Tag Archives: framing

Lakoff Part Deux

Professor Robinson brought up some <a href=”https://election2008ucdenver.wordpress.com/2008/09/16/lakoff-metaphors-and-08-campaign-oh-my/#comment-329″>great points</a> in his comments about my last post regarding <a href=”https://election2008ucdenver.wordpress.com/2008/09/16/lakoff-metaphors-and-08-campaign-oh-my/#comments”>George Lakoff</a>. I would like to address them and other issues that have crept up over the past couple weeks.

<em>”…the real debates are not about frames–they are about fundamental policies.”</em>

Professor Robinson is right, the real debate is about fundamental policies. The debate between Democrats and Republicans are fundamentally about the differences in policies. We have no need here, to rehash the differences, as long as we take as fact, that there are differences. The differing policy positions truly determine how someone is going to lead and what they are going to do while in office. This is probably the most vital functions of elections. Determining which policy position is the correct one. I would challenge the majority of people to tell us the last person to win the office president who focused their campaigns on policy positions.

Kerry and Gore focused their campaigns on policy, Bush didn’t. Clinton, Dole and Bush Sr. did not focus on policy. While Clinton did not focus on policy issues he did touch on it. Bush Sr. in 1988 did not focus on policy Dukakis did. Reagan spoke very generally about policy but was more focused on ideas and vision. As far back as most people would like to go, the winning presidential candidate’s focus was not on policy.
The American people unfortunately have a history of voting for people who are not focused on policy. The general consensus is that Bush Jr. won two terms because he was somebody people <a href=”http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=OTFhYjk3NDNmMGFjYTNmZWZlYmY1NzkzYmYzNzc2YTI=”>wanted to have a beer with</a>, Clinton was a charmer and had a silver tongue he was able to present a vision which people believed in and clung to:

Bush Sr., was someone that people trusted was a continuation to continue the Reagan legacy. None of these Presidents focused on policy, instead they all won election from something far more intangible, they won because they were able to “argue” that they were the best man for the job. They were able to “frame ” an argument in which the majority of the populace (excepting Bush Jr. in 2000) that they were the “correct” person to lead the country. To convince a large group of people that they are the cight person for the job, the candidates had to campaign in way to alienate the least number of voters. Often people talk about being disappointed that they had to vote for the<a href=”http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract;jsessionid=E82DC2AEC0DDD5D47E9482627A9B522B.tomcat1?fromPage=online&amp;aid=105425#”&gt; lesser of two evils</a>. In reality, this is by design.

Lakoff argues that the Democrats have the progressive ideals that people crave. He also argues that the Democrats have forwarded policies which aggressive enough to capture most of the left but not so progressive that it alienates those people in the center. I would argue that the democrats ideas and policies have been the right policies for each particular moment in history. That however does not change the fact that over the past thirty to forty years, the democrats have been on the losing side of the vast majority of presidential elections. I believe that both Lakoff and I would argue that the lack of winning is not because the policy proposals are bad or not good enough; instead these losses are directly attributable to a lack of communicating these policies in a way which is easily conformable to <a href=”http://labs.google.com/inquotes/”>sound-bites</a&gt;.

A political sound-bite is not a way of communicating policies but instead a way of communicating ideas. The key is to frame the policy in a way that the ever present <a href=”http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fourth%20estate”>fourth estate</a>, will decide to use in their own interests. For instance, a policy proposal on taxes will in some way effect every American. Realistically, something that is going to affect all Americans is going to be fairly lengthy. Something that is short enough to fit into a 8 to 30 second sound-bite is unlikely to contain or able to communicate a policy proposal.

Politics today largely come down to these sound-bites. As a result policy can only be on the periphery of the discussion. While it is the most important part of the discussion, it is in no way influential enough. Instead it is more important to frame the policy debate in a way which will receive the most electoral votes. This is done through framing sound-bites and framing an argument which reaches beyond the base. A presidential candidate has to frame themselves not as the best person for the job; instead they must frame themselves as a better person for the job then their opponent. This, in successful presidential campaigns, is done through framing the argument to promote themselves and/or denigrating their opponent/s.


Filed under McCain, Media, Negative Campaigning, Obama, Voter Demographics

Lakoff, Metaphors, and 08 campaign oh my

A brief explanation, and probably incorrect application, of George Lakoff’s cognitive linguistic approach to politics using metaphors: A two part series.

The books:

The Metaphors:

Lakoff offers the basic argument that their are two different metaphors through which people view politics. The first is the strict father metaphor. In this Lakoff that some people are raised with a philosophy that equals to something like a family with a strong dominating father which must discipline children into becoming good strict fathers in their turn. This is really a metaphor for conservatives. They view the government as father and the citizens as children. Some of the morals that come to mind when someone pictures a strict father such as financially responsible, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, and the strong authority figure; are how conservatives normally view the world.

Liberals However look at politics through the nurturing parent metaphor. This metaphor suggests that mothers and fathers try to stop children from being corrupted. In this metaphor government acts as both mother and father with the children again as citizens. The liberal morality is defined through this metaphor with the parents trying to keep their children (the citizens) out of trouble and helping when they are down. Crime, poverty, global warming, welfare, universal health care, etc. are all part of what parents try to help their children with in this metaphor.

Lakoff argues that this is the place where current political debate lies. Lakoff also argues that the reason why conservatives have been so successful in recent presidential elections is because they framed the debate as the strict father debate. With that framing, or without an equally convincing framing, coming from liberals then liberals have little chance of winning presidential elections.

In the following video Lakoff offers a complete explanation of this theory and some of how it is applied to the current presidential debate.


From the current perspective it easy to use hindsight and see how this was true not only for Reagan Bush  1 and Bush 2 but also for Clinton. Clinton framed his presidency in this way with an emphasis on welfare reform and economic reform. NAFTA is a prime example of Clinton using these ideas to further the economic goals he had set for his presidency. If you want to trade thats okay as long as everybody is trading fairly. “Pay-Go” is a good example of Clinton pushing the same philosophy on congress. If you want to have a new toy (program) find out where you can make or save money to pay for it.

During the current presidential campaign the distinction is deeper. Today we can see the very hardline Strict father model in both McCain and Palin. Palin attempts to portray the strict father role much as McCain does. They both argue that their moral views are the right ones and that the laws should be changed to reflect this.

Obama seems to be trying to re-frame the debate by focusing n the future. He seems to use more of the nurturing parent model. He rails against the current administration and Washington Politics but seems to do so from a position which allows for people to find their own way. It has almost become a joke, his use of the word hope. However it is exactly that word which is drawing so many moderates and the liberal bas to him. The word hope can be perceived as a word pertaining to both metaphors. In the strict father model, hope may be something to have but not rely upon. In the nurturing parent model hope is something to always hold close. Hope in the strict father model could be seen as something to have but achievable through hard work and the do it yourself con do spirit that people “remember” from the 40’s and 50’s. Hope in the nurturing parent model is something to always hold dear.
In the second of this two part series we will answer questions from this one and look deeper into the Lakoff metaphor as it pertains to the 2008 elections.


Filed under Democratic Party, McCain, Media, Obama, Republican