have the lowest infant mortality rate in the world?  Why can we propose to end terrorism, but no homelessness among infants?

I say, that you say, that the United States will be known for these things and if it doesn't come to pass it will be because the Republican party opposed us.  

by Robert P 2005-06-14 11:34AM | 0 recs
Finally (well, almost)
'Choice' is toast.  Lakoff's done a great job pointing out why it doesn't work. Almost.

I don't believe 'choice' was every a Democratic issue and I'm somewhat surprised that Lakoff did not pick up on this.  

The idea that the Democratic position on abortion is 'choice' seems to be the outgrowth of a successful GOP campaign to reframe the issue in the wake of Roe v. Wade.

If you read NARAL's literature--skipping past all the surface where that one word 'choice' is written everywhere--you'll see that the Democratic position on abortion was and is:  women's rights.  

Sure, the phrase that they use to express this idea was at first "a woman's right to choose," but the broader discussion is about the dangers to American society when women's rights are limited--in particular, a woman's right to have fair and equal access to medical care, as well as control over decisions pertaining to their own lives.  Women's rights.

Now, a shortened version of this position could have evolved to "a woman's right" and then just "women's rights."  Imagine if we were talking about "women's rights" vs. "anti-women's rights" judgets, etc.  

Instead, "a woman's right to chooose" became "pro-choice," which sounds like the opposite of "pro-life," but it's not and never was. Pro-choice is a doomed idea from the start.  

Lakoff's idea of switching from a frame of "choice" to a frame of "unwanted pregnancy" is probably not going to be the best solution to this situation.  It just doesn't seem feasible that America will suddenly start talking about unwanted pregnancies, and besides: pregnancy is not really the issue.  That much being said, I'm very glad he has initiated the discussion.  Or rather, I'm very glad that Alternet initiated the discussion because the topic has been on everyone's mind.

The strongest point that Lakoff makes is about the difference between an appeal to emations from the GOP versus an appeal to reason from the DEMS.  Emoition (of the shrill order) trumps reason, and so we lose. Get back to emotion and we win again.  

In the early days of the debate, the women's rights discussion about abortion was very emotional.  It was full of gut-wrenching stories of back allies and teen deaths.  It was also full of horror stories of the government invading our privacy--our most private worlds as citizens:  the world of sexuality and childbirth.  And it worked.  IT wasn't choice that worked, but the appeal to emotions.  But all that is gone.

The problem is that the GOP has effectively taken women out of the language used in the national discussion of reproduction and replaced them with'babies.'  To take back the debate, Democrats cannot just offer alternative terms that focus on babies.  We need to focus on women again.  

How do we do this? Well...through a much simpler set of ideas than those being proposed by Lakoff (which I don't have at the moment. Sorry.)

More to follow on this in the days ahead.

by Jeffrey Feldman 2005-06-03 07:26AM | 0 recs
Re: Finally (well, almost)
On NPR this morning the interviewer asked Howard Dean if it was far to characterize the Democratic party as Pro-Abortion Rights.

Dean made it clear that he didn't know anyone who was pro-abortion and successfully switched to giving women the right to make their own medical decisions, but he did not challenge the Pro-Abortion Rights characterization.

Nobody is pro-abortion. Pro-Abortion Rights is another right wingnut frame. We need a phrase.

Freedom to choose works for me until I see something better. Freedom is better than choice, because it is easy to find reasons to take away someone's choice. It is much harder to deprive someone of the their freedom.

The freedom to make medical decisions about a wide array of health care decisions is a fundamental right. I am not aware of a single health care decision that men face that is under attack. It is only the health care decisions that women make that wingnuts want to revoke.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-06-03 08:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Finally (well, almost)
Love the attempts at verbal contortion.  If you try to sell any of it to the general public, Republicans will recreate the fiasco of the Clinton era with 'depends on what your definition of is, is'.

Just put it out straight.  Dems believe prior to live birth, it is a woman's right to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term; Reps, on the other hand, dont believe a woman has that right.

by shadow1 2005-06-03 08:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Finally (well, almost)
Actually, that is not what Dems believe.  I suspect that Dems believe in Roe v. Wade which explicitly disagrees with the idea that "the woman's right is abosolute and that she is entitled to terminate her pregnancy at whatever time, in whatever way, and for whatever reason she alone chooses."  

Like most pieces of literature that achieve the status of symbols, I suspect that 99.9% of all Democrats who say that they support Roe v. Wade, have not actually read it.  

Roe v. Wade does, in other words, accept the idea of viability, which an "unlimited rights" argument does not.

This abortion issue is a big mess--bigger than most of us are willing to admit.  There's no simple way out of it anymore.  We need much, much more of a solution than just "straight talk."

by Jeffrey Feldman 2005-06-03 09:04AM | 0 recs
Re: Finally (well, almost)
So, sound bites are more important than reality?  Isnt that the same old b.s. the parties have been serving for years?  

Reframe the debate/discussion to what Roe v Wade says and why Dems support it.

Be radical and no matter what flak is shot from others stick to the 'reality' message of plain talk.

What was it that Denzel Washington's character in the movie, PHILADELPHIA, said?  "Explain it to me like I am a eight year old."

by shadow1 2005-06-03 09:12AM | 0 recs
Re: Finally (well, almost)
Plain talk is an affect like any other. Bush uses it to great advantage.

I wouldn't worry about sound bites vs. reality.  Sound bites--like lots of other bites these days--are as "real" as anything else.  And they are certainly very real in this debate.

by Jeffrey Feldman 2005-06-03 10:11AM | 0 recs
Thanks for your input
When I want the advice of a South Park Conservative, I'll go fishing in a port-a-potty instead, and save us both a lot of time and trouble.
by Gary Boatwright 2005-06-03 10:25AM | 0 recs
Re: Finally (well, almost)
I see your point.  We do need a better phrase.

One of the reasons why the abortion debate has gotten so out of control is that Democrats are "out to lunch" on women's rights, child poverty and healthcare.  Perhaps we can start there.

Much of that Blackmun opinion revolves around the idea of "state interest," and it seems to me that this idea presents an opening.  States have an interest in many things with regard to women and children.  Guaranteeing that a viable fetus remains unharmed is only one such interest.  

I'm off to re-read Blackmun and see if I can generate some new language.  

by Jeffrey Feldman 2005-06-03 08:56AM | 0 recs
Reproductive rights.
Simple, self-explanatory, and encompassing a variety of issues.
by catastrophile 2005-06-03 10:00AM | 0 recs
The State Interest
is a restrictive frame. We want an empowering frame. I would suggest searching libertarian literature instead of judicial opinions.
by Gary Boatwright 2005-06-03 10:27AM | 0 recs
Choice, Yes, But...
Actually choice is central. But it's central in a framework that is not the language of political debate as we know it. It is central in the framework of a political philosophy of autonomy, which is part of what liberalism is.  This makes a lot of sense to people who have an actual, lived experience of autonomy--which is very much about defining the meaning and significance of our roles.  

Consumer choice is a pale, shadow-play caricature of what true autonomy is. But it's overwhelmingly the frame of reference that most people have, which is the root of the problem with the tern that Lakoff identifies.  If the experience of attaining true autonomy were commonplace, and socially recognized--as, say, high school graduation or marriage are--then appeals to autonomy would have emotional resonance as well.  Someday, we may live in such a culture. But for now, we must live and make our arguments in the culture we have, even as we struggle to transform it.

Lakoff is suggesting lines of attack to confront the issues as they exist today.  I think it's a mistake to try to rush past this for a quick fix sound-bite replacement for "pro-choice." That misses the point.

We need to do some very deep re-thinking, re-thinking that gets deeply internalized down into our bones.  Although Lakoff's specialty is language, he is saying this is not about language. It's about morality. It's about looking deeply into what we believe and whey, and then finding the language to express it.

Focusing on language up front is like sitting down for dinner and saying, "What's for desert?"  The desert will come. But we've got a lot more to chew on before we come to that.  And desert will be that much better as the completion of that process than it would be all by itself.  

by Paul Rosenberg 2005-06-03 09:21AM | 0 recs
Re: Choice, Yes, But...
Exactly.  I suggest we all start out by chewing on Roe v. Wade.  

We'll probably need to focus on language and focus through language at the same time, right?  Once there is a broad realization that the phrase "pro-choice" is inadequate (and that will come fairly quickly, I think), it's only logical that people will want to know what to say next. I don't think that's a quick fix.  It's just a very natural thing to want to do.  

Up to this point, Lakoff has been very good at swapping problem words for good, solid analysis.  But we do need to provide new words, too.

I'm intrigued by this idea of "attaining true autonomy."  I've never much believed in the idea of autonomy, but I may be taking my cues from a discussion other than the political philosophy you reference.

I'm still not sure about the arguments against a consumer version of choice.  As far as I understand the meaning of "consumer," it simply means using goods and services that one does not alone produce.  Lakoff's critique of the term "choice" seems much more judgemental, more along the lines of the the mass culture critics.  Which is to say:  I hope the progressive position on abortion doesn't require taking on a huge critique of consumer society.  But I'm not really sure I understand his larger point, yet.


by Jeffrey Feldman 2005-06-03 09:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Choice, Yes, But...
I don't think judicial opinions are going to be a very good source. They are usually reactive rather than proactive. There are exceptions, but I don't think you will find any original thinking once you get past the idea of a penumbra of privacy.

The libertarian line strikes me as the most productive line of thought. It goes back to "Don't Tread On Me", which is what Howard Dean is suggesting has been done to women for centuries. "Every woman has been told what to do."

Natural rights may be another productive avenue. Women have a natural right as human beings to make their own decisions that will affect her life and her health. That is currently the most powerful restrictive line of thought that courts and the American people both respect.

If you missed my God Is Pro-Choice diary, don't forget the Biblical themes. There is absolutely no moral or scriptural authority for the anti-abortion position in the Bible. A theme that would also disarm the Theocrats would be very powerful.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-06-03 10:34AM | 0 recs
Re: Choice, Yes, But...
I'll read your diary in a minute, but I hope you mention the paucity of actual anti-homosexuality verses in the Bible as well.  If you take out Leviticus with its anti-shellfish, anti-blind people, anti-pork, and anti-gay rules, there are almost no clear verses on the subject.
Yet, they do talk a lot about poverty don't they?
by Robert P 2005-06-03 10:59AM | 0 recs
Those Gay Boys And Their Shrimp Cocktails
will be the death of America, mark my words!
by Paul Rosenberg 2005-06-03 11:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Those Gay Boys And Their Shrimp Cocktails
Oiy.  Am I not allowed to eat blind people, now?  Leviticus!  
by Jeffrey Feldman 2005-06-03 11:49AM | 0 recs
I hate to be rude
But at the risk of changing the subject, did you happen to see Frances Moor Lappe's article in Utne, Time to Grow Up?

Time to grow up
Second, the frame Lakoff identifies with progressives - "nurturant parent" - itself needs critical thought.

Nurturant parent - what could be worse for progressives?
They're already stereotyped as coddlers of the lazy poor; dubbed "bleeding hearts" who refuse to require people to take responsibility for themselves. A nurturant parent framing may confirm the caricature. Lakoff is careful to distinguish his parent model from "mother," but I fear it is too easily received as a soft mother alternative to strict father.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-06-03 07:20PM | 0 recs
A Pre-view
God Hates Shrimp and from the comments

Chatting With Jesus.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-06-03 12:25PM | 0 recs
Actually, God LOVES Shrimp.
He loves them so much, he just doesn't want to share, that's all.

(That's how real exegesis is done!)

by Paul Rosenberg 2005-06-03 03:19PM | 0 recs
Re: Actually, God LOVES Shrimp.
Is exegesis kind of like catapulting propaganda?
by Gary Boatwright 2005-06-03 05:47PM | 0 recs
Re: Choice, Yes, But...
Rather than speculate about Lakoff, let's go back to what he wrote:
Many of the feminist organizations have come to the conclusion that the word "choice," and the concept of choice, is a bad idea. Deborah Tannen, who is one of the best-known linguists in the country, observed over a decade ago that the word "choice" is taken from a consumer vocabulary -- as compared to the word "life," which is taken from a moral vocabulary.

Morality beats consumerism every time.

Moreover, the word "choice" versus "decision" is a bad idea because "choice" is less serious a word than "decision." From a linguistic perspective, "choice" was in itself a bad choice.

None of this sounds very judgemental to me. Nor does it seem to entail any sweeping critique of consumer society. It's simply a reflection on the degree of commitment and seriousness involved in the different sorts of language used.  

I would also connect this with Lakoff's comments in Don't Think of An Elephant about the overall weakness of a consumer approach, as when political strategists treat issue positions as consumer goods that they can market to swing voters, without any grounding in a broader moral vision, or a vocabular that can connect to something larger--be it moral vision, or simply a more generic evocation of values.

As for "attaining true autonomy," I take this from two sources. First is that of liberal political philosophy, which has long been concerned to ground political theory in the consent of the governed. Consent naturally entails some degree of autonomy, along with a recoginition that surrendering some autonomy is a necessary means for protecting its more basic foundations.  

The goal of liberalism in developing autonomy has often been enhanced by pressure from radicals, but liberals have repeatedly adapted to meet radical critiques--most notably, the New Liberals in the the 1870s, who laid the foundations for welfare state liberalism, first in the UK, then the US.

Once liberals reconsidered laisez-faire, and came to see material deprivation as a hindrance to self-actualization and the development of moral autonomy, they had a consistent foundation for supporting what they had previously opposed--an economically activist state, which was now directed to act with very different ends.

The second source is Kegan's typology of moral development. Stage three accords with adulthood in a traditional pre-modern society, in which social roles are determined by the society, and in turn construct the subject side of the subject/object model of the self.  Stage four is the next stage, where the social roles shift from being subject--constructing the self--to object--being subject to the action of the self.  

In down-to-earth terms, this means a shift from thinking that marriage means you mow the lawn on Friday to thinking that marriage means you're partners in shaping and re-shaping what it means over time.  

In both these senses, autonomy involves a sense of self-ownership, rather than being property of the culture or the state.  Such freedom is not the freedom to do anything you want, since, for example, it entails a certain moral responsibility not to destroy the conditions that make it possible.  One is responsible for the moral, ethical and political order that makes one's autonomy possible.  This is a responsibility that in turn informs nurturant parenting, both in terms of how the parents are responsible for their children, and in terms of the values they hope their children will learn and continue with.

by Paul Rosenberg 2005-06-03 11:37AM | 0 recs
Re: Choice, Yes, But...
Ok, I see where the autonomy arguments are coming from. But I still have issues with the opposition between consumerism and morality.  I don't see it as that kind of opposition.

Take a look at the comment at the end of this thread.  The "killing babies" accusation is not just moralistic.  It's much more than that.  And why can't consumer choices be deeply felt and tied into moral commitments?  I have never agreed with that general position--which apparently is held also by Debora Tannen (who's work I love).  I don't think it's wrong to structure one's personal commitments through that opposition, I just don't think it's productive.

For example.  If I say "choose death."  Isn't that moral language?  When Republicans argue against Democrats on abortion, they are essentially saying that the problem with legal abortion is that it leads to women chosing to "bill babies."  That's morality and "choice" is still there.

So, while I think Lakoff has gotten the ball rolling, I think his real strong point is that Democrats need to find away to reconnect with moral language that appeals on an emotional level--and which expresses what we really think about abortion.  In the end (and this is where the madness lies) "choice" alone is not the real problem.  It's how it's been cut down to size and how it's being used.

I'll give you a great example:  The Contender (just played this weekend on cable), which is a film about the nomination of a woman to be Vice President (good, clean political fluff).  At a certain point in the film, the nominee is grilled for her position on abortion in which the Republican committee chair accuses her of "killing babies."  At first, she replies in anger "Are you accusing me--!"  But then she stops herself short.  Regains her compusure.  And then says in a quiet tone, "My position is clear."  That's the problem.

It's the word "choice," sure.  But it's also the dynamic in which it is used.  Democrats seem to have a problem breaking out of the frame (to borrow from Goffman) that puts them in the demure, even guilty position of "taking it" once they've been accused of mass infanticide.  

The consumer choice vs. morality argument is interesting, but I just don't see it has dictating the situation.  A start, maybe.

by Jeffrey Feldman 2005-06-03 12:03PM | 0 recs
A Logical Argument About An Empirical Question
Logically, I'd be inclined to agree with you, Jeffrey, but it's an empirical question, not a logical one, that Lakoff is addressing.  He's not saying that consumerism and morality are logically opposed, as contradicatory categories. He's saying that they function empirically as different sorts of frames. And I think that's pretty hard to argue against.

In fact, when you yourself say:

In the end (and this is where the madness lies) "choice" alone is not the real problem.  It's how it's been cut down to size and how it's being used.
you are actually making the same argument that Lakoff is. You've just presented it in a more refined form.  

Also, Lakoff is not really arguing that there are 4 different approaches, each of which would be enough (Dayenu!)  He's saying that we need to fundamentally rethink the entire framing of the issue, and he's presenting four different facets for doing that. But, that doesn't mean you can't break the problem down somewhat differently and still be in fundamental agreement with him.  

In fact, it makes very good sense to play around with different formulations the way you are doing, even if everything Lakoff says resonates perfectly. Just as it makes very good sense to say that he's really onto something, even if none of the particulars rings really true for you.

Thus, I agree 100% with your last two paragraphs. And, as I read Lakoff, I don't think he'd have a problem with them, either.

by Paul Rosenberg 2005-06-03 02:55PM | 0 recs
abortion word games
I don't like talking about abortion using the word "choice."  That seems to belittle the gravity of the act of abortion.  To say a woman has the right to choose to do away with her baby, in the same manner as she has the right to choose what color of hair she is going to have that particular week, is appalling.

The only way for Democrats to gain some ground on the issue of abortion is if they stop looking like water carriers for NARAL.  In actuality, Democrats in most cases have opposed each and every effort to limit abortion, including partial-birth abortion.  In reality, unlike Roe vs Wade, which established the now medievally ignorant "trimester" system-(medically speaking); with the possiblity of incresasing restrictions on abortion the later the stage of pregancy, subsequent court decisions have established virtual abortion-on-demand in this country.

The proverbial slippery slope is here.  With the advent of new procedures such as artificial insemination and embryonic stem-cell research, surplues of embryos are being created and destroyed.  We have begun to treat early human life as a marketable commodity available to be exploited and experimented upon for the advantage of the more powerful.

As a former Catholic, this is one area, the life issues, that I solidly agree with the Catholic Church on.  We have fallen down the slippery slope, and we are now in the Culture of Death.

The Democrat activists and professionals debating about how to "frame" the abortion debate should consider that instead of, in their Machievellian-like strategerizing on how to gain the most net amount of votes, they might actually consider that we have allowed the wholesale killings of over 30 million healthy babies in this country since 1973.  Millions of Americans are horrified by it, including myself.

Try "framing" that.

Or maybe try getting a conscience and doing the right thing.

by MichiganDemocrat 2005-06-03 11:20AM | 0 recs
Re: abortion word games
by shadow1 2005-06-03 11:33AM | 0 recs
Healthy babies?
How are you defining babies? From conception or some other point?

To say a woman has the right to choose to do away with her baby, in the same manner as she has the right to choose what color of hair she is going to have that particular week, is appalling.

That's probably why nobody says that except anti-abortion woman hating Republicans. I suggest you read my diary God is Pro-Choice and ask yourself where you get the moral authority to impose your narrow anti-American religious beliefs on another human being.

What is the source of your moral superiority?

by Gary Boatwright 2005-06-03 12:29PM | 0 recs
Re: Healthy babies?
It's not possible for me in my own concept of Christ to believe that Jesus would favor abortion.

-Jimmy Carter

by wayward 2005-06-03 08:09PM | 0 recs
Re: Healthy babies?
That's one man's opinon. So what? Jimmy Carter doesn't have any more moral authority over how I live my life and the private religious beliefs I live my life by than the Pope does.
by Gary Boatwright 2005-06-03 10:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Healthy babies?
It's one I happen to agree with.

I understand that Roe is the law of the land, and overturning it would have a whole heap of negative consequences, but I can't believe that Jesus would see anything good or right about abortion.

by wayward 2005-06-04 05:48AM | 0 recs
Middle Ground
To assert that a woman has complete control over the life of a seven-month old, thinking, feeling, sentient being is insane. To say she has no control over whether to discontinue her pregnancy of a two-month-old piece of living matter with no evolved brain and no advance cortical function is equally insane. Obviously there is a middle ground on this issue and absolutist positions on either side of the issue only play into the "my morality is better than your morality" game. Someday we're all going to have to sit down with the embryonic development scientists and figure out a sliding scale which parses out the women's right to control her pregnancy or the lack thereof (probably absolute early on) against the competing, liberal need to preserve and protect intelligent life, and particularly human life, in all its forms.
by Hoomai29 2005-06-04 06:06PM | 0 recs
Re: abortion word games
I believe the only thing worse than legalized abortion is illegal abortion. Furthermore, at this point, criminalizing abortion would work about as well as criminalizing alcohol did in the 1920's.

The term "choice" is a problem for the Democrats in that it actually reinforces the Republican frame. They can and do say "We see it as a new life, they say it is just another choice". It reinforces the idea that Democrats trivialize abortion while Republicans value life.

Yes, abortion has killed over 30,000,000 healthy people, a disproportionate amount of whom were future Democrats, because of abortions disproportionate impact among minorities and the urban working class. While "pro-choice" was once the politically more popular postition, it should be common sense that very quickly "pro-life" would outbreed "pro-choice".

What the Democrats need to do is to recongize that abortion is a problem, and come up with a way to solve it without interfering with women's rights. The "95-10" bill is a good start. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party has been NARAL's water boy for the past few decades. While they are proud of the safe and legal part, I haven't heard terribly much about the "rare", even when good opportunities present themself.

We cannot have the issue be framed as being between supporting legalized abortion and valuing life. No matter how much emphasis is put on women's rights, this will still lose. Reframe the issue in terms of women's empowerment, in that the Democratic Party supports empowering women and enabling them to make the right choice and have their baby, while the Republican Party will leave them with no choice and no way to support themselves, and Democrats win every time.

by wayward 2005-06-03 08:07PM | 0 recs
The Bible
I'm not a fundamentalist Christian, in fact, I am a former Catholic actively searching on my spiritual journey, but to imply that the Bible does not have support for an anti-abortion position is misleading.

In Isaih, God tells the prophet Jeremiah- "Before I formed you in the womb I knew thee."  

Also, what about "Thou shall not kill."

What about Jesus in the New Testament saying- "Let the little children come unto Me, and do not hinder them, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven."

Also, "If anyone offends one of these little ones who believe in Me, it would be better for them to be tied with a rock on their neck (I'm paraphrasing) and be cast into the depths of the sea."

To say that the Bible does not specifically address abortoin per se is one thing- but to imply that there is "nothing in the Bible to support the anti-abortion position" another.  While the former is factually correct, one cannot say that about the latter.

by MichiganDemocrat 2005-06-03 11:54AM | 0 recs
Re: The Bible
What about Jesus in the New Testament saying- "Let the little children come unto Me, and do not hinder them, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven."

Has nothing to do with abortion.

Also, "If anyone offends one of these little ones who believe in Me, it would be better for them to be tied with a rock on their neck (I'm paraphrasing) and be cast into the depths of the sea."

Has nothing to do with abortion.

Also, what about "Thou shall not kill."

Has nothing to do with abortion.

In Isaih, God tells the prophet Jeremiah- "Before I formed you in the womb I knew thee."

God knows us before we are conceived. Has nothing to do with abortion.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-06-03 12:32PM | 0 recs
Re: The Bible
1st one, is not even a fertilized egg yet, how does it relate to abortion?

2nd. one opens the discussion of when does life begin, but I take that one one to mean a breathing, living human being, not a fetus.

3rd. Again, breathing, living human beings.

4th. do I have to say it again?


by inNYC 2005-06-03 01:46PM | 0 recs
On Abortion and the Religious
What I want to hear from Democrats on Abortion is...

Democrats will provide real solutions to make abortion RARE which excludes artificial birth control,(Catholics)  but which addresses the problems of teenage pregnancy, women's economic concerns, pre-post natal care, strengthening families,and marriages, education, etc.,

Democrats should hammer that overturning ROE V WADE is not effective to decrease abortion as it just makes it a state issue and most likely most states will keep current abortion laws.  It will only make Religious have unholy alliance with the Republican Party whose agenda really is A ME/OWNERSHIP SOCIETY, which contradicts Christ teaching of LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR  and Take care of the LEAST of your BRETHEREN.

This proves,  Democrats are the real PRO-LIFE PARTY with REAL SOLUTIONS to DECREASE ABORTION.

by jasmine 2005-06-03 02:59PM | 0 recs
I am an agnostic, so I have no religious agenda
However, legal abortion troubles me, and for a long time I tried to avoid the subject because of this.

Basically, in my mind, it mainly boils down to this: Is a fetus a person (killing persons is murder)?  If so, when does it become so?

I believe that a fetus becomes a person sometime signficantly after conception and sometime signficantly before birth.  I want to use the framework of when the fetus becomes "self-aware"-when it gains a "soul", for lack of a better word.

Now, you will note the mother's interests are, frankly, irrelavent here.  If the fetus is a person, killing it is murder, period.  It's no different than dumping a baby in a trash dumpster after smothering it with a pillow.

I'm sorta guessing that a fetus is a non-person in the first trimester, and is a person in the third (note, that I would support abortions to protect the life of the mother at any time-if the choice is between two people dying, killing either one is not murder (take an example of a sunken boat, with two people surviving with only one life jacket-stealing it from the other person is not murder, it is survival)).  I'm not sure about the second trimester.

by Geotpf 2005-06-03 03:09PM | 0 recs
Is an agnostic agenda morally superior?
Actually, your opinion is irrelevant.

I'm sorta guessing that a fetus is a non-person in the first trimester, and is a person in the third (note, that I would support abortions to protect the life of the mother at any time-if the choice is between two people dying, killing either one is not murder (take an example of a sunken boat, with two people surviving with only one life jacket-stealing it from the other person is not murder, it is survival)).  I'm not sure about the second trimester.

Is that the kind of analysis you are comfortable using to condemn someone of murder? Where do you get the moral authority to impose your agnostic analysis on another human being? Is it OK if I impose my religious beliefs on you and your family?

For the very simple reason that this is a religious and moral question, every woman has the irrevocable right to make her own decision based on her own conscience, informed by her own religous and moral convictions.

The only person with an absolute right to make this kind of personal and private medical decision is the person who's health and life are immediately affected.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-06-03 05:52PM | 0 recs
When Life Begins

Good points.  The abortion issue is intricately connected to when life begins.  I agree the GOP is hypocritical on the abortion issue, and with many of the comments about Democrats being more pro-life than Republicans because of how we treat children AFTER they are born.  (Health care, education, food programs, etc.)

I agree we need to emphasize how the Republicans are pro-death in their support of war and tax cuts for the most affluent which requires deep cuts in social services to the poor.  One of the main reasons I left the Catholic church is because the church seemed to call Democrats on the life issues but failed to do this to the Republicans.  I mean, the Vatican opposed the war in Iraq steadfastly, and capital punishment, but then seemed to turn the other way when conservative American Bishops seem to downpeddle those issues where the Republicans were weak and allowed them to go after John Kerry and other Democrats for being "pro-choice" on abortion, even while they were "pro-life" personally.

I am glad this debate is going on in the Democratic party, as I believe the abortion issue is the key issue that has pushed many devout Catholics and evangelicals out of the Democratic Party.

As far as when life begins, all I can say is that it begins at the beginning.  When is that?  What moment is it possible for human life to grow?  What point is it that the entity has all the genetic material required to grow to full human potential if not disturbed or deliberately removed?  CONCEPTTION

If conception is not the beginning of life, then what is?  Your arbitrary guesses of "maybe the second trimester?"  That is nonsense.

I applaud you for being concerned when life begins and being troubled for the destruction of human life.  That is a good start.


by MichiganDemocrat 2005-06-03 03:58PM | 0 recs
Re: When Life Begins
As far as when life begins, all I can say is that it begins at the beginning.  When is that?  What moment is it possible for human life to grow?  What point is it that the entity has all the genetic material required to grow to full human potential if not disturbed or deliberately removed?  CONCEPTTION!

You are entitled to live your life according to your personal beliefs. What is your moral authority for imposing your personal moral beliefs on another human being?

Is it OK if I impose my personal moral beliefs on you and your family?

If conception is not the beginning of life, then what is?  Your arbitrary guesses of "maybe the second trimester?"  That is nonsense.

So is your arbitrary guess that life begins at conception. What about the morning after pill? All it does is prevent the impregnated embryo from attaching to the uterine wall.

If a woman miscarries is she guilty of murder? What if she miscarried because she drank too much coffee? Or sat in a hot tub too long? Or drank too much alcohol?

Are you going to have a police investigation into every miscarriage? Why not? How do you tell the difference between an abortion and a chemically or negligently induced miscarriage?

by Gary Boatwright 2005-06-03 05:57PM | 0 recs
Re: When Life Begins
OK, consider this.

Let's imagine, hypothetically, that there is suddenly a movement in the US of women who want to experience pregnancy, but not have children.  They conceive, carry for 8.5 months, then abort. Let's imagine that each member of this movement does this three times over the course of their lives.

Now, given this scenario, can we really argue that there is absolutely no interest whatsoever in the aborted fetus on the part of liberalism? Would we call that a fetus?  Or would we call that a child?  

It seems to me that there are two issues at stake, here.  First, there is the question of a woman's right to make her own decisions.  Nobody is arguing with that (in this discussion).  Second, there is the emergence--however widely defined--of another, recognizable person at some stage over the course of a pregnancy.  Everyone seems to agree that a second person doesn't just appear--poof--only after delivery.  The second person enters into the discussion--either at "conception" or sometime after.  But that second person is undeniably there. And we have an interest in that person just as we have an interest in the woman (sorry to sound so technical, here, but the Roe v. Wade language is very helpful in getting this issue out).

I certainly don't believe that a fetus is only a person after delivery.  If a pregnant woman is murdered, that is a problem in my mind that also involves the pregnancy.  Perhaps in those moments when the pregnancy is ended against the will of the woman, that turns the fetus into a person in my mind?  

Let's take another example. What if a woman finds out that she is six weeks pregnant, chooses to have the baby, but then is immediately thereafter injured by a drunk driver which causes her to miscarry?  In that situation, I would blame the driver for "killing the child."   There it is again.  That fetus becomes a person and I'm still a liberal.

My point is that simply deciding that we are going to put all our weight onto the rights of the woman and not enter into the debate about the transformation of the fetus into a person--this avoids a very important issue that we already deal with in other situations.  It's as if the "choice" liberals make vis-a-vis abortion is the choice to overlook have the debate.  

In fact, in the Roe v. Wade decision, an all-rights-all-times to the woman argument was what the Roe brief pushed for, but this was not upheld.  Instead, Blackmun improved on that position by insisting that the courts consider this second compelling issue--the transformation of the fetus into a person, at some stage, not to be determined by the courts in some absolute sense--but existing, and relevant--relevant to the courts, relevant to citizens, relevant to women, and most importantly--relevant to a liberal view of society.

I bring this up because I really believe that Blackmun's insight is profound--and deeply liberal and that rather than jumping back to the Roe brief, we should stick with Blackmun's logic and build on it.

What we as liberals are really hold, I believe, is an abortion position that is very close to the Blackmun logic.  We believe that a woman has the right to decide, and that the state has a compelling interest in protecting a child.

The anti-Roe v. Wade folks do not have these two interests.  They are only concerned with DELIVERY. Pregnancies that do not carry through to delivery are the problem for them.  Once the delivery happens, they don't give a fig about the child.  They jump immediately to a concern for the nuclear family, not for the child.   Liberals do not agree with this.  Liberals do not believe that nuclear family is necessary to produce a healthy citizen.  

The radical right in this country does not believe that a healthy person is possible--or allowable--outside of a nuclear family, and they do not believe that society can be healthy or moral in the absence of that nuclear family.

And so, when we return to Blackmun's logic, we see that there is a very troubling silence within the anti-Roe v. Wade position.  That silence is what to do with these children that the state forces a woman to bring to term in the anbsence of a nuclear family for them?  Forced marriage compelled by the removal of rights for the child for unmarried mothers.

Liberals do not have this contradiction in their position.  Liberals admire the family.  But they believe that a healthy society is composed of healthy individuals.  Nuclear family is not necessary even if it can be helpful (although not always).

Long comment.  But I think this is really crucial to grasp if we are to move onto an authentic and compelling way of expressing what we deeply believe on this issue.

by Jeffrey Feldman 2005-06-05 12:03AM | 0 recs


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