Framing is newspeak for propaganda

“Rockridge’s job is to reframe public debate, to create balance from a progressive perspective. It’s one thing to analyze language and thought, it’s another thing to create it. That’s what we’re about.

I guess the premise is that progressive ideas lack support because progressives have not done enough yet to deceive the public.

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...

...Reframing requires a rewiring of the brain. That may take an investment of time, effort, and money. The conservatives have realized that. They made the investment and it is paying off. Moral: The truth alone will not set you free. It has to be framed correctly.

Ingsoc would be proud. Why does the left insist on believing in social conditioning as a practical endeavor?

George Lakoff and Howard Dean (who wrote the forward to Lakoff's book, "Don't Think of an Elephant") make the case that the right has 'stolen' the country and brainwashed everyone into believing that Conservative values are good (when they are so obviously evil). How have they done this? By investing billions of dollars on talk radio and conservative think tanks to deceive the public. And in order to combat this unacceptable deception, Lakoff and Dean plan to use the same tactics. In other words, progressives are now saying they are ready to lie 'just like Republicans do' in order to regain power. (Seems to me they've been doing that for sometime.)

This constitutes quite an admission: (1) You have to heavily spin 'progressive values,' in order to get anyone to accept them, and (2) they still have no idea why the credibility of progressive ideas has waned over the last 50 years, and (3) to say they need to start spinning (lying) is quite a spin in itself.

First, why is it so hard to get anyone to accept progressive values? Peace, love, tolerance, justice for the downtrodden, support for the weak, clean air, open spaces, free healthcare, and making 'every man a king'?... It's all good, right? What is there that needs to be hidden in order for it to be accepted?

Progressive as the enemy of oppression.

Republicans have not gained ground because they coercively persuade, nor have they lied and manipulated to gain power, rather progressives have lost ground due to their often enunciated position that America and protestant-white-male-dominated-capitalist-sexist-rascist-homophobic western civilization is oppressive (and perhaps inherently evil).

A central tenet of the left is opposition to oppression... and they have declared the west and capitalism (and Republicans) as oppressive... Perhaps the left has been trapped by it's own logical conclusions?

The ideas of the left gained their widest acceptance in the last half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th. Socialism and labor movements predate Marx and Engels, who wrote The Communist Manifesto in 1848, nevertheless, the Marxist strain of socialism gained ascendance, wide popularity, and eventually took over many countries. Many factions of the left, even in the United States, had sympathy and support for the Soviets and communist parties throughout the world. Even now, Hugo Chavez is praised for attempting, once again, the utopian experiment of total equality.

Following that acceptance was the wide adoption of many progressive policies. Some benign, others baneful. Then as the last half of this century played out, the credibility of progressive liberalism crumbled as a direct result of the real world implementation of those policies and the left's alignment with them. This historical genealogy is still evident in radical leftist support for 'the Iraqi resistance'. Is the enemy of my enemy always my friend?

The decline of progressive civilization

How the left blew its early-twentieth-century prominence, and kept blowing it, comprises much of The Long Detour, and most of it reprises arguments Weinstein has made elsewhere. To telegraph this sorry story, as Weinstein tells it: First the left came under the influence of Communists enamored of a Russian Revolution already turned worse than rotten. Their error was not merely in identifying socialism with Stalinist terror, but in ever hoping that a country as economically backward as the Soviet Union would, even under more democratic conditions, ever hold much instruction for socialist practice in rich countries like the United States.

Then, under the influence of many of the same characters, the left blurred its voice to the point of unintelligibility in the "popular front" politics leading up to and through World War II. Afterward, with the commencement of the cold war and more or less complete discrediting of Soviet Communism, the left was numbly defensive, and barely tried to offer a homespun alternative. The New Left of the early 1960s actually began this project, but never matured as an organization, and soon began tearing itself apart in sectarian disputes and "can you top this" acts of radicalism. In its worst and bleakest moments, like the Weathermen, it even succumbed to the fatal appeal of violent anarchism.

The truth is that progressives can't start reframing their positions now, because they never stopped. During the 2000 election Al Gore called tax cuts, "a Risky Scheme". Recently Al has been trying to reframe Republicans as 'intolerant right-wing religious zealots' who are power mad, shredding the constitution, and monopolizing all three branches of government. Never mind that any majority Republicans have is due to the voters and could easily be reversed by the voters.

Democrats in congress actually accused Republicans of trying to starve children and seniors. Quite an attempt at framing wouldn't you say?

After accusing Republicans of grandstanding in the state execution of Terri Schiavo, Howard Dean promised to grandstand the issue of himself.

Norman Mailer talks of Corporations in terms of Nazi concentration camps and our aesthetic, spiritual, and cultural genocide. Perhaps if Lakoff's point was that they needed to get away from this sort of reframing he would have a point. But in fact, Lakoff and others seem to encourage just this sort of redefining and mischaracterization, which seems to be a hallmark of recent strategies (or lack thereof).

By counseling progressives to repackage their message Lakoff is really doing nothing new. It's new spin on top of old spin. Even in his explanations he reverts to classic marxist-class-warfare-psychobabble-crypto-speak.

...Because the conservative moral system, which I analyzed in "Moral Politics," has as its highest value preserving and defending the "strict father" system itself. And that means building infrastructure. As businessmen, they know how to do this very well.

Meanwhile, liberals' conceptual system of the "nurturant parent" has as its highest value helping individuals who need help.

Republicans control everything

The truth is that reinventing propaganda by calling it framing all the while continuing to demonize the right is not a solution to the left's decline. Essentially it's only a form of collective denial. I hope instead that the left will stop insisting on socialistic solutions to societal problems. Socialism is dead. Let's bury it, instead of continuing the soviet example of demonizing 'capitalist imperialists' in an effort to foment a proletariat revolution:

"Republicans only work for the wealthy, Democrats fight for the rest of us."
"Republicans block the door, Democrats open it up for all of us."
"Republicans use religion to divide, Democrats learn from it to build communities."
"Republicans help industry pollute, Democrats protect our land for everyone."
"Republicans work against The Constitution, Democrats protect it."
"Republicans are suspicious of difference, Democrats are passionate about equality."

Republicans are far from perfect. Still, they are not the enemy liberals believe they need in order to win elections.

As a Republican I actually support the liberal agenda of peace, love, tolerance, justice for the downtrodden, support for the weak, the poor... It's not actually a liberal agenda at all, it's a universal agenda. The difference is in the definition of how these things must be accomplished. If these ends can only be accomplished through a top down monolithic government program, or through the redistribution of wealth, and 'helping individuals who need help' can only be defined as supporting higher taxes, higher government regulation, and demonization of 'the rich' then no amount of reframing is going to obscure what that means. The end does not justify the means. Especially when the means in question has never accomplished the end promised.

Posted by Eric Simonson at April 29, 2005 3:16 PM