I know it is a bone. But, I like it. I am tired of Democrats afraid of throwing bones. Nobody will remember this by 2006 except the activists who worked under the radar exposing fraud in Ohio even though they knew it wouldn't change the outcome. This ultimately has little impact, but that is kind of the point. Democrats have for so long been unwilling to rock the boat even a little bit. This is part of what Josh Marshall calls "losing the right way." Think about what you said: Republicans do it all the time. Is it any mystery why they have such a revved up base? Could it be that they spend a good amount of time displaying their appreciation for their base and validating their feelings? I think so...
I am arguing that we need not be held back by abuses of power that we committed 10-20 years ago. Of course concentrated power has a corrupting influence for both parties. But we now have a lot less concentrated power than the Republicans and this opens up the opportunity for us to build a national narrative about conservatism and its current, specific brand of corruption.
It was widely observed in the late 1990s that the technological revolution and the internet would cause two major strains of reaction. One reaction would be fear, anti-modernism and cynicism in the form of all kinds of exploitation, terror and the general mayhem that comes from a cheap, barrier free communication medium.
The other reaction, however, was more hopeful. Bill Clinton understood this very well (I am speaking here less of his policies and more of his arguments as a politician and commentator). He emphasized and recognized the challenges of the new information technology revolution and particularly the difficulties it presents for people participating in sectors of the economy prone to degrade under the new globalized system. But, he said that we should face these challenges with tools and with strength. Government would play a role in providing tools for innovation in a new limitless economy.
Bill Clinton's globalized world was inclusive, collaborative and challenging, but optimistic. The conservative globalized world envisions the barbarians poised to sac Rome anew. People may fear that, but are they really driven to excel by emphasizing that fear? If you look at the economy under Bush, it appears that the answer is a resounding no. Chris is right, we stand for the values that work in the new economy and the values that foster the great cooperation and collaboration possible under these new conditions. They want to wall people off, just like during the Cold War. My diary has some things to say about our economic message in relation to Lakoff's book. I am planning to do a whole series on this topic.
I know that Lakoff says facts bounce off frames, but some facts are frames in and of themselves. The central fact/frame in the battle against gerrymandering is that it is virtually impossible to vote members of Congress out of office--meaning that the people's House doesn't belong to the people anymore. A 95% incumbancy rate turns the people's House into the Politburo, plain and simple.
The liberal blogosphere has been smitten with George Lakoff's book, Don't Think of an Elephant. Indeed, Lakoff writes with such lucidity and passion that I think it would be fair to place this book in a privileged list of great American political pamphlets. History will determine if my judgment about that is foolish, since it will depend upon how much this book actually influences changes in the future, which I have no way of predicting. But should it come to influence a new progressive movement, I suspect the book will be around for a long time.
A quick synopsis: Lakoff argues that political ideas are not influenced as much by facts as they are by linguistic frames, or ideas invoked by words. Since large social organizations like nations are too big to grasp intimately, humans tend to understand nations as they do smaller social groups, particularly families. These two observations lead him to conclude that ideas about family organization intimately influence our politics.
He argues that there are two main approaches to family politics in America: the strict father approach and the nurturant parent approach. Both of these approaches flow from different values and views about the way the world operates, what it means to be happy, moral and healthy and so on. While all people have elements of both approaches in their private lives, Lakoff's key insight is that dedicated political activists are people who have decided which approach will roughly govern their political views. Liberals are decided nurturant parents. Conservatives are decided strict fathers. Swing voters are thus people who have not decided which family approach they will apply to the political realm. Activating the progressive, nurturant parent frames in them is the key to victory. This is incidentally also the reason why playing to your political base works: you reaffirm the values of your dedicated activists and also frame the debate in a way that sets off those frames in undecided people.
I have not yet seen a review that challenges Lakoff's essential prescription for the Democrats: to activate progressive frames in people who have not decided which set of frames will govern their politics. I am sure there will be more here.
I do not disagree with the idea that we need to fight a linguistic turf war. I do hope, however, that this book does not become something that liberal activists rely upon singularly for answers. It is a springboard. Lakoff is correct that changing the language is social change of a sort. Among the hard evidence he provides for this is how our values lead our elites to spend money helping people rather than building party strength, meaning that conservatives win political battles that cause us to participate in the privitization of basic government services.
Because I am concerned with on-the-ground issues, I hope that liberal activists do not neglect a sorely needed policy debate. As I have argued before here: http://corkedbats.blogspot.com/2004/11/economics-and-our-difficulties.html, we are facing a crisis on the left that emerged around the end of the Cold War. When communism was widely discredited, the free market right sought to expand their war against "pinkos" to include all government regulation of the economy. "Deregulation" and welfare "reform" were made possible by the uncomfortable position of American liberals, who were very rarely communists, but nonetheless believed in ideals and values supported by socialism as a competing economic system. When this foundation came crumbling down, liberals were in retreat for simply being liberals, whether they were espousing workable economic policy or not (see my discussion of Sweden and The 700 Club here: http://corkedbats.blogspot.com/2004/12/how-to-debate-pat-robertson-case-study.html). The right claimed victory in the Cold War (and we only need to recall the "Reagan won the Cold War" media circle jerk to understand this) and has used it to cheap shot the left to death ever since. And they have done it by claiming falsely that we were too weak or too communist ourselves to stand up against the "obvious" evil of the Soviet system.
Given this recent history, it will take more than simply activating our frames to gain widespread support for liberalism again, so liberals should not be lulled into believing that Lakoff's book is carte blanche to ignore our serious lack of an economic message that makes sense. The global economy has undergone revolutionary change in the last 15 years, particularly with the growth of the internet. Job security in the way our grandparents knew it is a thing of the past. Company loyalty is a thing of the past. Our economy is fast paced. The blue collar world is shrinking. Given these realities, many people view our very frames and our family values as being hopelessly naive. Simply activating these frames will not work, we must also defend them. Over the long term, we cannot sustain ourselves by repackaging protectionism, we just have to find a new way to unlock the potential of ordinary people and care for them in a free market world. Our policies need new ideas, in other words, to assist us in the credible defense of our frames.
I think the place to start is to focus on three values of the new economy: optimism, accountability, and innovation. Republican policies in the face of the information revolution have centered on fear (the Y2K paranoia, war on terror, internet speech crackdowns), secrecy (use of the media to destroy people's belief in the value of a skeptical free press), and crony capitalism (which stunts innovation on the part of fledgling competitors). We do not need to promise jobs, but policy visions that unlock the opportunities inherent in the new world, not foster fear of it (for more fear, go here: http://www.letitblog.com/epic/). Let's rethink education in light of the internet revolution and think about ways to bring people into the bounty. There is so little discussion about the hopeful side of globalization anymore that it is really our opportunity to invent new connections that have truly beneficial effects for regular people. It is fertile ground to craft a new "Progressive" message and set of ideas in every sense of the word.
We must invoke our frames, but we also must create credibility by understanding basic truths about our economy and the future of it or we will be framing ourselves into a shrinking box in the corner of the room.