“…the essence of every picture is the frame…”
“We are now in a situation where conservatives have framed almost every issue.”
—George Lakoff and Elisabeth Weihling
s we wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act, it is troubling to think that many Americans live lives of such cultural and intellectual isolation that the following could be true, as reported by Alec MacGillis:
SEWANEE, Tenn. – As Robin Layman, a mother of two who has major health troubles but no insurance, arrived at a free clinic here, she had a big personal stake in the Supreme Court’s imminent decision on the new national health care law.
Not that she realized that. “What new law?” she said. “I’ve not heard anything about that.”
This unfortunate woman lives in southeastern Tennessee, which has economic challenges aplenty, but also has a state legislature full of conservatives who make the problems of folks who live there even worse:
…the state’s largely Republican political leadership has shunned the law. The state’s legislature has declined to pass legislation establishing the new insurance “exchange” required by the law…
Let’s be honest and admit that liberals and progressives have a problem when they attempt to do things for people like Robin Layman of rural Tennessee. As MacGillis informs us:
Layman was hardly the only patient unaware that the law aims to help people like her, by expanding health insurance beginning in 2014. And this gets to the heart of the political dilemma for Democrats: Despite spending tremendous political capital to pass the law, the party is unlikely to win many votes from the law’s future beneficiaries, most of whom live in Republican-dominated states in the South and West. In fact, many at the clinic said they don’t vote at all.
Some of the people Democrats are looking out for, when they pass laws like the Affordable Care Act, are ignorant and often don’t exercise their rights as Americans to have a say in their own destiny. How do you overcome that problem, if you are the Democratic Party?
Well, I’m not sure it can be overcome, but I would start with a robust and unapologetic attack on the Republican Party, which is now squarely standing in the way of progress—and in the way of helping the Robin Laymans among us.
Opponents of the Affordable Care Act, such as Mitt Romney, say it should be replaced with a state-by-state approach. Romney’s home state, Massachusetts, is the pioneer – Romney signed a 2006 law that has extended coverage to nearly all residents.
But many other states have demonstrated little political will to help people obtain health coverage. In some, such as Texas and Virginia, the threshold for Medicaid eligibility is so stringent that parents earning $10,000 a year are too well-off to qualify.
Who controls these states? What party’s political philosophy makes this outrage possible? Democrats should say so, loudly and often. Our side, including especially President Obama, has to stop trying to sound reasonable and accommodating and “bipartisan.” That’s the language of governance, not campaigning; that’s the way you talk when you are working to get laws passed, not when you are trying to convince voters that you have a better vision for the country.
Consider George Lakoff’s and Elisabeth Wehling’s critique of Obama’s recent economic speech in Ohio:
Framing is (or should be) about moral values, deep truths, and the policies that flow from them.
As of their kickoff speeches in Ohio, Romney and Obama have both chosen economics as their major campaign theme. And thus the question of how they frame the economy will be crucial throughout the campaign. Their two speeches could not be more different.
Where Romney talks morality (conservative style), Obama mainly talks policy. Where Romney reframes Obama, Obama does not reframe Romney. In fact, he reinforces Romney’s frames in the first part of his speech by repeating Romney’s language word for word — without spelling out his own values explicitly.
Where Romney’s framing is moral, simple and straightforward, Obama’s is policy-oriented, filled with numbers, details, and so many proposals that they challenge ordinary understanding.
Where Obama talks mainly about economic fairness, Romney reframes it as economic freedom.
And Romney, capitalizing on almost four years of Republican attacks on government, understands how best to close the deal, using tough and forceful language:
Romney attacks The Public, speaking of “the heavy hand of government” and “the invisible boot of government.” …Romney’s “invisible boot” evokes the image of a storm trooper’s boot on your neck. The government is the storm trooper, your enemy. You are weak and in an impossible position. You can’t move — a metaphor for being held back and not being able to freely engage in the economy.
Republicans these days have no problems saying what they mean, when it comes to demonizing The Public, but the Democratic message, as Lakoff and Wehling suggest, should strongly—how about getting pissed off?—counter such an attempt to nullify the value of government:
The Private depends on The Public. It is The Public that provides economic freedom. Give a vision of responsible, progressive business. Talk freedom — as well as fairness. Point out that the hoarding of wealth by the 1 percent kills opportunity, as Joseph Stieglitz has discussed at length. Speak of an “Economy for All — not just rich bankers, managers, and job killers like private equity firms.” Yes, Romney and those like him are job killers. Say it. Point out that during the economic recovery of 2010, 93 percent of the additional income went to the richest 1 percent of taxpayers.
“Yes, Romney and those like him are job killers. Say it.” Say it! All of this is based on the superior (say it!) “moral position” of Democrats and Obama, which the authors summarized nicely:
That democracy is based on empathy (citizens caring about fellow citizens), responsibility both for oneself and others, and an ethic of excellence (doing one’s best not just for oneself, but for one’s family, community, and country).
When it comes down to it, what we will find out in this election—if Democrats properly frame the issues with tough, descriptive language—is whether America at this point in time is a country where appeals involving empathy and social responsibility will still move voters, or whether the tried-and-failed philosophy of let-the-rich-have-it-all-and-hope-some-trickles-down will once again dominate our politics.
For the sake of folks like Robin Layman of rural Tennessee, who desperately need the Democratic Party but are often too ignorant to know that, Democrats must win.