A lot of attention lately has been paid to Lakoff, a fairly obscure Berkeley linguistics professor, for a book he wrote suggesting that Democrats learn to use language to frame the debate as well as the Republicans have. Since I don’t have much preference for either of those parties, I’m not really interested in the electoral results of it, but I do think that Lakoff is dead on in his analysis of how well the right has used language. When I’ve said in the past that the Republicans simply play the game better than the Democrats, this is largely what I’m referring to.
What the right has mastered is the art of public relations, particularly the use of catchphrases. They have used phrases like “family values” so much that you’d think that only Christians have families. For that matter, what better example could you find than the ID cry of “teach the controversy”. Catchphrases and buzzwords are the lifeblood of politics because they allow the speaker to convey a large set of assumptions and images (whether accurate or not) in a single soundbite. Catchphrases are probably the most aggressive and survivable memes in the world, and until those who counter the right’s agenda learn to use them as effectively as they do, we’ll continue to lose the battle for the agreement of the public.