GET THIS FRAMING STUFF THROUGH YOUR THICK, SELF-IMPORTANT SKULLS, LIBERALS
George Lakoff, in an essay at Truthout.org, explains once again why liberals and progressives– even after eight years of Bush’s right-wing excesses seemed to exhaust conservative legitimacy and hand liberals political power (including a black president [!])– keep finding themselves befuddled and frustrated by conservative politics. Of course, Lakoff doesn’t get into how liberals and progressives frustrate their own alleged desires by choosing pro-corporate candidates instead of true populists, but that’s a dead horse due for a separate beating.
I’m not smart enough to extrapolate immediate solutions from Lakoff’s analysis (especially considering the aforementioned pro-corporate bent of the Democratic Party). However, I do see some manifestations of Lakoff’s concepts down here in the trenches of the blogosphere. Lakoff illustrates the difference between ‘real reason’ and ‘false reason.’ He believes that conservative opinion makers have excelled at manipulating real reason, while liberals consistently impale themselves on false reason.
In fewer places is this dynamic more apparent than in the general liberal rejection of religion. Many a liberal writer or blogger can easily recite the latest polling numbers reflecting U.S. citizens’ belief in either evolution or creation. To these liberals, the number of people who believe in the Biblical account of creation (to varying degrees of literality) while rejecting evolutionary theory is far too high. To these liberals, religion represents an irrational belief system that is antithetical to progressive democratic ideals. Religion in the hands of manipulative megalomaniacs and reactionary zealots has certainly proven to be disastrous, but this is beside the point.
Conservative activists and leaders are not all true believers in the religious doctrines of many of their followers, but they understand the importance of incorporating and exploiting religiosity and piety in achieving their political goals. Briefly speaking, the marriage between pro-business, ‘free-market’ conservatives and the Religious Right was the consummation of this concept.
The recent strain in that relationship should not be taken for granted by liberals. While it is likely true that piety and religiosity merely provide many conservatives with a cultural and doctrinal framework for underlying fears and loathings, dwelling on that fact is too much like false reason. The failures of conservatism in governance have indeed provided liberals with an opportunity to right the ship of the republic. However, in order to do so they’ll have to swallow their arrogance and be willing to set aside their false reason. They’ll have to reframe their arguments in ways that appeal to the beleaguered working class and middle class voters who’ve all too often thrown in their lot with their material enemies in the GOP. This probably means liberals will have to set aside their proclivities for ridiculing their faithful fellow citizens with such demeaning characterizations as “Flying Spaghetti Monster” and “Church of the Mouse and Disco Ball.” Another good point liberals might want to remember is that most religious doctrines contain teachings that are fully compatible with contemporary liberal policy prescriptions (for example, the Gospel records Jesus Christ healing the sick and injured— and even raising the dead– without once charging for his divine services).
As George Lakoff illustrates, objective ‘truth’ and factual foundation are the weaker vessel in political discourse. If liberals are to gain any lasting ground, they’re going to have to understand the power of moral arguments and framing. They’re going to have to understand how their own ‘rightness’ is often the source of their most profound frustration. Considering how liberals are profoundly financially outgunned and historically out-organized, they’ll need the humility and savvy to fight with whatever weapons they can find or craft.