Many people hate the term "framing." I understand at least one of their fears: framing can turn into an excuse to substitute marketing for principles. In other words, instead of a technique to get a right-on message across, framing can dilute the message, contaminate and weaken the principle. In order to be more persuasive, what we're trying to be more persuasive about gets partially junked. It's a reasonable worry.
Other people, of course, argue that framing is merely a euphemism for marketing, which is a euphemism for manipulation, and no way in hell should progressive politics be marketed because to do so means selling out to the perniciously unprogressive idea that people should be manipulated into accepting any point of view.
Who can argue that we shouldn't manipulate people? Manipulation implies lying, and nothing could be less progressive than that.
However, framing or marketing, or whatever you prefer to call it, doesn't have to be manipulative. In this world of blurbs and rapid-fire images, it seems to me we progressives are compelled to find not only the right message but the right way to deliver our message, or we might as well stick to our echo chambers. Sometimes that means quick and dirty. The Freeway Blogger knows this. As does any good political consultant.
Rightwingers have beaten us silly for decades with terms like "Tax and spend" Democrats. "Weak on defense" Democrats. And it seems to have taken us an interminably long time to learn how to effectively return fire. Last election cycle, we did this with great effect by means of "rubber-stamp Republicans."
None of this is to say progressives should abandon core principles for marketing techniques. Framing is no replacement for in-depth, rational discourse. The framer's technique is no substitute for the comprehensive analysis of, say, a Bill Moyers or digby or Orcinus (to name three of a plethora). Done right, it's a means to open people's minds to those analyses.
There is also the other side of the equation. How to smash the framing of our foes. This is a more difficult task. For example, while some have worked prodigiously to transform the Administration-framed "surge" into "escalation," that hasn't really taken hold. And we've been cornered when it comes to what is the most hollow of phrases, "support the troops." No matter how often we correctly (and with righteous fury) say the Bush Administration is doing the opposite of "supporting the troops," we haven't been able to deconstruct that phrase with all its freighted meaning.
The Administration has embedded "support the troops" so firmly into public consciousness that many actually believe opponents of the occupation of Iraq actually want, as Senator Feingold has lamented, to go to Baghdad and force soldiers to turn in their helmets, assault rifles, and vehicles, and continue fighting unarmed. The Administration has managed to persuade too many people that the phrase "support the troops" actually means the troops are being supported. Which is probably the second biggest lie of this whole disaster, the first, of course, being that we needed to invade Iraq in the first place.
Nothing progressives have come up with has been as powerful as that phrase, as proved by the fears of many wavering Democrats in the debate over the supplemental appropriations bill now working its way through the conference committee.
This week, the fruits of the rightwingers' framing abilities in another arena, reproductive rights, proved its worth. As Gloria Feldt of the Women's Media Center writes today:
The federal abortion ban is the result of language bought and repeated endlessly by journalists who were sometimes uninformed and sometimes just too lazy to get it right.
[The] partial birth abortion ban is a political scam but [also] a public relations goldmine. ... The major benefit is the debate that surrounds it.
-- Randall Terry
So said the founder of Operation Rescue, a militant anti-choice group that blockaded abortion providers, in 2003.
Wednesday's U.S. Supreme Court decision (Gonzales v. Carhart) upholding the federal abortion ban is the fruition of that pubic relations goldmine. It is a travesty of language bought and repeated endlessly by journalists who were sometimes uninformed and sometimes just too lazy to get it right.
Indeed, the travesty of language around abortion is so pervasive that even Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the decision for the court's majority, in addition to using the inaccurate term "partial birth abortion," also referred to the "abortion doctor" repeatedly in the ruling. Why did he not simply refer to doctors as "doctors," or "ob/gyns"? If another surgical procedure were under scrutiny, would he have he referred to "tonsillectomy doctor" or "hysterectomy doctor"? Of course not. But those who want to take away entirely a woman's human right to make her own childbearing decisions have used the term "abortion doctor" for so long as an epithet that they have succeeded in getting even the highest court in the land to adopt their language.
Such bias is just the tip of the iceberg in the battle over what losing plaintiff Dr. Leroy Carhart has called "partial truth abortion." ...
The public relations goldmine of those who aim for nothing less than to eliminate reproductive justice at all times from all women has paid off for them. Language, after all, has consequences too.
We have been learning that lesson about language, painfully. But we've got a long way to go.