Friday, April 01, 2005

Framing is for idiots, Part 2

The framing wars continue and a lot of very sensible people are falling into the same trap that ensnared Joshua Green. Today's example comes from Brad Plumer, who labels Howard Dean a "madman" for saying that he wants to "make George Lakoff the Democrats' Frank Luntz". Says Brad:

[...] first you need to make the ground ripe. Otherwise, you're just coming up with a goofy new name for something—which is why, notice, the phrase "personal accounts" have never caught on.

So please, no Lakoff. Not yet. Figure out how to do all that other stuff first. But depending on framing and framing alone will condemn the Democrats to irrelevance for decades to come.

I challenge Brad to cite any statement by Dean in which he says that Democrats should "depend on framing and framing alone." Of course that would be a ridiculous idea. But Dean has never said that. Nor has Lakoff or anyone else that I am aware of. In fact, the only ones who have said anything like that are those who feel the need to mischaracterize proponents of framing. Dean and Lakoff have repeatedly said that framing isn't enough. Why then do critics choose to criticize them as if they are saying exactly the opposite?

Brad's underlying point is a good one: you need to build the foundation ("make the ground ripe") before you can strike with a good talking point. But Lakoff has said much the same thing on many occasions.  Framing is not the be-all and end-all of what we are trying to accomplish. But it is a necessary component and frankly, Democrats have been terrible at using the right words to explain their ideas.

The Republican frames have worked because they have spent the last 30 years seeding them throughout our culture ("We're from the government and we're here to help you!"). Then, when they go on the air, they only have to say a couple of words to activate the frame and 80% of their work is done. "Death Tax" worked as a frame not simply because it was a magic phrase but precisely because it was based on a long-term program to subconsciously program to respond to the phrase. Brad seems to be arguing the same thing. But he also seems to think that advocates of framing aren't aware of this.

I have yet to see a criticism of the new interest in framing that has not (1) mischaracterized what framing proponents have said and (2) advocated, in opposition to framing, positions that are actually at the heart of what framing is all about. I have no problem with specific criticism of specific attempts at framing (I myself have criticized Lakoff's "Nurturant Parent" model on more than one occasion). But what Joshua Green, Brad Plumer and others are doing is making blanket condemnations of the entire concept. It is disrespectful of our intelligence for Joshua and Brad to think they need to step in and stop us before we do something foolish.

Give us at least a little credit guys.

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