October 11, 2006


The Lakoff Effect (ANDREW FERGUSON, October 11, 2006, NY Sun)

A disciple of the notoriously anti-American Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Noam Chomsky, [George] Lakoff first earned a wide public audience — inadvertently — with his essay "Metaphors of Terror," published a few days after September 11, 2001.

In it, he explored why the terrorist attacks affected so many so profoundly.

"Towers are symbols of phallic power," Mr. Lakoff explained, "and their collapse reinforces the idea of loss of power."

And if you think the twin towers were symbolically profound, wait till you get a load of the Pentagon: "Another kind of phallic imagery was more central here," Mr. Lakoff wrote. "The Pentagon, a vaginal image from the air, was penetrated by the plane as missile."

A man who could write such things may be suited to many tasks, but "counselor to a major political party trying to win elections" is not one of them.

Yet that is what Mr. Lakoff became before the 2004 elections. He spoke at conclaves of Democratic candidates, and the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee bought boxes of his book on political strategy ("Don't Think of an Elephant") and passed them out like party favors.

The book sold a quarter million copies — not, presumably, to Republicans — and Democratic Committee Chairman Howard Dean christened Mr. Lakoff "one of the most influential political thinkers of the progressive movement."

Like any bunco artist, Mr. Lakoff wowed his audience by telling them what they thought they wanted to hear. According to Mr. Lakoff, Republicans owed their electoral victories to "framing," the psychological manipulation of voters through the clever use of words — describing tax cuts, for example, as "tax relief."

"What conservatives have learned about winning elections is that they have to activate the ‘strict father model' in more than half the electorate — either by fear or by other means," Mr. Lakoff wrote.

The key to Democratic victory thus lay in an alternative manipulation of images — for example, by referring to trial lawyers, a favorite Republican whipping boy and a major Democratic constituency, as "public protection attorneys."

Mr. Lakoff's view of electoral politics was not only superficial but cynical — a kind of graduate-school version of the worldview of filmmaker Michael Moore, another Democratic pontificator. Both Messrs. Moore and Lakoff viewed the public as bovine, unsophisticated, and easily duped.

Which explained, for Democrats, why evil Republicans kept winning.

But Democrats lost elections listening to Mr. Lakoff, just as they'd lost elections before he became their swami. Now the more respectable elements in the party are giving him the heave-ho.

It's a matter of the Right ideas, not the right words, Democrats veer to the right in fight for House (Ralph Z. Hallow, 10/11/06, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)
Democrats "have adopted a different kind of candidate, out of the traditional political sphere," said Charlie Gerow, a Pennsylvania-based Republican strategist.

"There are especially strong cases of 'blank slate' candidates with no voting records, trying to hedge on every issue -- in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Virginia, for example -- and other Democrats running like they're Republicans, in Georgia, Indiana and North Carolina," says National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) spokesman Jonathan Collegio. [...]

The reasons for the plethora of rightward-running Democratic candidates? Polls show Democrats will have a hard time winning in strong Republican and swing districts if they spout traditional Democratic positions.

Democrats occupy seats in 41 congressional districts that voted for Mr. Bush in 2004, while Republicans hold 18 seats in districts that voted for John Kerry. That means that there are more than twice as many Democrats running in Bush-Republican districts than Republicans running in Kerry-Democrat districts.

To make a successful play for House control, Democrats have to win in Republican districts. But voter surveys consistently show that the national Democratic Party's liberal positions on taxes, abortion and other issues do not go down well in districts that supported Mr. Bush by 10 percentage points or more.

Therefore, the Democrats have recruited two types of candidates: those who often sound like their Republican opponents on abortion, guns, homeland security or taxes -- and those who simply don't talk much at all.

"It took 12 years in the minority for Democrats to realize that they couldn't win elections by running like Democrats -- so they've drafted candidates who either masquerade as conservatives or keep mum on the issues as long as politically possible," Mr. Collegio said.

These candidates, were they to win, would be exceptionally easy to pick off in '08 after they had a two year record of congressional votes, nevermind John McCain Vs. Hillary at the top of the ticket.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 11, 2006 7:33 AM

There is a kernel of validity to Mr. Lakoff’s ‘framing’ concept. In my rural gun totin’ community no one would consider it inappropriate to discuss, in mixed company, the use of cow manure to enrich the soil. However, if the acronym for ‘Ship High in Transit' was used rather than the word manure, some gentleman might call you out for using vile language in the presence of his women folks.

Posted by: TGN at October 11, 2006 10:57 AM

I think the economic fundamentals mean a narrow GOP win in both Houses. But if the conventional wisdom is right and the Dems take over, I am not too worried.

OJ is right that if these wolves in sheeps clothing don't back up their campaigns with more conservative votes than the normal Dem, they mostly lose in 2008.

If they do tack to the right in their votes, then that is good too. We get President Bush's policies anyways.

Posted by: Bob at October 11, 2006 11:18 AM

Should the Dems get their victory, a lot of these guys are going to be under severe pressure to conform to The Party Line. Unfortunately, the Dems have shown a great ability to enforce that line. Any thought that they will act like the Stupid Party would (and has) is wishful thinking. (It will also be pointed out to them that incumbents rarely lose even in swing districts.)

They will do what their owners tell them, and they will like it.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 11, 2006 2:40 PM

Why would Dems tack right when any untoward developments can and will be blamed on BushCo paving the way for a Democratic win in '08? It's not like they care about national security, the economy or anything other than regaining their power.

Posted by: erp at October 11, 2006 4:02 PM