What I think is important is to distinguish between several different things that Lakoff does. It appears that the word “Lakoff” triggers different frames in different people!
1. Theory of metaphors. As I stated repeatedly before, I am agnostic about his science. I defer to Chris on that issue. It is possible that Lakoff is wrong on his ideas about mind, language and metaphor. Future research will settle that question. I am only mildly interested in it.
2. Psychology of ideology. Lakoff is trying to explain the psychology, and in particular the ontogeny of psychology underlying political ideology, in a way that I find plausible and which is in agreement with a number of existing studies (see this, this, this, this and this, for some examples). Realizing that liberals and conservatives think differently and that the difference is due to upbringing is a very important piece of information.
3. Framing theory. Without going into any particulars of Lakoff’s theory of metaphors, the fact that without Lakoff, liberals would not be aware that it matters what you say and how you say it is enough to build him a monument. He pointed out that “Truth will not let you free” (you also have to package the truth in a way that appeals to the listener and then it is easier to win than the opponent who has to repackage a lie) and that long lists of policy propositions never energized a voter. Important lessons. He also explains why triangulation does not work. Useful stuff, even if he did it for wrong reasons and out of wrong theory. It is a pity that so many people on the left still cannot dstinguish between framing and branding (i.e., sloganeering).
4. Framing practice. When Lakoff tries to coin new phrases it is laughable. But, he never asserted that we should accept those phrases – he only gives them as examples – and insists that professionals (equivalents of Frank Luntz) need to be hired to do the research (focus groups, polls, etc.). He is also the first to tell that it takes decades of work by think-tanks and friendly media for frames to take hold so making fun of his examples of slogans misses his point entirely.
It is interesting that I put my posts on Lakoff in the “Culture Wars” channel, while Chris puts his posts on Lakoff in the “Brain & Behavior” channel, indicating that our interest in Lakoff is quite different. He is interested in cognitive science. I am interessted in winning elections by “understaning thy enemy”.
Also, I have written it a hundred times before and I’ll do it again. Everyone who judges Lakoff by his recent articles and interviews, or by his most recent books – the Elephant and later – is bound to misunderstand him. Lakoff possibly misunderstands himself over the last 3-4 years. Read only Moral Politics. Lakoff should do that sometimes, too. And then, read some other books in order to develop and build up the edifice of which Lakoff built only the scaffolding in Moral Politics.