Let Go of the Lakoff

In presenting his case for why Howard Dean's determination to make George Lakoff the Democratic Frank Luntz is the wrong strategy, Brad Plumer forgets to mention why it's completely insane.

Geroge Lakoff -- I'm sorry to say -- is absolutely horrible at framing things. No, I mean it, the guy is atrociously fucking bad at it. He's a perfectly good guru because he understands what framing is and why it's important and I'm glad that Democrats are realizing we need to put some thought into our language, but Jesus Christ, has anybody actually read his book? He's the worst goddamn framer I've ever read. Democrats should be the nurturing parent? Are you kidding me?

After the election, I read Lakoff's book for a review I was doing. I was stunned. The guy's recommendations seemed completely ignorant of everything else he said. Frames, for instance, bring to mind a host of contexts and other information. So the strict father frame the Republicans use immediately paints Democrats as mommy. And while mom is awesome, it's dad you call when you hear noises downstairs late at night. That's how Republicans win elections, they basically mount the stage and say "did you hear that, America? I think I heard someone jiggling the door downstairs! Now would you rather have George Bush and his bat go check it out, or should we send John Kerry and his baguette?" So Lakoff responds to this by suggesting that Democrats become a gender neutral nurturing parent, which simply doesn't exist, and would actually just mean mom.

The books flaws are legion, and all like this. He recognizes that you can boil the Republican agenda down to 10 words, forming five simple programs and principles. Great. But his counter-suggestion for the Democrats is the worst, most meaningless boilerplate I've ever heard. After the fold, I'm going to attach a review I wrote of his book shortly after the election. It never got published, but I've always liked it, so here ya go. But before you're off to there, it should be said that Brad, and for that matter, my old blogmate Jesse, shouldn't be quite as dismissive of framing as they are. It's one weapon in the political arsenal, and we should make sure we know how to use it. Just because some Democrats are too overzealous in pursuing it, doesn't mean you should marginalize the whole pursuit. But so far as we're going to do any framing at all, anything Lakoff says should be immediately reworked and forwarded over to DeLay's office, in the hopes that they'll use it and destroy their rhetorical advantage.

Anyway, my review follows:

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