George Lakoff is perhaps the best-known writer on framing Democratic messaging. He suggests that the Democrats’ political future depends on how well they can explain why they are Democrats. Lakoff says Democrats must recall who they represent and why. He argues that Democrats fight for basic public resources that benefit all Americans. He says Democrats should be proud to stand for the basic truth that we all are better off when everyone benefits.
Apply Lakoff’s premise to the current context of both state and national Republican tax and budget cuts. The Republican agenda is focused on slashing public resources by cutting government budget funding and starving government of revenue through devastating tax cuts.
Democrats are fighting to preserve the public resources that benefits all Americans. Lakoff summarizes the truth underlying the Democratic Party.
“It is the only major party to accept the founding idea of our nation, that citizens care about their fellow citizens and work through the government to provide public resources for the benefit of all.”
“Whether private lives or private enterprise, public resources from roads, bridges, airports, and sewers to public education and public health, to science and technology — computer science to satellite communication (thank NASA) to modern medicine (thank National Institutes of Health). The private depends on public resources! Every Democrat knows this truth, and it is assumed by almost all Democratic legislation.”
“Yet almost nobody says these truths out loud and defends them in public discourse. A short paragraph each, powerful truths, yet there is no Democratic message expressing these truths. These are among the deepest reasons to be a Democrat,” according to Lakoff.
“It’s time for the Democratic Party to examine its soul and remember why it’s the only major political party that reflects the progressive idea of our nation – a government of, by, and for the People,” writes Lakoff.
“Private enterprise and private life utterly depend on public resources. These public resources provide freedom: freedom to start and run a business, and freedom in private life. You’re not free if you are not educated, because your possibilities in life are limited. You’re not free if you have cancer and no health insurance. You’re not free if you have no income — or not enough for basic needs. And if you work for a large company, you may not be free without a union. Unions free you from corporate servitude. They free you to have a living wage, safety on the job, regular working hours, a pension, health benefits, dignity.”
The recently passed Republican #Trumptaxscam illustrates the vast contrast between the two parties on tax policy. The biggest beneficiaries of the Republican tax cuts are the wealthiest Americans. The Democrats fought to target the cuts to benefit middle and lower income Americans. The Republican tax increases income and wealth inequality while the Democrats plan would benefit all by narrowing inequality.
Lakoff has been writing about political messaging for years. His 2004 international best-selling book, “Don’t think of an Elephant,” has been a powerful political handbook describing how to frame progressive messages.
In that book, he defined the importance of values in voter decision making. He described why people vote against their own best interests and how differently Republicans and Democrats view the world. Based on that knowledge he has written extensively on the critical importance of how Democrats must frame the political debate.
“Framing is about reclaiming our power to decide what’s important. Framing is about making sure WE set the terms of the debate, using our language and our ideas. Conservatives have beaten progressives at this for decades. It’s time for a change,” according to Lakoff.
Apply Lakoff’s framing to one of the greatest Republican goals, deregulation. Trump and the Republicans have made deregulation a pivotal aim of his administration. Minority President Trump brags about all the savings and economic growth that has resulted from cutting regulations. (Lakoff says we should always refer to Trump as the minority President because he knows Clinton won the popular vote and he and his followers detest being reminded of that fact.)
Lakoff says we should never use the word regulation. He says we must frame the concept as a protection. Democrats pass public protections in order to prevent companies from poisoning our water, polluting our air or allowing unethical or unscrupulous corporate behavior.
Minority President Trump and Republicans are bragging about slashing, weakening and undermining public protections at the EPA. They have withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement that protects the public from the increasing dangers of a warming climate. Democrats are urged to use the term public protections not regulations.
Lakoff offers many framing recommendations to Democrats that are worth examining in his many writings.
by Rick Smith