from BOP in its entirety without permission or the author's knowledge. Somebody get this in front of Howard Dean's eyes. Read it and you'll know why.
Lakoff By Bai
by Glenn Smith
Matt Bai's long, interesting, and ultimately flawed piece on George Lakoff is revealing about how Democrats work and play together. Or how they don't.
Has anyone ever noticed that the D.C. Street Elite always manage to win these contests? Somebody from beyond the Potomac has an idea, a strategy, might just possibly be paid (!!!) money the Elite would otherwise keep for themselves, and all hell breaks loose. When the dust settles, the Elite are on their feet. The outsider's back outside.
That's the story Bai misses.
The story he tells is, Lakoff has some important ideas about language and framing. These ideas catch people's attention. The important ideas become a craze, a fad. They're oversimplified and misunderstood. The fad starts to alienate some smart, independent, cool people who know they themselves are above all fads. Lakoff's a victim of his own success.
I've been working with George for some years now. The importance of his work was obvious to me from the late 90s when I read "Moral Politics." My copy of that book is marked up with more marginalia, stars, underlines etc. than almost any other book I own. I have my disagreements, really suggestions for deepening or broadening the work. But there's power in his ideas.
Another problem touched on or made more visible by George but not addressed directly: most political opinion methodology sucks. It sucks because it's overdetermined from the beginning. An example? Post 9/11 and through the 2002 cycle every smart pollster we had said, "Go with Bush on the war. The people support him. They'll kill you if you oppose him." So, we dutifully dressed Bush in a Military Uniform. We tried to take it back in 2004, but it was too late.
Now, few Americans (beyond Democratic loyalists) were going to reject Bush's propaganda unless some voices of leadership gave them an alternative. No alternative, they go with the president. But the pollsters say, "Don't give the people an alternative." Who could be surprised that a Midwestern voice asking a poll question on the telephone does not count as a voice of authority?
This is as close as we got to opposing Bush. ....
Meanwhile, the President's on television saying: "I'm going it. Saddam dead or alive. Cover my back." Who's the respondent gonna follow?
So one of the things George brings is an ability to think past the all-too-predictable recommendations of the D.C. Street Elite. Then, I'll be damned, here comes the NYT (who called them?) with a story about Lakoff's meteoric rise and possible decline among the D.C. Street Elite.
Why isn't this a problem on the other side? Lakoff's helped us here as well. One answer is that they've been at the game in a coordinated fashion with billions of dollars for more than three decades.
Another reason: Republicans keep their pollsters and consultants at a professional distance. On our side, consultants become friends, confidants, almost family members of their clients (mostly in the U.S. Senate -- that's where the money is). This is born of an essential insecurity. Which is born from the secret understanding that their work is pedestrian, and that the only way they can guarantee their spot in the Street Elite is by becoming friends of the people who spend money on them.
Now, Howard Dean outlasted this scenario (I think). So did Joe Trippi (I think). But then, they weren't threatening anybody's income.
Smart people will keep digging into the complexities of language, what makes people believe this or that, et cetera. I'm just not sure we have enough smart people. Especially among the elite.