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http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/nationworld/bal-te.demtalk09jan09,1,7440373.story?coll=bal-nationworld-headlines Linguist urges Democrats to heed power of words Book argues Republicans effectively frame debates By Mark Z. Barabak Los Angeles Times January 9, 2005
BERKELEY, Calif. -- Howard Dean is on the line, hailing the man who would be the savior of the Democratic Party.
"What Lakoff brings is a very practical way to talk about things," says Dean, his gravelly voice rasping via cell phone from Boston. "Why it's important to frame issues . . . how to do it on specific issues."
Dean is speaking of George Lakoff, a University of California, Berkeley professor of linguistics and cognitive science, whose slender treatise on language, brain structure and politics has become a surprise best seller, making "framing" the season's hot fashion and yielding a growing legion of followers -- as well as critics. (Last month, he addressed House Democrats in Washington at the invitation of their leader, San Francisco's Nancy Pelosi.) Put simply, Lakoff says conservatives have been winning elections -- along with hearts and minds -- through the strategic use of language over the past 30 years, to a point where central tenets of the Republican philosophy are not just common wisdom for millions of voters but, more, are a hard-wired part of their brains.
"People think in frames," Lakoff writes in the opening chapter of his new book, which credits a national network of conservative think tanks and sympathetic media outlets with abetting the GOP's neural conquest. "To be accepted, the truth must fit people's frames. If the facts do not fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off." The title of the book, Don't Think of an Elephant! reflects Lakoff's central thesis; naturally, when you read the words, you think of an elephant. His point is that by evoking certain images, or frames, Republicans have forced Democrats to fight elections on the GOP's terms. Two examples: the debate over "tax relief," which frames taxes as an affliction and Democrats as the defenders of an onerous burden. And the "war on terror," which conflates the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with the fighting in Iraq.
"Democrats have to learn how to stop making mistakes," Lakoff says.
The first step for Democrats, he says, "is not using the other side's terms, or answering the questions posed by the other side. As soon as they set the topic . . . you're dead."
To his detractors, Lakoff's work amounts to political junk science, the equivalent of a diet plan that promises you can eat all you want and still lose 5 pounds a day.
"Language matters a lot," says Al From, head of the Democratic Leadership Council, an organization that has worked to tug the party rightward, feuding with Dean and others who accuse the group of selling out the party's core principles. "But so does substance."
From and his allies -- including, most prominently, Bill Clinton -- began working in the mid-1980s to recast the image of the party along with the language Democrats used. Gone was the talk of grievance, of rights and entitlement, replaced by words such as "opportunity" and "responsibility" and programs, such as welfare reform, that demonstrated the party's new language was more than talk.
"It wouldn't have made any difference if we'd just gone on the same way and changed the rhetoric," From says. "If you're really trying to show people you're different, you can't just do it with a slogan."
Samuel Popkin, another former Clinton campaign adviser, suggests Lakoff's work on language and political persuasion is not just simplistic but derivative. "George did not invent the wheel . . . framing is something a million people write about," says Popkin, a University of California, San Diego political scientist who has extensively researched the way voters make up their minds. (Indeed, George Orwell had some notable things to say about the political use of language a half-century ago.)
Few, however, have met with the popular success of Lakoff, whose work up to now has been largely confined to the fusty groves of academia and scholarly jousting over theories of "autonomous syntax" and the like.
His Elephant book, subtitled Know Your Values and Frame the Debate -- The Essential Guide for Progressives and written in breezy self-help style, has sold more than 140,000 copies since mid-September and recently entered its fourth printing. Margo Baldwin, head of Vermont-based Chelsea Green Publishing Co., predicts sales of 500,000 or more by the end of next year, twice the company's all-time best seller, which told the tale of a French forester.
"What are there?" Baldwin says, sizing up the market. "Fifty million unhappy Democrats out there?"
One such Democrat is Carl Pope, director of the Sierra Club, who lavishly praises Lakoff in a blurb on the book's opening page. (Dean, the former Vermont governor mulling a run for head of the national Democratic Party, is quoted on the cover describing Lakoff as "one of the most influential thinkers of the progressive movement.")
"I think [Democrats] have gotten into the habit of thinking about programs and policies instead of people and places and values," Pope said in an interview. "Franklin Roosevelt didn't say he had a four-part plan to make America better. He said, 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself.' I think [Lakoff's] salience for the party is that he's reminding them of a kind of language around which Democratic politics always needs to be energized, which is language of the heart."
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
-- Dan Clore
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2005-01-10 02:23:45 EST
Les linguistes, ils te pissent à la raie, connard de mes deux.
2005-01-10 08:18:45 EST
firstname.lastname@example.org: > News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: > http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo > > http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/nationworld/bal-te.demtalk09jan09,1,7440373.story?coll=bal-nationworld-headlines > Linguist urges Democrats to heed power of words > Book argues Republicans effectively frame debates > By Mark Z. Barabak > Los Angeles Times > January 9, 2005 > > BERKELEY, Calif. -- Howard Dean is on the line, hailing the > man who would be the savior of the Democratic Party. > > "What Lakoff brings is a very practical way to talk about > things," says Dean, his gravelly voice rasping via cell > phone from Boston. "Why it's important to frame issues . . . > how to do it on specific issues." > > Dean is speaking of George Lakoff, a University of > California, Berkeley professor of linguistics and cognitive > science, whose slender treatise on language, brain structure > and politics has become a surprise best seller, making > "framing" the season's hot fashion and yielding a growing > legion of followers -- as well as critics. (Last month, he > addressed House Democrats in Washington at the invitation of > their leader, San Francisco's Nancy Pelosi.) Put simply, > Lakoff says conservatives have been winning elections -- > along with hearts and minds -- through the strategic use of > language over the past 30 years, to a point where central > tenets of the Republican philosophy are not just common > wisdom for millions of voters but, more, are a hard-wired > part of their brains. > > "People think in frames," Lakoff writes in the opening > chapter of his new book, which credits a national network of > conservative think tanks and sympathetic media outlets with > abetting the GOP's neural conquest. "To be accepted, the > truth must fit people's frames. If the facts do not fit a > frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off." ...
I have yet to see any science connected with Lakoff's proposition. In addition, it runs counter to common sense.
2005-01-10 08:55:42 EST
*re-posting is lame, as are you*
It's my belief that dumocrats are losing because of their shift too far to the left. While I admit that some on my side have gone too far right, I also believe that your 'mainstream' seems to be gravitating left, making it impossible for bi-partisan accomplishments. How much work do you think Clinton would have got done if every Republican acted like Rush? Dems have stood beside as their constituants have attacked our language, borders, religeon, and culture etc. for too long and you are seeing the result. MOST Americans believe in Jesus and are offended when a handful of lefties file expensive lawsuits preventing them from having a nativity scene at town square! Don't you get it? You seek tolerance but you have none for others. You embrace terrorists as you attack your American brothers who happen to not believe the same way you do. Yea, you are losing because of language alright. It's your own hateful language though, ask your linguistic experts to tell you how to speak to political foes without spewing venom. Untill you guys move back towards the center a bit, if it's not too late for most of you, you will long be the American minority party.
2005-01-10 11:14:04 EST
> Linguist urges Democrats to heed power of words > Book argues Republicans effectively frame debates > By Mark Z. Barabak > Los Angeles Times > January 9, 2005
I like the idea of substituting "progressive" for "liberal". Within "mainstream" reality, it seems like Liberal has too much stigma associated with it.