Thursday, May 04, 2017

Corporate Dems: they just can't help themselves

George Lakoff has spent years advising the Democrats to stop adopting Republican framing of political issues. He talked about it in this interview with Paul Rosenberg, This Is Why Conservatives Win Salon 11/22/2014. He talks there about some of the scientific and philosophical ideas behind his theory.

But what I consider most important in his advice to Democrats is that they need to stop framing issues in Republican terms. Here's how Lakoff puts it in the interview:

The reason for that is that in the brain, there’s a hierarchy of frames, which is there in neural circuitry. When you strengthen something lower in the hierarchy that implies strengthening things up higher in the hierarchy, which is the way that neural system works. So that is why conservatism has come as far as it has in the last 30 years. The conservatives have been using their language, getting it out there on all the issues, and progresses have done the opposite.

The reason for this is really interesting, because progressives think that they have to speak to the other guy in the other guy’s language. You’ve got to speak their language for them to understand it. It’s exactly the wrong way. Because as soon as you use conservative language, it activates conservative frames, which activates the conservative moral system, which strengthens it, and weakens your own. [my emphasis ]
A classic example is the long-time habit of Democrats framing the right to abortion by saying they are personally opposed to it, but what protect women's right to choose. For Hillary Clinton, that meant for years that she said that "abortion should be safe, legal and rare." Those formulations play to the conservative frames, because they are an obvious Mugwump way of saying, "I agree that abortion is wrong but I want people who want to do that wrong thing to have the right to do that."

All the while the conservatives have been arguing that abortion is murder, people who do abortions or have them are "baby-killers," and America since Roe v Wade in 1973 is worse than Hitler Germany and the Holocaust because of all the "unborn babies" that have been aborted since then. This bit from Pat Robertson in 1992 was unfortunately all too typical of what respectably Republican Christian Rightists still say (Robertson Letter Attacks Feminists New York Times 08/25/1992):

A fund-raising letter written by the television evangelist Pat Robertson in opposition to a proposed equal rights amendment to the Iowa Constitution suggests that feminists want women to kill their children and practice witchcraft.

The equal rights amendment, on which Iowans will vote Nov. 3, is a broadly worded measure that would bar sex discrimination.

But Mr. Robertson's letter, distributed late last month to supporters of the evangelical organization Christian Coalition, described the proposal as part of a "feminist agenda" that "is not about equal rights for women." Claims of 'Anti-Family'

Instead, the letter said, "it is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians." [my emphasis]
There was definitely a lack of symmetry between the two parties on that issue. Hillary stepped up her game on the abortion issue during the 2016 Presidential campaign, straightforwardly defending the right to abortion.

But the old Democratic Leadership Committee (DLC) with which the Clintons were closely identified was all about framing moderately liberal positions to sound like conservative ones. And Hillary had a bit of a present-day relapse here (Emma Gray, Hillary Clinton: ‘There Is Nothing Elitist About Fighting For Women’s Rights’ Huffpost 05/04/2017):

“For a lot of women, it stung to realize that perhaps our country hadn’t come as far as we hoped; that not only are sexism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia still with us, but they run deep,” Clinton said. “And a lot of troubling ideas have been elevated in the weeks and months that followed, including the ridiculous, insulting notion that we only care about women’s rights in certain parts of our country ― not in what some in the press call ‘real America.’” ...

Women’s issues aren’t minor issues,” she continued, firmly. “They’re not luxury issues to address after everything else is resolved. They are central to human rights to economies to our national security, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. There is nothing elitist about fighting for women’s rights, equality and opportunity.” [my emphasis]
The first part sounds like the current rhetoric in the ongoing corporate Democrats' attack on Sanders- and Warren-style economic progressives. The accusation that Hillaryites "only care about women’s rights in certain parts of our country ― not in what some in the press call ‘real America’" is one that I literally haven't encountered anywhere.

Her comment, “Women’s issues aren’t minor issues,” is also part of the current corporate Democratic attacks on progressives. But, more than that, it falls into exactly the trap that Lakoff emphasized in the title of one of his books, Don't Think of An Elephant. That's one of his favorite examples, because if you say "don't think of an elephant," it immediately makes the listeners think of an elephant.

So in that formulation just quoted, Hillary could have made the same points by saying things like "women's issues are central concerns for working class and middle class women and men, as well." But instead she invoked unnamed parties who think such issues are "minor" or "elitist." Instead of, for instance, criticizing "the elite" for not paying attention enough to critical women's issues or outright opposing them.

She knows how to do that, because she went on to talk about the health-care debate in a more straightforward mode:

Clinton was particularly critical of the Trump administration’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and roll back funding for women’s health care both domestically and internationally. ... “Over the last 100 days, this Congress and administration have been working really hard to turn back health care ― to turn back health care for 24 million people, but it would affect 180 million people,” she said. “Even today, they’re trying to force through that health care plan.”
Despite their loyalty to corporate elites, the corporate media have never been especially friendly to the Clintons, and their reporting is inaccurate or openly hostile. So we always need to be cautious about jumping to conclusions about reports like this because they may report them in a way that doesn't necessarily convey the actual context and tone of a speech like that. (As of this writing, I haven't located an online transcript or video of the speech.)

But it certainly seems like the establishment Dems are continuing their approach during the primaries in 2016 of trying to paint Democratic progressives as "Bernie Bros" not sufficiently committed to women's issues. Politics is politics.

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