Autocritiquing Occupy

Via Stoller on Twitter, a blog hoping to elicit a constructive dialog on the Occupy protests and the future of the movement.  In response to George Lakoff's How to Frame Yourself advice to Occupiers at Common Dreams, one post in particular stands out:

1) Lakoff’s insistence that the movement focus on getting candidates with “its moral focus elected in 2012.” I couldn’t agree less. If OWS turns into a get out the vote drive for the Democratic Party, it would be a betrayal of it’s raison d’etre and its resonance with people who are thoroughly disillusioned with the political process, particularly after 2008, when Obama managed to sway a lot of people with his soaring rhetoric and promise of renewal. Election season is already well underway; the Republican candidate will be decided by January and Democrats will try to convince liberals and progressives to fall into line behind Obama. The possibility of OWS running its own candidates in this short period and with existing campaign finance laws in place, or supporting politicians from the existing bipartisan pool who share its ‘moral values,’ are slim to none outside of a few local races.

Agree that any appearance co-option by the party would dissolve what momentum is possible quickly, but I'm also reminded of watching the tea party in 2010 with their litmus tests and the "other" kind of influence they had on the elections (Sharon Angle, O'Donnell come to mind).  Anti-establishment and in the spotlight only gets you so far.  The tea party's influence on 2010 wasn't so much the candidates they ran and it definitely wasn't their independent fundraising as a "movement," but the exponential effect they had on disappointment with the Democratic Party.  They got out the vote.  Much more could be said about the decline of tea party popularity since.  Was it always going to fade, or are they paying the price for a hard line approach that a majority of voters now blame for gridlocked government? 

So you can't run your own candidates in 2012, but you can find issues or even specific legislation to rally behind.  Does a candidate have to be right on every issue to get some support, or can a candidate be right on the most important issues and draw the crowd?  And what about influencing members of congress throughout the campaigns?  You're not getting the ear of a single Republican, no question. 

I'm not sure the right answers for the movement.  Questions of where things could go and the role of Occupy in 2012 seem almost two separate dilemna's, yet in the end they'll be tied together.

Without a tangible influence of some kind in 2012, we won't be hearing much about Occupy after the elections.  Unfortunate reality, sure, but still the case.  Anyway, go speak your mind.


Ultimate Fighting Championship Taught Me Conservatives Are Right

(Please note: This originally posted on and will be cross-posted on openleft too.)

"All warfare is based on deception.  Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near." - SunTzu The Art of War

So those of you who read this site regularly probably know that I like to spout off at length about the linguistics of our political culture.  But there are times when actions truly do speak much, much louder than words.  Let me begin at the beginning.

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The New Triangulation: Obama's Triad of Success

For the purposes of this diary, I am going to proceed from a base working assumption that Barack Obama will lose the nomination. The reason for this is that does not detract from the success of his campaign, nor does it mitigate the requirement that future campaigns utilize the techniues pioneered by Barack Obama.

As with all pioneering efforts, Barack Obama is standing on the shoulders of giants. I point to three men whose influence on the Obama campaign cannot be ignored. Those would be Saul Alinsky, George Lakoff, and Howard Dean.

To say that the success achieved to date by the Obama campaign are astounding is an understatement. Here you have a junior Senator in his first term going up against the most recognized name and brand in American Democratic Party politics, and succeeding. This success can be explained by three factors, Organization, Framing, and Running Nationally.

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A Progressive Guide to Framing

Cross posted from: RFK Action Front

George Lakoff and the Rockridge Institute have done a tremendous job of educating progressives about the importance of framing.  But as I troll through the progressive blogosphere, I notice that even some of the best bloggers (who, out of courtesy, will remain nameless here) make basic framing mistakes.  So as the risk of repeating what may be obvious to many--here is my Progressive Guide to Framing:

1. LEFT and RIGHT refer to baseball pitchers and driving directions not political ideas or policy choices. It seems to me that the biggest framing mistake progressives make is referring to progressive ideas as "left" or "lefty" and Republican or fundamentalist Christian ideas as "right" or "right wing."

Why is this such a disadvantageous frame?

The word "right" of course, has several meanings. For example, "right" can mean "correct" as well as "politically conservative." Only 8 to 15% of the adult population is left handed. Every time you use the terms right and left to refer to politics you are using a Republican frame that implies that Republicans are correct and progressive only represents 8-15% of the population. See the problem?

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Book Review: Jeffrey Feldman's "Framing the Debate"

[Cross-posted at ProgressiveHistorians, Daily Kos, and My Left Wing.]

I'm both a supporter and a skeptic of the doctrine of political framing as promulgated by Berkeley linguist George Lakoff in his now famous book, Don't Think of an Elephant.  I'm strongly supportive of the notion of framing insofar as it stresses the craft, once popular but now relegated to arcane debate exercises, of shaping language to convey appropriate and useful connotations along with the strict denotations of words.  I'm skeptical, however, of the doctrinaire methods employed by Lakoff and his disciples in attempting to isolate and typify specific frames, including the use of brackets, categories, and seemingly meaningless keywords.  Such tactics cannot, I feel, be successful in convincing the public that the framer is genuine, a critical factor in winning the long-term support of the populace for a political platform or party.  I believe the public can spot a phony a mile off, and while they may vote for it, they will most certainly never respect it.  Perhaps the most successful framer of the past twenty years was Bill Clinton, who uttered phrases such as "building a bridge to the twenty-first century" only after thoroughly poll-testing them against other similar phrases; perhaps as a result, Clinton may hold the distinction of being the most popular president of the twentieth century who was never actually liked.

Despite their dogmatic shortcomings, the studies of framing published in recent years both on and offline have added much to our understanding of how language intersects with such critical concepts as power, patriotism, and affinity.  It's long past time for the concept to be applied directly to the past as it has to the present.  Jeffrey Feldman gets the ball rolling in his book Framing the Debate: Famous Presidential Speeches and How Progressives Can Use Them to Change the Conversation (and Win Elections) (a steal at $14.95 cover price; you can also read the first chapter online at NYT, though you'll have to have a login to do so).  Feldman, the most prominent of Lakoff's online disciples and the proprietor of Frameshop, borrows Lakoff's rigid linguistic techniques, but he brings his own astute understanding of practical politics to the project, a skill which has been sorely and noticeably lacking in Lakoff's books.  The result is a well-written book that is both readable for a general audience and potentially important to the study of presidential history.

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