For the purposes of this diary, 'P' Word = Ponzi or Ponzi Scheme
When it comes to framing a debate, conservatives pretty much eat our(progressive's) lunch. We're in the middle of letting it happen again ever since Rick Perry started suggesting that Social Security is a 'P' word. If we let them win the framing debate in this case, they're going to start eating our parent's and grandparent's lunch.
For those who've never heard the term 'framing' or need a refresher course on it, then I suggest you read jamess's diary, "The Framing Game -- with some Advice from George Lakoff". It's a good introduction to the topic and the work of George Lakoff (a man who will likely die before most progressives properly realize the extent of his contributions to the political Left). One of the first lessons of framing a debate is that you can't win by just negating your opponent's frame.
(quoting Jamess's diary)
Negating a frame activates that frame. Using conservative language to argue against conservatives just reinforces conservative framings. Environmental language must avoid activating anti-environmental frames and anti-environmental language. For example, defending science activates the idea the science needs defending and so is questionable. Go on offense, not on defense.
So to everyone who keeps saying, explaining, pointing out, and pontificating how Social Security is not a 'P' word, you are, in a way, helping Rick Perry destroy Social Security.
The media has certainly played it's part of useful stooge when it comes to Perry's use of the 'P' word and Social Security. A quick google search reveals many articles either explaining that Social Security isn't a 'P' word, or worse, asking the questions "is it a 'P' word". This is, of course, what conservatives want. Even if they ultimately lose the argument "is social security a 'P' word", they will still have moved the debate away from "should seniors have to live off of cat food?" to discussing the very morality of Social Security.
Progressives have responded in our typical way. The truth, and nothing but the truth. Unfortunately, that truth has been framed in conservative friendly ways. Even when we defend social security we title our posts like:
"No, social security is not a ponzi scheme"
Social Security Is Not A Ponzi Scheme
Social Security vs. Ponzi schemes in one Venn diagram
This is classic frame negating. It might work in formal debate, but in politics, all it's going to do is strengthen the connectors in people's brain between Social Security and the concept of a 'P' word. My co-blogger in the group Money and Public Purpose, had (imho) the best breakdown of all the different ways that Social Security isn't a 'P' word. It was well written, logical, and devastating to anyone trying to make such a ridiculous claim. However, it still repeatedly put the concepts of Social Security and the 'P' word together.
So, how should progressive's respond to such ridiculous attacks on social security. Well, we should continue to react as we normally do. With the truth and nothing but the truth, however, with the added twist of redefining the debate. Our response should be(again, quoting jamess's diary)
Simple, concise. Value-laden. Strikes an emotional chord. [My take on the topic.]
Those are the ABC's of constructing a Frame, that can move the masses, of people too busy to follow the day-to-day political details.
Instead of saying, "Social Security isn't X'. Skip that part and go directly towards saying what it is. My preference is to say something like "Social Security is a promise
. It is a promise to our Parents and Grandparents that after a lifetime of working hard, that even if something terrible happens to your life savings (e.g. an unscrupulous corporation like Enron steals your pension fund), you can retire with dignity and without burdening your children." This won't end the argument with conservatives, but now the argument has been reframed favorably. Where a ponzi scheme is just that, a "scheme" that, from a moral perspective", should be stopped as soon as possible; a promise is something that, morally, you don't break and you keep. Arguing about whether or not we can keep our promise to Seniors, is much better than arguing about whether or not social security is a criminal enterprise.
You may have another way that you prefer to reframe the social security debate. That's fine, use what you feel comfortable and can defend morally. I use "Social Security is a promise" because that's how I feel about it, and if I google the phrase, I get nearly a million hits - so I know I'm not the only one framing the debate that way.
Finally, if you do end up getting bogged down in the details of a ponzi scheme, I suggest you read Letsgetitdone's diary on the topic. Even though it doesn't reframe the debate, it shows all the ways Social Security isn't a 'P' using simple logic and also explores some policy options, as well as motivations behind these Social Security attacks that are rarely talked about.