Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Are the CPC's super powers of framing failing them?

... or maybe they've just become to heavy handed.

Looking for another file, I happened upon an old comment from another blog that I had felt like saving. Is curiositykilledthecat still around? New handle?

curiositykilledthecat said...
Just selecting a leader of the Liberals is not enough: can that leader frame the issues in a way which voters will understand, agree with, and vote for? If the candidates for leader do not understand the concept of framing, we should give them a pass, no matter how attractive they might be as individuals. To beat Harper, the next Liberal leader will need more mettle than Martin showed in the last election.

The NDP (and the Liberals) should invite George Lakoff to teach them how to frame the debates during the election, and the next session of Parliament; something the NDP and Liberals are failing at, as the day care issue, so-called fiscal imbalance and so-called open federalism issues show so clearly....

Bonnie Powell in UCBerkeleyNews 27 October 2003, interviewed Lakoff."George Lakoff, a UC Berkeley professor of linguistics and cognitive science, thinks he knows why. Conservatives have spent decades defining their ideas, carefully choosing the language with which to present them, and building an infrastructure to communicate them, says Lakoff. The work has paid off: by dictating the terms of national debate, conservatives have put progressives firmly on the defensive. ..."

Lakoff is famous for the title and concept behind his book Don't Think of an Elephant. He challenges people not to think of an elephant for sixty seconds, and when they fail, he says this is a demonstration of the power of "framing". If you can frame the issue as an elephant, then every time the other side refutes it by referring to an elephant (This is not an elephant, it is ...), they in fact reinforce the issue in people's minds as being about an elephant. The Republicans under Bush have managed to nearly bankrupt the US government by reducing its funding through framing the issue as "tax cuts" , because most people dislike tax cuts. The Democrats have not managed to change the framing to one of wealth transfer to the wealthy, which it is, and so appear to be against cutting taxes...As Lakoff said in the interview: "Conservatives, especially conservative think tanks, have framed virtually every issue from their perspective. They have put a huge amount of money into creating the language for their worldview and getting it out there. Progressives have done virtually nothing.... It's one thing to analyze language and thought, it's another thing to create it. That's what we're about. It's a matter of asking 'What are the central ideas of progressive thought from a moral perspective?' Language always comes with what is called "framing." Every word is defined relative to a conceptual framework. If you have something like "revolt," that implies a population that is being ruled unfairly, or assumes it is being ruled unfairly, and that they are throwing off their rulers, which would be considered a good thing. That's a frame. If you then add the word "voter" in front of "revolt," you get a metaphorical meaning saying that the voters are the oppressed people, the governor is the oppressive ruler, that they have ousted him and this is a good thing and all things are good now. All of that comes up when you see a headline like "voter revolt" — something that most people read and never notice. But these things can be affected by reporters and very often, by the campaign people themselves. ... Here's another example of how powerful framing is. In Arnold Schwarzenegger's acceptance speech, he said, "When the people win, politics as usual loses." What's that about? Well, he knows that he's going to face a Democratic legislature, so what he has done is frame himself and also Republican politicians as the people, while framing Democratic politicians as politics as usual — in advance. The Democratic legislators won't know what hit them. They're automatically framed as enemies of the people."Lakoff said that conservatives in the US appear to be much better at framing "Because they've put billions of dollars into it. Over the last 30 years their think tanks have made a heavy investment in ideas and in language."

What is the relevance of Lakoff's Elephants to Canada and the Liberals?

Just think of two instances: Harper's use of the framing "open federalism" (to disguise his plans to massively and permanently dismantle the federal system of government Canada now has) and of "fiscal imbalance" (to disguise his plans to remove funding from the federal government so that federal initiatives like health care and day care cannot in future take place).

See how effective Harper's framing is?

And what is the NDP or Liberal Party answer to that framing? Can't think of it offhand? I rest my case – Harper is wining the framing war.

Afterthought: Just thought I should mention that I saved this piece because I thought it had a very important message. Still does.


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