Friday, December 10, 2004

Talkin' to the Morally Elite

I agree with Mathew Yglesias that "moral elite" is an excellent frame (coined by John Holbo). Matt makes an important point about framing that is not talked about enough:

There's a fascinating point in their about the modalities of the term "elite." On the one hand, given the grand US tradition of populism and Jackson/Toqueville democracy, an elite is a bad thing to be for political purposes. Americans (rather oddly) rebel at the notion that anyone is better than anyone else or should have any ability to claim superior wisdom about anything than anyone else. At the same time, however, when "elite" is thrown at you as an accusation, you can hardly deny it. America lauds achievement, accomplishment, etc., so when someone castigates the "intellectual elite" you're hardly going to turn around and say, "no, no, you've got it all wrong -- I'm an idiot!" You're stuck in a weird American cultural void, unable to deny that you think you're better than others, but unable to admit it either.

Negative frame (used against an opponent, as opposed to a positive frame used to boost your side) have many different levels of sophistication:

Level 1: It is relatively easy to come up with frames that paint the opposition in a negative light.

Level 2: What is more challenging is to come up with a negative frame that the opposition will have difficulty countering because they, at least subconsciously, agree with it.

Level 3: What is even better is to come up with negative frame that the opposition adopts themselves!

Democrats have a mixed history with Level 1 negative frames, but they have rarely formalized the process. They have had much less success at Level 2 and Level 3.

Republicans have become masters of all three levels, which is why their talking points dominate the public debate.

We need to do better.


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