More than an election message

George Lakoff offers his take on some of the mistakes Democrats are making currently in their overall message to the nation compared to the Republicans, with the backdrop and rulings from Rush Limbaugh on proper behavior for the Republican political leadership:

Why conservative lies_spread_and what progressives can do to fight them

Fit matters. The brain is a “best-fit” system. The better a new frame “fits” existing frames, the more effective it will be; that is, the more people will think, and make decisions, using that frame

For important domains of thought, like morality, religion, and politics, it is commonplace for people to have two inconsistent frame systems that inhibit each other… When you can shift back and forth on an issue, you are bi-conceptual on that issue. That is, you can frame the issue in two ways, using inconsistent higher-level frame systems.

The more the language of frame is repeated, the stronger the frame gets, along with the system the frame is in. And the weaker the frames of the contradictory system gets. The stronger high-level frames are, the more effective frames that fit them will be. And the less effective frames that contradict them will be.

Frames are conceptual; they are the elements of thought. Most thought is unconscious. Words activate frames. We are rarely conscious of the frames that are activated by the words we hear. Yet those frames are there in our brain circuitry, and more we hear the words, the stronger the frames get, even though we aren’t aware of it.

Framing is the establishment of permanent (or long-term) high-level frames and systems of frames with the brains of voters…

An important part of framing is the establishment of prototypes: social stereotypes, prototypes (typical case, ideals, nightmares, salient exemplars). Stereotypes are used in automatic reasoning and decision-making.

This messaging system has existed and has been extended and strengthened over many years. Democrats have a few of these elements, but they are relatively ineffective, since they tend to view messaging as short-term and issue-based, rather than long-term and morally based. Democrats tend not to understand how framing works, and often confuse framing (which is deep, long-term, systematic, morality-based, and conceptual) with messaging (which is shallow, short-term, ad hoc, policy-based, and linguistic).


Democrats have a few of these elements, but they are relatively ineffective, since they tend to view messaging as short-term and issue-based, rather than long-term and morally based. Democrats tend not to understand how framing works, and often confuse framing (which is deep, long-term, systematic, morality-based, and conceptual) with messaging (which is shallow, short-term, ad hoc, policy-based, and linguistic).

The “evidence” comes from polls and focus groups that test the normal “mainstream” language and logic, versus language and logic that is not “mainstream.” This is, naturally, conservative language and logic, because the conservative messaging system has systematically made it that way patiently over years. The pollsters therefore report that the “mainstream” of Americans prefer the conservative language and logic, and the policies that go with them. The pollsters then suggest moving to right to go to where the public is. They then construct and test messages that move enough to right to satisfy the “mainstream.” They also construct “good arguments.” If the “good arguments” activate the conservative worldview, the conservative position will just get stronger in the brains of the voters.

To work long-term, progressive messaging must be sincere and direct, must reflect progressive moral values, and must be repeated. Progressive framing is about saying what you believe, telling the truth, and activating the progressive worldview already present in the minds of those who are partly conservative and partly progressive.

Framing is, of course, about policy, more than about messaging. What you say should go hand-in-hand with what you think and do.

And, of course, the best messaging requires an excellent communications system, or it won’t be heard. Progressives have the money to build such a system. The question is whether they understand the desperate need for such a system, and whether they have the will to build it.

Of course the comments on the post settled nothing. The post is long on intellectual type of thought and short on examples. But it is instructive to note that the energy behind a belief is not something that ebbs and flows simply by vote counts, it is something enduring demanding resources and effort on a daily basis by bearing witness in big and small ways.

And the confusion between ‘frame’ and ‘message’ is constantly displayed in comments when it comes to political messaging…especially in a forced two party system.

To illustrate, allowing the labels ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ to define the abortion issue was a major mistake from my point of view. ‘Anti-choice’ keeps the label to the issue and does not allow ‘pro-life’ groups kudos for things not included in their agenda.

Lakoff uses the immigration debate as an illustration, but I wish he would develop better stories. The use of the term ‘illegals’ is a pejorative, but even Mitt Romney trusted illegals to come into his house in MA to take advantage of their work ethic. Americans often invite illegals into their homes and even leave them to walk around unattended, and ask them to care for their children, or cook their meals. There are some bad apples, but crime is down despite this invasion.

More to come.

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