The importance of framing discussions and bargaining, especially as related to the works of George Lakoff, has been discussed at length at DailyKos. I believe one of the most important framings is the idea that we must make cuts because, “we can’t afford it.” “We can’t afford” social security, “we can’t afford” Medicare, “we can’t afford” infrastructure. Therefore we must cut all of these things because it is a necessity. It is also blatantly untrue. We can afford all these things and much, much more. We are the richest country on earth. We should be able to provide the best social services in the world and the most materially egalitarian society without breaking a sweat. There is no sword hanging over our heard for anything, no tax collector at the door. Of course people have said this over and over, but when somebody like Stephen Rattner says on Morning Joe that of course we must make cuts because “we can’t afford” he is saying it is not a conscious choice because it is a (false) necessity. It takes agency for doing good and positive works out of the hands of the decision maker. Their hands are tied, what can they do? But it is all based on a horrific lie. And we must replace that lie with the truth, we are cutting these things because “we choose not to pay” for them. We have agency in these matters, we just choose not to use it.
We choose not to pay for healing our sick. We choose not to feed our hungry. We choose not to give many of our brothers and sisters lives with dignity. We choose to have our mothers and fathers struggle in their aging years – and we choose to have them pay between the medicine that gives them relief and the heat that keeps them warm. We make conscious decisions on all these things because we want to use our money on other things. We want to use it so that our rich can live lives royalty only dreamed of. We can to use it so there’s always a pot of money for the next Texas grifter. We choose not to educate our children in the best possible way. We choose not to support our youngest and most vulnerable so that they may have a better chance in life. We choose to let families to roam the country in search of shelter and a job. We stand up and say “we choose to do these things because…” Of course there is never a because – “we cannot afford” makes it a necessity.
Years ago in high school a girl got into a top private college. Her parents wanted to send her to a state school instead (and there is nothing wrong with the state schools), but this girl had her heart set on the college. The parents said they “couldn’t afford” but we all knew how much they make. The mother wants to keep buying expensive dresses and the father loved his single malt scotch. We walked around school saying, “of course they can afford, they just don’t want to pay.” It is so easy to see the difference. They didn’t want to sacrifice a bit of their lifestyle for their daughter. They were not allowed to get away with that framing.
It is okay to say, “I don’t want to pay.” It is your choice. But be honest and forthright about who you are and what your decisions mean. “I don’t want to pay” does not mean “I can’t afford.” We must change this framing if we are to have any chance of having an honest discussion about who we are as a country.