Monday, September 01, 2008

Of framing, intelligent design, and Sarah Palin ...

George Lakoff, Berkeley linguist and advisor to various Democratic groups, has an excellent blog at the Huffington Post on the Republicans' consistent success in connecting with regular voters. The idea is not new: Voters don't process political ideas and information as disconnected facts. Rather, efficient information processing involves tying new information to existing cultural narratives and cognitive schemas. And the candidate who is most successful at helping voters establish these links will also be able influence public perception of these issues. Or as Lakoff puts it:
"Our job is to bring external realities together with the reality of the political mind. Don't ignore the cognitive dimension. It is through cultural narratives, metaphors, and frames that we understand and express our ideals."
The only thing that is surprising about all of this, is that after the Gore and Kerry debacles, the Democrats still haven't gotten the hang of this. And McCain/Palin are ready to debate their views on the environment, intelligent design, and gun rights ... and show voters how they connect to the key themes of the campaign that McCain outlined them on the morning news shows last Sunday and that make intuitive sense to a lot of voters: peace, prosperity, and reform.
[...] Palin is masterful at the Republican game of taking the Democrats' language and reframing it -- putting conservative frames to progressive words: Reform, prosperity, peace. She is also masterful at using the progressive narratives: she's from the working class, working her way up from hockey mom and the PTA to mayor, governor, and VP candidate. Her husband is a union member. She can say to the conservative populists that she is one of them -- all the things that Obama and Biden have been saying. Bottom-up, not top-down.

Yes, the McCain-Palin ticket is weak on the major realities. But it is strong on the symbolic dimension of politics that Republicans are so good at marketing. Just arguing the realities, the issues, the hard truths should be enough in times this bad, but the political mind and its response to symbolism cannot be ignored. The initial Democratic response to Palin -- the response based on realities alone -- indicates that many Democrats have not learned the lessons of the Reagan and Bush years.

(Click here for the full article.)