Thursday, December 23, 2004

Confusing the messenger with the message

Chris Nolan has been talking about George Lakoff and is pretty unimpressed. He reposts an email he received that generally approves of his criticism of Lakoff and those who follow him. I'd recommend reading it even though I have a serious disagreement with both Nolan and his correspondent. I've seen these kind of complaints from others (Kevin Drum for example) and I think it is time to clear up what appears to be a fundamental confusion: George Lakoff is not equal to the whole issue of political framing.

Lakoff has provided a valuable service to many Democrats who have a fundamental difficulty understanding the communication problem they face. I know many Democrats who simply can't understand why anyone in their right mind would find George W. Bush appealing. They continually express amazement that anyone with an ounce of brains could be bamboozled by this charlatan.

What Lakoff has done is describe precisely what it is that Democrats haven't been able to get on their own. He has done it in a way that has allowed a lot of Democrats to understand just why the Republican message might be appealing. For that accomplishment alone he has earned a place in the Democratic heavens.

But Lakoff has also provides Democrats with the tools they can use to fashion a more appealing message without necessarily sacrificing their core values. Democrats have been trying to re-fashion themselves for years now, but much of that work has come in the form of actually changing those core values. Something many Democrats have rebelled against. Lakoff has given Democrats the hope that there message can still resonate if it is properly presented. Again, another accomplishment for which he deserves praise.

But now we get down to the core of the problem. While Lakoff has done yeoman's work in analyzing the Republican message and in describing tools that Democrats need to fashion their own message, his own personal attempts at fashioning a Democratic/Progressive message have been weak at best. The "Nurturant Parent" is just not a model that appeals, even to a lot of Democrats.

It is the latter problem that I think gets on the nerves of people like Kevin Drum, Chris Nolan and Chris' correspondent. I don't have a problem with that. It doesn't appeal to me that much either (I've described my problems with it elsewhere). The problem I have with Mr. Nolan and the others is that they appear to reject Lakoff and any who follow him in toto simply because they don't like this particular aspect of his work.

Mr. Nolan's correspondent is absolutely right that George Lakoff the man will never appeal to the kind of people Democrats need to appeal to. But that's not the point. George Lakoff the man is not the message we are trying to sell to the American public. He is simply doing some of the grunt work that will be necessary to develop that message.

I know very few Lakoff fans who have embraced Lakoff's "Nurturant Parent" model. But it is not that model for which he is praised. For Mr. Nolan and others to criticize us simply because they don't like one aspect of Lakoff's work is just silly. Using pejorative terms like "Doormat Democrats" is especially ironic since many who are in the reform movement see Lakoffian analysis as one of the keys to kicking out the very "Doormat Democrats" that Mr. Nolan criticizes.

Hell, I've been criticizing "Doormat Democrats" for years! Do Chris and others really think I want us to go back to that?

Lakoff is just this guy, y'know. A pretty smart guy, but not the be-all and end-all to this discussion. His work is just step 1 and 2 in the 100 step program to taking back this country. Don't harsh on the guy simply because you don't like his suggestions for step 3.


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