Monday, May 07, 2007

A Progressive Guide to Framing

George Lakoff and the Rockridge Institute have done a tremendous job of educating progressives about the importance of framing. But as I troll through the progressive blogosphere, I notice that even some of the best bloggers (who, out of courtesy, will remain nameless here) make basic framing mistakes. So as the risk of repeating what may be obvious to many--here is my Progressive Guide to Framing:

1. LEFT and RIGHT refer to baseball pitchers and driving directions not political ideas or policy choices. It seems to me that the biggest framing mistake progressives make is referring to progressive ideas as "left" or "lefty" and Republican or fundamentalist Christian ideas as "right" or "right wing."

Why is this such a disadvantageous frame?

The word "right" of course, has several meanings. For example, "right" can mean "correct" as well as "politically conservative." Only 8 to 15% of the adult population is left handed. Every time you use the terms right and left to refer to politics you are using a Republican frame that implies that Republicans are correct and progressive only represents 8-15% of the population. See the problem?

2. By the same token, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson are not members of the "religious right", the "right wing," the "radical right," or even "evangelical." Rather, based on their desire to impose the brutality of the Old Testament upon our culture and modern political institutions, they are properly referred to as fundamentalists, extremists, regressive, or fringe.

3. There is nothing "conservative" about modern day Republicans. They don't conserve the environment, they don't conserve energy, they don't even conserve international law or the Geneva Conventions. Contemporary Republicans are thus not properly referred to as "conservative." Proper adjectives to describe Republican policies include regressive, destructive, extremist, fringe, fundamentalist, violent, hateful, and anti-family.

4. Use affirmative declarative sentences to say what we believe rather than always debating what THEY are doing wrong. For example, "Barack Obama has a vision that can heal our nation" or "Hillary Clinton is perhaps the hardest working person in American politics today," is better than, "Bush is a dumb ass." We've got to get in the habit of repeating our frame over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over. When we go on offense by making affirmative declarative sentences the other side is often forced to go on defense (and in the process of trying to refute our frame the other side repeats and reinforces our frame).

5. Humor is more viral than anger. Check out this quote from Laura Crawford--the RNC's main viral video editor:
"I try not to make [the videos] political at all," says Crawford, "because anything political gets an automatic negative reaction, even from people with a strong party affiliation. They want humor.... We want these things to be viral, and if they're argumentative instead of clever, they just won't be." (from Time Magazine)
For example, Jon Stewart is more viral (and more effective at moving a message) than Democracy Now! Both are necessary but The Daily Show has more leverage in shaping the debate right now because of the way they package their message.

Okay that's all I got for now. If you've got some additional ideas, feel free to add them to the comments.


Crapshaw said...

Sage advice. I think, given the current dualistic system, that consistency in this framing is also essential. The thing republicans are really good as is insuring EVERYBODY uses the same framing.
I hate the fact that it has to be a 'one team vs the other' game, but it is what it is.

go team!

soshann said...

Excellent thinking here. I would add my vote for using the terms Progressive & Regressive to describe two opposite sides of the political spectrum. Progressives are forward looking ie we are concerned about the effects of current actions on the future and believe that we can make a future better than the past. In order to do this we are happy to critique the past and find areas on which we can improve. Regressives are backward focussed ie they venerate the past and see it as their duty to defend it and attempt to ensure it continues into the future. This gives them a very narrow view of the future as a basically Disneyfied world of sanitised replication of "traditional" values and practices.
Another useful point of disparity which can be used to positively frame the debate is the distinction between Authoritarian & Libertarian. I know that in the US this distinction has to some extent been colonised by corporate appologists arguing for liberty for corporate players but if used intelligently the terms fundamentally underpin a core distinction between the regressive & the progressive ends of the spectrum.
Progressives are generally against the use of force to impose our political views on others and we refer to rationality and reason as justifications for our policies & actions. We are naturally suspicious of the blind obedience to authority handed down from on high advocated by regressives. Liberation of the human condition from the dictates of received authority and a determination to see the world as it is and attempt to act in the interest of the greatest good for the greatest number are fundamentally good and attractive motivations to be highlighting an aspiring to for us all.

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