Mike the Mad Biologist

Two Good Ideas From Lakoff

While I’m not the world’s biggest fan of George Lakoff, he has published two posts that are worth reading. The first, co-authored by Lakoff, Marc Ettlinger, and Sam Ferguson, argues that the “Bush is incompetent” theme is a losing strategy (coturnix has additional commentary on this post):

The mantra of incompetence has been an unfortunate one. The incompetence frame assumes that there was a sound plan, and that the trouble has been in the execution. It turns public debate into a referendum on Bush’s management capabilities, and deflects a critique of the impact of his guiding philosophy. It also leaves open the possibility that voters will opt for another radically conservative president in 2008, so long as he or she can manage better. Bush will not be running again, so thinking, talking and joking about him being incompetent offers no lessons to draw from his presidency.

Incompetence obscures the real issue. Conservatism itself is the villain that is harming our people, destroying our environment, and weakening our nation. Conservatives are undermining American values through legislation almost every day. This message applies to every conservative bill proposed to Congress. The issue that arises every day is which philosophy of governing should shape our country. It is the issue of our times. Unless conservative philosophy itself is discredited, Conservatives will continue their domination of public discourse, and with it, will continue their domination of politics.

I said something similar when arguing that “anyone but Bush” can not be the core of a political movement (but not as eloquently).

The second Lakoff post makes a very good point about Iraq: we need to stop calling it a war, and starting calling it an occupation. After all, the war ended after Bush declared “major combat operations” were finished. As long as we labor under the illusion that we are fighting a war, we can not ask the necessary questions:

When you have become the villain and target to the people you are trying to help, it’s time to do the right thing — admit the truth that this is an occupation and think and act accordingly. All occupations end with withdrawal. The issue is not bravery versus cowardice in a good cause. The Cut-and-Run Frame does not apply.

In an occupation, there are pragmatic issues: Are we welcome? Are we doing the Iraqis more harm than good? How badly are we being hurt? The question is not whether to withdraw, but when and how? What to say? You might prefer “End the occupation now” or “End the occupation by the end of the year” or “End the occupation within a year, ” but certainly Congress and most Americans should be able to agree on “End the occupation soon.”

In an occupation, not a war, should the president still have war powers? How, if at all, is the Supreme Court decision on military tribunals at Guantanamo affected if we are in an occupation, not a war? What high-handed actions by the President, if any, are ruled out if we are no longer at war?

I’m not sure how to turn this into pithy political slogans (aren’t there Democrats who are paid to this?), but I think Lakoff is definitely onto something.

Comments

  1. #1 Chris
    July 8, 2006

    I tell ya, Lakoff sounds less and less like a linguist doing politics, and more and more like a political advisor, every time I read them. I wish he’d do more research, though. Tax cuts during wartime are not completely unprecedented (1969, for example, saw a tax cut and a war), for example.

    Also, I wouldn’t lose the word “war” entirely. There is a war going on in Iraq, a civil war, and we as occupiers are caught in the middle of it.

  2. #2 apalazzo
    July 8, 2006

    Lakoff’s ideas on framing debates are very insightful. He has been coaching the Democrats on how to present their ideas to the public. He’ll be in the Boston area on the 14th to give a reading of his new book. Not sure what the new book is about, but I thought his previous book Don’t Think of an Elephant was right on the mark.

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