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April 07, 2005

More Lakoff

Lindsay Beyerstein has a thoughtful response* to my post on Lakoff from a few days back. Yes, I said from a few days back. Which is kinda important because blog posts have the lifespan of fruitflies** -- come each dawn, the bell is tolling for all those words you wrote the day before, which kinda sucks. So it's nice to see one achieve some shelf life. But I digress.

She takes issue with my lashing of Lakoff's "nurturant parent" model which, she explains, isn't meant to be a frame so much as a way of conceptualizing how the two parties view themselves. Fair enough. But that doesn't, as I see it, much change the critique. Whether it's the wellspring our frames emanate from or the frame itself doesn't much matter; in the end, whatever emerges will always be pointing to the nurturant parent v. strict father choice, a a match-up we'll lose.

That's because, in the the American polity, the idea of the strict father is stronger than the idea of the nurturant parent. That's how Republicans win elections -- not on health care and education and Social Security, all places the nurturant model functions best, but on scaring people over foreign threats. The nurturant parent will never win on terrorism. It's no coincidence that the only presidential recently won by Democrats fell between the collapse of the Soviet Union and 9/11. With domestic issues dominant, nurturant parent won; when foreign policy returned, it lost. So while nurturant parent is a fine starting place for explaining how we take care of our fellow citizens, it's no good for protecting them from alien dangers.

This means that the way we conceptualize and articulate ourselves at present doesn't work. Whether we're actually saying nurturant parent or just operating off its tenets, we need to change it. We need to understand that, as Clinton says, the American people prize strength above all else. Now, we may be able to combine strength with values more natural to our worldview, but we're going to have to figure out how, on terrorism, to be a tough dad rather than a nurturing parent. And I fear that viewing ourselves through this inherently unworkable prism is not the best way to start that evolution. NP may have a use for part of our philosophy, but I don't see any way it can possibly contribute towards a successful foreign policy philosophy.

* Seriously, go read it.
** Actually, it's 1/37th the lifespan of a fruitfly, as they live only 37 days. Still, you get the point.

April 7, 2005 in Strategy | Permalink

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» Framing Lakoff from Across the Great Divide
Lakoff's work is based in cognitive science, and as you can imagine, most political minds would prefer to get right to the short version, which has become this set of metaphors: The Nation is a Family. Conservatives favor a family led by a Strict Fat... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 8, 2005 1:05:32 AM

» Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company from Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company
Inspired by the back-and-forth between Ezra Klein and Lindsay Beyerstein here, here, and here, I offer my own ideas on framing that completely bypass the "strict father" vs. "nurturant parent" debate. [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 8, 2005 9:25:11 AM

» More framing from Majikthise
Ezra argues that Americans will always prefer a strict father over a nurturant parent when it comes to foreign policy. "Strict father" and and "nurturant parent" are just names for clusters of metaphors. Everyone has internalized both. When we frame [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 8, 2005 3:35:55 PM

Comments

Lindsay didn't do it, so I have been trying to think of words, phrases, images to replace "nuturing parent" with something more reassuring on NatSec issue. Without a lot of success, but that doesn't mean it is impossible.

"Empowering", "Enabling", "Liberating" "Supportive" (yeccch). The image of the father dropping the daughter off at college, or admiring the new military uniform, with pride glistening in the eyes.

You can be a tough protective dad without being auhoritarian or poised for violence.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 7, 2005 5:48:51 PM

Ezra:

Any chance you can get Jesse to kick Amanda off your old site?

Posted by: Ugh | Apr 7, 2005 7:50:39 PM

Bob (and Ezra), the problem is that you can't out-tough their pose just by creating a new image for Democrats.

You need to challenge the Bushite strong-daddy frame and redefine it as something else. Then Democrats can position themselves in a way that makes them look stronger.

Posted by: Swopa | Apr 7, 2005 8:22:43 PM

I don't think we should go too far with this "parent" metaphor. It just isn't a great way to, ahem, frame the debate.

But insofar as it could be used, we should use it to portray the GOP as the drunken, unemployed, sexually abusive father, the one who gets shot at the end of the movie.

There's been a little bit of our leaders pointing out how the GOP is batshit crazy. We need more of this, and more hard-hitting rhetoric about how DeLay and his cronies are abusing all of us.

Posted by: Stephen | Apr 7, 2005 9:40:26 PM

A sort of "abusive" father frame might work. It both paints people who support him as weak (and to be blunt womanly), which the wingnuts will hate being seen as. Also the frame here is not the Democrats as the battered wife, but Democrats as the new stronger not crazy man.

Posted by: Asteele | Apr 7, 2005 9:50:57 PM

Your right, nobody wants to be the bitch.

Posted by: Tony | Apr 8, 2005 2:31:08 AM

Any chance you can get Jesse to kick Amanda off your old site?

You just had to be that guy, didn't you?

Posted by: Thad | Apr 8, 2005 2:32:48 AM

I think the strict-father metaphor works really well to describe the conservative frame. However, like Ezra pointed out there's no such thing a gender-neutral nuturing parent and neithe ris their a frame based on it. Lakoff's diagnosis of Republican language (Orwellian, strict father) and his counsel that Dems adopt language that adopts language that evokes a gender-neutral nuturing parent strikes me as worse that "bringing a knife to a gun fight." It's like bringing a teddy bear.

I think there has long been a progressive/liberal/labor counter frame (instead of a me, me, me, and my familty frame that is the strict-father frame). It's called SOLIDARITY. It's about community, bonding together, and fighting for your fellow man (or woman). It's about a world where there is something greater than just me, myself, and I. Lakoff's frame on taxes, one of his few decent ones fits well here.

I also think that there is a way to appeal what I will call Solidarity voters and strict-father voters. I think its the frame of leadership. It crosses both models in my opinion. In strict-father, leaders are needed to give us all instruction (note the practical idolotry of Bush's persona by many conservatives). On our side, we see leadership as someone seizing the initiative to lead all of us to make the world a better place (when you frame government in these terms, "BIG Government" doesn't sound nearly as scary).

Posted by: Lavoisier1794 | Apr 8, 2005 3:24:52 AM

Ezra is right on this one.

Lakoff's analysis of the problem is accurate and useful. I find his proposed solutions wanting.

I am not sure what the problem is, but it may be that Lakoff is an academic and the people who are good a "framing" or whatever you want to call what they do are psych/marketing people. The mindset is very different.

We also need to lose the currently reigning mindset that the Republicans are masters at political communication. Running as a wartime incumbent, with a relentlessly supportive corporate press/media, with every negative remark about Kerry amplified by the same CP/M, Bush managed to squeak one out.

The truth is that we already know the language that will explain the Democratic Party to Americans in a clear and (I believe) convincing manner. The problem is that the Establishment Democrats are too timid and too tied to the corporate ruling class to use the language and, more importantly, to advocate the policies necessary to break the Republicans' hold on the white working class.

In the plain talk from the darker end of your local bar: there are rich and powerful people who are going to fuck you over every chance they get. They've got 90% and they are working on getting 95. No one is ever going to take your side against them except the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party may have some aspects and members that make you uncomfortable or occasionally piss you off with their odd bullshit, but when it comes down to how you and your family live, work and play, the Democratic Party is going to be on your side and the Republican Party is going to be working to make your boss richer, more arrogant and more abusive than he is right now.

That, for me, is what the Democratic Party purpose, practice and message should be. I am sure some MBA in marketing can put it in more acceptable terms. I don't have those talents.

Posted by: James E. Powell | Apr 8, 2005 4:36:15 AM

Further to the point about abusive fathers, above:

The thing that stands out for me is the incompetence of the Republicans in almost every area.

Can't we use this to build up the image that the so-called "strict father" is really a fool, who doesn't know the first thing about human psychology or planning and is just projecting his own neuroses?

What I'm saying is, adopting a new, less vulnerable way of presenting ourselves is one thing; but what about also evangelising against the ideas that Republicans draw on?

American movies are stuffed full of wise, all-knowing uber-dads. Someone once summed up 90% of Hollywood's output as being "I love you dad". Don't we liberals control Hollywood? Well, obviously no, not in the real world. But maybe we could start breaking down this pervasive image of an all-knowing strict father.

For some reason, I find myself thinking of Twelve Angry Men. The villain in that is basically a patriarch who can't admit that he was wrong; the hero is a patriarch too, but his fatherhood is only briefly alluded to (he has three kids, but he doesn't talk much about them). I like that: it's a situation that shows you how one person is a good man and the other a bad man, even though they are both fathers. I think that more of that kind of thing would help.

Posted by: Passing_Fancy | Apr 8, 2005 5:04:30 AM

Guys, we've got the perfect frame. It comes right out of Bill Clinton's life story, and is the real, hidden reason for the runaway success of the "Man from Hope". The Republicans are the drunken, abusive stepfather. The Democrats are the _strong, dutiful son_ who finally stand up to him and say, "If you so much as touch her again, I'll kill you." Americans (mostly) love their dads, but they love their _kids_ more.

Posted by: andrew | Apr 8, 2005 9:09:57 AM

Lakoff is still playing catch-up to the Republicans rather than innovating. As Ezra Klein has noted, Lakoff is bad at innovation.

We can argue back and forth about strict vs. nurturing parents. That's completely missing the point. We're still playing the Republicans' game. They conceive of government as parent. If Republicans are the good parent, then the opposite is bad. The opposite of the strict parent isn't the nurturing parent, it's the overly permissive parent, and the Republicans are great at framing Democrats as that. What exactly is the opposite of the nurturing parent? The absentee parent? The distant parent? Can we really paint the Republicans as either of those? We need to give people a reason to like us and a reason to dislike Republicans in double-reinforcement. We can't just take the high road and say we're great. We can't take the low road and say they're bad. We need to do both, and we need to move away from the whole parental framework which has already been defined and given meaning by the Republicans. We need to knock it down and build anew and create a new game field on which to defeat Republicans.

I have my own ideas about how to frame government. The short form is that it is an "equal partner" spousal framework which paints authoritarian Republican policies as analogous to a dominating spouse.

Posted by: Anthony | Apr 8, 2005 9:39:26 AM

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A20059-2005Apr1.html

Michael Kinsley talks about this in an op-ed pointing out that Dems do a better job than Repubs in meeting the professed economic goals of conservatives.

Posted by: skank | Apr 8, 2005 12:22:38 PM

Ezra

I particularly like your point about Clinton winning in a time of peace.

Thinking back wasn't JFK the "hawk" candidate in 1960? This is done from knowledge not personal experience - that was way before my time.

Also Trueman and Ike were viewed as the better foreign policy candidates and probably Nixon too. Carter won in 76, a time of detente, with the Waterdale factor playing strong.

Therefore for the GOP to continue winning the best thing would be for the Islamofacist war to be quickly followed by the China war (due about 2020 IMO).

Posted by: Boethius | Apr 8, 2005 1:31:19 PM

Waterdale should of course be Watergate! Doh!

Posted by: Boethius | Apr 9, 2005 9:54:26 AM

Actually, there are three (sometimes 4) types of parenting styles in psychological literature. Authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative (and sometimes neglectful).

Authoritarian -- parents try to shape and control their children in accordance with strict, set rules: emphasis on strict obedience, respect for authority, and physical discipline. This does sound remarkably similar to the GOP of today.

Permissive -- parents are tolerant and accepting toward the child's impulses, they use the minimum amount of punishment and make few demands. Hmmm -- these seems to me how the GOP is trying to portray democrats.

Authoritative -- expectation of mature behavior from the child with a clear boundaries and rules from the parents; firm enforcement of rules using commands and corrections; encouragement of independence and individuality; along with open lines of communication between child and parent. I think democrats are much closer to this ideal than republicans.

Food for thought.

Posted by: Quahog | Apr 10, 2005 10:14:30 AM

If we use nation=family, we have already lost.
Fortunately we can do better.

Political Parent Stereotypes:
strict\abusive\authoritarian Republican father;
loose\neglectful\permissive Democrat mother;
firm\attentive\authoritative\nurturant\responsible Independent parents.
Granted, we can all see a genuine improvement. Still, all of these have the same problem.

Reading the nation=family requires: government=parent and citizen=child. We should expect the government to keep secrets from us, control us, and take our responsibilities away from us. Worse, in this metaphor, we don't even have responsibilities or freedoms of our own. Ultimately, government=parent makes the government the source of information, control, freedom, responsibility, even good and evil.

We need to get past the family metaphor. I propose "world=game" and "nation=team". The members of a team choose to belong to it, accept responsibilities for each other, and are expected to at least behave as adults. As a team, we expect mutual support. At the same time, if the game plan doesn't work, we know that we need to change it, and possibly the leader as well.

Using nation=team has another advantage. It is viral, in the best sense. In practice, it overwhelms any competing metaphor by working better. We can explore the games to play, instead of what kind of family we are. Even the most angry and fearful politicians (think of some) balk at representing themselves as children. More, as a politician yourself, would you care to publicly represent your constituents as children? When actually using the metaphor, do you find "family" as fluid and useful as "team"?

TeamUSA. How can you get more patriotic than that?

Posted by: Janus Daniels | Apr 11, 2005 10:30:17 PM

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Posted by: peter.w | Sep 15, 2007 8:21:27 AM

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