Democrats & Liberals Archives

Framing the Democratic Message

George Lakoff wrote a book called “Moral Politics,” that states the Democrats are losing elections because they are not framing their values as well as the Republicans have been doing. To win, Democrats need to present their ideas within a framework of their own, he says. He suggests that Democrats should adopt the view of the nurturant parent, as opposed to the Republican view of the strict father. I agree we need a good framework, but the nurturant parent is not it.

According to Lakoff, the Republicans have been very successful thinking of themselves as the strict father. They believe that people are basically bad and need to be controlled. This is why they extol people who have made it and lavish goodies on Big Business, while putting labor in its place. This is why they push the harsh religion of the fundamentalists. This is why they bitch constantly about liberals, secularists, pacifists, the media, the university, intellectuals, hollywood and anyone who disagrees with them.

To beat the Republicans, Lakoff thinks that Democrats should not discuss specific issues, but talk of them as part of a broad nurturant-parent framework. The nurturant parent believes most people are basically good and can work together to help each other. They are for the minimum wage, for preserving Social Security, for a universal healthcare system and for allowing people to follow their consciences.

At first glance, this sounds right. But after a while you begin to wonder whether Lakoff's nurturant parent approach falls into the broader framework the Republicans are using - family. Republicans consider America one type of family and the Democrats consider it to be a different type of family.

This is wrong. Republicans do not consider America to be a family. Whenever there is a chance for unity, Republicans choose division. Look at what is called the "nuclear option." They attack judges who are doing their best. They use swift-boats of intolerance against candidates. They scream against the "liberal press." They call liberals "traitors." Every day Republican invective fills the air. They do not treat America as a family.

"Attack" is their big idea. "We are right, you are wrong" is their motto. "We win, you lose" is their goal. This is not my definition of any kind of family.

The Republican framework is "competition." They do not want to make friends. They want to win. As far as they are concerned, the greater the polarization in the country the better. This is why they complain, make stupid demands, resubmit failed judicial nominees to the Senate, work to kill Social Security, cater to non-compromising Christian fundamentalists, try to make "liberal" a dirty word, break up international agreements and put up a brute like Bolton for ambassador to the UN.

The Democratic framework should be "cooperation." We do not want to win as Democrats but to win for all Americans, not merely an elite few. We abhor polarization. We do think of America as a family. We do believe we have to work together. We do conceive of the common good as something that benefits the country as a whole. We do want people of all religions and of no religion to live in harmony. We prefer to have people exercise their own religious consciences, rather than being coerced by a dominant religious group. We do believe in diplomacy first in all international relations. We do think that security comes from making friends and not from making enemies.

"We're in this together" is our big idea. "Let's talk it over" is our motto. "The common good" is our goal.

I hope Democrats adopt the framework of cooperation. By placing all our issues - minimum wage, Social Security, healthcare, free conscience, helpful diplomacy, peace - within the framework of cooperation, American citizens will begin to realize that Democrats favor a better democracy both at home and abroad. We'll win elections!

Posted by Paul Siegel at May 21, 2005 2:45 PM