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I understand that many progressive activists are "Enlightenment people" - they believe that all you need is a rational argument to win others to your point of view.  I'd even be willing to grant you for the sake of argument that Democratic politicians lean that way.  But I can't accept that is why the Democratic Party and/or its candidates/elected officials have not widely used political framing or otherwise taken on the war of political wording.

The people who craft the campaign ads, speeches and public relations statements for Democratic politicians simply aren't people who only use intellectual discussions of facts.  And politicians know to go beyond Enlightenment logic.  They go out and (figuratively or literally) kiss babies.  They know there's no cold, rational reason why emergency relief for natural disasters requires an elected official to personally visit the disaster area.  It's standard operating procedure for Democratic politicians to carry out these activities to appeal to the emotional side of the electorate.  If nothing else, when conservatives have stigmatized a word such as "liberal," they know to choose their words to avoid it.

Suppose for the moment, much of the concept of political framing is invalid - and that is the reason Democrats don't use that particular form of messaging.  There are still clear cases where conservatives have coined phrases specifically designed to present implicit assumptions that bias the discussion in their favor.  Even if not one single Democratic elected official could perceive this, and even if only 10% of all the elected officials' staff writers / political analysts noted it on their own - those few should have been able to bring it to the attention of a substantial part of the Democratic Party.  Yet, we still hear most Democrats saying "fiscal cliff", "right to work laws", "job creators" and the like.

Can this really be an accident?  Or is it that the politicians and/or their writers just don't have a real problem with the implicit assumptions of those phrases?

  *   *   *   *  

George Lakoff said a few years ago, "Barack Obama ran the best-organized and best-framed presidential campaign in history. How is it possible that the same people who did so well in the campaign have done so badly on health care?" From:

Lakoff suggests it was because health care reform was assigned to "policy wonks".  That doesn't seem like much of an answer to me.  On any major project, you need experts on what needs to be implemented, experts on putting that into effective legal text and experts on promoting it in plain English.  That's not some brilliant discover I just made this morning.  It would be excusable if some of the messaging was briefly lost in the shuffle - but not forgotten by everyone in Washington for an extended period of time.

The application of the idea of health care reform should have been very clear when one considers the enormous propaganda campaign launched by big business when Pres. Clinton raised the idea at the beginning of his first term.  How could the entire Democratic Party and its advisers have not anticipated a need to effectively offer the case for health care reform in response to the inevitable corporate offensive in 2009?

Finally, we have to ask, "Was the poor messaging on health care reform an exception to the norm or closer to common practice?"

  *   *   *   *   *   *

As Lakoff's statement suggests, Democrats can do messaging when trying to get elected.  So why don't they do more when trying to legislate?

      *   *   *  

In the 2012 elections, the total vote count for Democratic candidates in all the Congressional districts around the country was more than the total for all the Republican candidates.  Yet, because of gerrymandering making larger differences in Republican-run states, Republicans today have a significant majority in the House of Representatives.  This should be REALLY easy messaging to the American people.  The party that gets more votes should have more seats in Congress.  Regardless of whether the Democrats made an issue of this for cynical, partisan reasons or because of democratic idealism, it's an issue from which they could personally benefit and which offers amazing messaging potential.  So, why aren't we hearing more?

      *   *   *   *

It's not only wording, but behavior, that will have associations in the minds of Americans.  If Democrats behave as ineffective politicians, it will trigger associations in people's minds - associations that tell them that political leaders need the capability to get things done, which means ineffective politicians are poor choices for leaders.  It can trigger associations that people who claim to believe in one thing but do something different should not be trusted.  Associations that say people who are supposed to be your allies, but allow harm to come to your group no longer deserve your loyalty.  And so on.  Acting like effective leaders can convey a message which benefits a politician or party.

Originally posted to workingwords on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 09:35 AM PST.

Also republished by Political Language and Messaging.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I have written about this here for years. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Azazello, k9disc, Mark Mywurtz

    Lots of diaries about Lakoff and much more.  I hope you get an answer.  I never did.

    An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

    by don mikulecky on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 09:38:22 AM PST

  •  One word: Television (5+ / 0-)

    What most folks think of as objective, or at least balanced, news is actually where the framing takes place. The MSM are corporate controlled and coordinated and we have allowed them to set the terms of the debate; terms that both Parties operate under.

    The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

    by Azazello on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 09:44:30 AM PST

  •  They're Not Progressives. The Party is Conservativ (6+ / 0-)

    and it only includes progressives.

    When has the party run to reverse rightwing Reaganomics? They've only run to temper it. We debate 38% or 42% top marginal rates, not the 70-91% rates that built the middle class. The party's not advocating return to anti trust enforcement of business, finance and media prior to Reagan.

    Some members do, but the party doesn't.

    They have however learned that there's a cost to not messaging motivationally, and since 2010 they've been doing better at attempting to compete for votes. But that doesn't require promising progressivism.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 09:46:05 AM PST

    •  Agreed (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shahryar, Grabber by the Heel

      Why don't Democrats use progressive framing and messaging?  Because the Democratic Party is not progressive.

      In many ways, Pres. Obama has been more Bush than Bush himself.  A right-wing framing of the president's health care reform is appropriate, given the conservative origins of the reform effot.

      "The fool doth think he is wise: the wise man knows himself to be a fool" - W. Shakespeare

      by Hugh Jim Bissell on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 10:18:00 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I see this through the lens (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Catte Nappe, sebastianguy99

    of someone who grew up when the "liberal" title began to be used as a toxic form. The 60's saw a party that was imploding upon itself, much like we see here in small amounts after an election or when a moderate president doesn't apply full throated progressive legislation.

    The saying, herding cats, has always applied to the democrats in my lifetime. It amazes me how they never can pounce in a unified mass even when it is obvious to do so.

    The best critics of the right I have seen so far have come from the right. For example, this was one of the better put downs of the week, written by a former Bush staffer.

    GOP Scientology

    Finally, the Cold War lasted too long, and left a permanent garrison state; it also left a paranoid world view that demands enemies foreign and domestic. If the monolithic world Communist conspiracy is no longer with us, the Muslim caliphate will serve nicely in its stead. If there is no longer an internal Red menace boring from within, there is a secret Muslim poised to become CIA director.
    Yet nothing like this is ever in the main course of reading material on Kos, instead we fight over the nominee being a republican or not. We waste opportunity arguing over the daily feast , yet ignore the harvest. Sad.

    GOP- Fact Free since 1981!

    by KingGeorgetheTurd on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 09:52:52 AM PST

  •  A large part of "progressivism" (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    k9disc, Whatithink, Meteor Blades

    is socialism. And we can't talk about that in America. This goes to why "Democrats don't stand for anything." It's not acceptable, in the party or in the corporate press, to articulate a major portion of our logical moral core.

    Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

    by Simplify on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 09:59:27 AM PST

    •  Yes! People know this already and we should (0+ / 0-)

      embrace it. We have nothing to be ashamed of in trying to better society for ALL. So many more people would understand our goals and the movement in general if we would simply use this term more often. We should steal this term back and use it positively. We need a FP/diary on this!!!

    •  The public supports progressive policies (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Big River Bandido

      The sensible, humanitarian approach is part of our national DNA.  

      Our problem lies in corruption of our government, media and other institutions by corporate money.    They spend a great deal trying to convince the public that there is no recession, the economy is good and corporations and the 1% pay too many taxes.

      Democratic Leaders must be very clear they stand with the working class of our country. Democrats must hold the line in demanding that deficit reduction is done fairly -- not on the backs of the elderly, the sick, children and the poor.

      by Betty Pinson on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 10:20:42 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Democrats aren't progressives, is why. Most of (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Whatithink, aseth, Big River Bandido, cruz

    them aren't even "liberal" in the "left-of-center" sense of the word, either, but instead are straddling the center, with a slight rightward lean on most issues, and a scant leftward nod on others.

    Most of today's Democrats (the Party leaders and core, mind, not average Joe Democrat) would be indistinguishable from a Republican of 25-30 years ago on a majority of the key issues that are shaping our nation moving forward. This includes the President, who described himself as having policies of a moderate Republican from the Reagan era.

    •  Yes, they've moved right (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      There's still a distinction between what they say and what they do. What they say isn't as much to the right.  That's in order to maintain their voter base.  Translation: the voters aren't as far to the right.

      The average voter may have also shifted somewhat to the right in the last 30 years.  With conservatives, business & media pushing rightward messaging, and Democrats doing little counter-messaging, it's not surprising the public is affected.  At best, the Democrats are letting others push things rightward and mainly appealing to the public's more progressive wishes in empty campaign promises.

    •  5 degrees to the left of center (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      when times are good, 10 degrees to the right of center when it affects them personally. (paraphrasing Phil Ochs)

      Never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth. - Lucy Parsons

      by cruz on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 01:43:40 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Because current leaders don't like Progressives (3+ / 0-)

    They don't want to reinforce good values and quality public policy, they just want to exploit it for their low quality 11DC triangulation games.

    When Rahm Emmanuel called Progressives "effing retards" he was voicing the opinion of everyone in the WH and most of Dem leadership in the Senate and House.

    Like the current leadership of the Catholic Church, we Dems will probably need at least one more round of bad leadership before our party implodes and we can begin rebuilding it again.

    When we get money out of politics and elections, it will be much easier to educate the public and advance a Progressive agenda.

    Democratic Leaders must be very clear they stand with the working class of our country. Democrats must hold the line in demanding that deficit reduction is done fairly -- not on the backs of the elderly, the sick, children and the poor.

    by Betty Pinson on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 10:16:47 AM PST

  •  The Chicken and the Egg Problem (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    KingGeorgetheTurd, etbnc

    A lot of analysts on this topic just say that conservatives are smarter than liberals. They just learn how to persuade better than liberals do. Other analysts say that conservatives simply don't worry about the book 1984. But my observation is that many conservatives feel the opposite. They believe that liberals are smarter than they when framing. So what's going on?

    I do believe that conservatives have been better messengers since Nixon came to office in 1968. The most rememberable phrases since then have come from conservatives. For example, "The Silent Majority," "The Opportunity Society," "The Ownership Society," "Reaganomics," are all phrases coined by conservatives.

    But if conservatives were simply trained better than liberals, why were the most memorable political phrases coined by liberals from 1932-1968: "The New Deal,' The New Frontier" "Small is Beautiful," "The Great Society."

    One alternate explanation is that in this era conservative principles are more popular than liberal principles. Notice how the author says "progressive" and avoids the word "liberal" It's because liberal is now a dirty word. Because liberal principles are unpopular, to win votes politicians are coached to speak conservative language. Thus, Lakoff is wrong because he has cause and effect wrong. Messaging did not cause us to become more conservative, rather messaging became more conservative in response to the country becoming more conservative.

    My answer here is probably is going to leave you unsatisfied. I do not believe that cause and effect has to only go one way. Rather there is a feedback loop. The counrty swung to the right in the 1970s, so liberals began to speak conservative talk. But because the country did not hear the liberal message, they became more conservative. This in turn caused liberals to speak even more conservative talk, causing the country to become even more conservative. This has caused a vicious cycle. However, I do hear liberals get better at messaging. I think Obama finally talked about liberal values in his inaugural and state of the union address. Conservatives are stunned and angry because many have never heard a president speak progressive talk in their lifetimes. Perhaps, the cycle may reverse itself in the future.

    •  I think (0+ / 0-)

      conservative phrases have become more memorable because they have been repeated more by the media & even Democrats.  Young people today grew up after Reagan but being fed a Reagan mythology by the media.

    •  Perhaps, the cycle may reverse itself.... (0+ / 0-)

      Because of demographic changes. These growing demographics start voting consistently then this cycle could be reversed. Right now this voting bloc is not respected for various reasons real and/or imagined.  Right wing media is lamenting real hard about these groups and are trying to paint them as the arbiters of America's decline.

      Liberals, progressives, if they want more success in the near term should concentrate on increased voting and engagement in politics. That could include, you know, actually talking about issues that they care about first and foremost. I'm thinking income inequality, jobs, and education, over drones.

  •  We need examples of messaging and framing... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...that bites back. But, then, of course, we need a progressive message. There's 50 or more issues that this could apply to from the the war on (some) drugs to the global war on (some) terrorists. (Those two frames, with the "some," are themselves conservative messaging.)

    If we're directing these at Republicans, there are messages that can be used that might be effect if they catch on as well as the GOP's "tax and spend Democrat." Stuff like, say, "the party of no."

    One of our big problems as progressives/leftists/liberals is that many in those somewhat overlapping categories don't even like the idea of marketing their ideas. They believe the whole idea of "framing" is anathema. It's not. It's what works. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a good progressive/leftist/liberal concept and attaching a slogan to it that sticks in people's minds.

    Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

    by Meteor Blades on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 10:43:13 AM PST

  •  In the "Obamacare" example, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    the Obama administration dealt in some corporations and secured their political support. That's why there was no cohesive liberal message — we get the grab bag laundry list instead — and some Dems will tell you that's why it passed. Get some corporate big-money operators on your side, and that's the only way you have a fighting chance, they say. You see California Governor Jerry Brown do the same thing, most prominently last year with Proposition 30 taxes.

    But even better health care reform, e.g. the public option, perhaps could have passed with liberal populism. Democrats fear liberal populism, though, because they can't control it, and it means diffusion of wealth and power to the people at large. Hence how the Clintons, Kerrys, and everyone else freaked out at Howard Dean's "You have the power!" and 50-state strategy.

    Conservative populism, by contrast, is authoritarian and helps concentrate wealth and power.

    Liberals need better leadership, of course, but we do best when we play to our strengths.

    Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

    by Simplify on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 10:46:42 AM PST

    •  Big money (0+ / 0-)

      That's the self-perpetuating logic in mainstream politics.  You have to base what you do on the involvement of big money.  You can't limit big money without changing Citizens United and certain laws.  You can't make those changes because big money won't like it. So big money won't be limited, so you have to legislate according to big money...  As long as we work in that political framework, we can't get very much.

      There's some talk from a few Dems about Citizens United, but rather little.  Here's my narrative: "Imagine a candidates debate in which the guy with twice as much money gets to talk twice as much as the other candidate.  Does that make for a fair election?  Why should having twice as many ads be fair?  If a candidate has only one supporter (but who's rich) who gives $10,000, and the other candidate has 50 supports who each give $100 (for a total of $5,000), is it fair for the first candidate to have twice as many ads?"

  •  Why isn't progressive framing being used? (0+ / 0-)

    You are really asking this question? The tone deafness is unbelievable on the left that it really makes me upset. It's really simple. The progressive coalition does not vote in off year elections. Who votes in these off year elections? More conservatives, more white, more nationalistic, the more wealthy. The off year electorate, combined with gerrymandering, which is so easy because people of THIS nation self segregate themselves, is so much more conservative. Especially in local, and state elections.

    Only way to change this in the near term is to develop consistent voting patterns with the Obama/dem coalition so that party leaders know they have backing by keeping them engaged. This is why not voting means non voters don't count. All those polls for issues that have overwhelming majority support actually doesn't mean much.

    How many of those people who support min wage increase actually vote consistently in every election? Why are poor people large in number but the weakest politically? Voting is a huge reason why. I think this is where people get off track on dailykos. There's real reasons why popular opinion doesn't translate to politics all that well.  Respect the compromises that have to be made for progress. Respect these reasons and learn to deal with them, or continue to be disappointed.

    •  just partly (0+ / 0-)

      Yeah, there are non-voters, including among the poor. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Voting and being betrayed then giving up on voting, or not voting in the first place?  The gerrymander and voter suppression / intimidation folks aren't depending on poor, minorities and progressive people not bothering to vote.

      It could make an interesting study: When more liberals were elected in past decades, were those groups voting more?  If so, what made them vote then and not now?  What kind of messaging did Dems use then?

      Also, if you're right about off-year elections, that might explain Dems not using progressive messaging on off-years.  What about presidential election years?

      •  Presidential election years are no different... (0+ / 0-)

        The progressive coalition that Obama brought together just doesn't vote consistently, and that includes presidential elections. Republicans were banking on folks staying home by hook or crook and only by tremendous effort, technology, bad mistakes by the GOP and other factors did enough the vote get out.

        There's still doubt that this coalition will come out again if Obama is not on the ticket, so has the situation really changed? nope. People still doubting facts about the demographic changes. So that answers why rhetoric is primarily aimed at swing voters who are much more conservative overall.

        Each part of the progressive coalition has their issues and other candidates are likely to be less effective than President Obama going forward in my opinion.  I already see warning signs in voting patterns. Non swing states had lower turnout for instance. No evidence of off year turnout getting better.

        Not until this progressive coalition keeps coming out to vote in every election showing that it is a force to be reckoned they will continue to be ignored to the extent that it has. Voting is something everybody has the power to do on their own. Chicken and egg? Voting comes first. Can't demand a damn thing if you are not engaging in the political process. Demanding first but not leverage, so you can be ignored, or worse, progressives falling on a sword because they have no backup from the actual voters not just supporters.

        This is beyond simple. The votes are already there for progressives if people actually vote. On the bright side, Obama is trying to keep people engaged with issues unlike what happened in 2009.

    •  Actually voting patterns are fairly consistent. (0+ / 0-)

      It isn't that liberals and progressives don't vote in off-year elections; it's that people in general vote in fewer numbers. Ideology isn't really a factor there.

  •  The success of the DLC/3rd Way crowd in gaining (0+ / 0-)

    control of the party leadership posts is going to be with us for some little while to come. The good news is that their message, like the repug's, is stale and increasing out of step with the base of the party and more importantly, with the FUTURE base of the party, which looks to be on  its way to becoming the national majority voter block in 2016 and beyond.

    The appeal of repug lite is not so much when repug ideas and policies are increasingly toxic and, well, repugnant.

    I'm thinking about joining my local Democratic Party again. Well, maybe after I get a look at 2014.

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