Friday, April 22, 2005

The Nation as Child

David Swanson of Progressive Democrats of America has an excellent take on the issue of Lakoffian framing that ties in with what we talked about a couple of weeks back (here, here and here) as well as my recent "No More Talking Points" post. I think he gets to the key point around which much of the confusion circles:

[...] I want to see skilled framing and spinning applied to the positions I support. I do not want to see the positions I support altered beyond recognition in order to fit some pollster’s idea of framing and spinning.


We should start with what we want to say, and then figure out how to say it.
We can’t figure out how to say it first and then decide what it is we want.
The latter method leads to Kerry-esque positions on war, DLC positions on trade and health care, and DNC positions on GLBT rights. In other words:
eternal muddle and defeat.

Framing is the skill that will allow us to present our ideas in a way that will appeal to the voters. But the frames we use have to emerge from the positions we take, not the other way around. The mistake Democrats have made in recent years is to think that all they have to do is emulate the words and the positions will follow.

David then goes on to outline an excellent alternative to the Strict Father/Nurturant Parent models:

What we should be doing is rejecting government paternalism as arrogant, offensive, aristocratic, anti-democratic, and oligarchical.

Republicans do not, at least not consistently, try to frame government as a strict father. Certainly it was that image that turned Bush and Giuliani into heros, rather than clowns, simply because they were in office when a disaster struck. But more often Republicans depict government as an overprotective mother.

In truth, the government is not a separate being from the rest of us, not as long as it is to some extent democratic. But the image of the government as a Leviathan constituted by its citizens is not quite right. The government is not, or should not be, a monster towering over us.

Rather, the government is our creation. It is both independent of us and in need of care and attention and discipline from us. It does not care for us.
We care for it. We care for each other through it. We should not unquestioningly obey it. We should nurture it, encourage it, allow it to try new things, and hold it accountable when it makes a mistake so that it does better next time. The government will outlast us and will carry with it what we provide it in education and guidance. The government is not our father or mother, but our child - and eternally the child of each future generation of us.

David very neatly flips the entire Nation as Parent metaphor on its head and puts the Citizen in the role of the Parent!

This harkens back to the era of John F. Kennedy who famously opened his presidency by saying, "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country." Using the metaphor David gives us, we can see that Kennedy's was not calling on citizens to serve their nation as a child might do their choirs for a parent. He was instead calling on citizens to help and guide their nation as a parent might help and guide their child to a more mature level of understanding.

A bad parent would treat their child as a servant, born only to perform the tasks the parent doesn't want to do ("mow the lawn! do the dishes! clean the living room!"). A good parent will see their child as an opportunity to instill and pass on a legacy that will outlast them. Similarly, a bad citizen will view their nation as a servant, empowered only to do the things the citizen doesn't want to do ("Fix the roads! Clean the parks! Educate my children! Protect me from the bad guys!"). A good citizen will see the nation as an entity in which they can pass on a national legacy that will outlast them and will be an inspiration to others.

The nation isn't the enemy, no more then your child is the enemy. It may sometimes be unruly. It may sometimes need to be disciplined. But just when you least expect it, it can do things that really make you appreciate the fact that it is there.

There is no greater joy for a parent then when a child exceeds the parent's expectations.

There is no greater joy for a citizen then when the nation exceeds the citizen's expectations.


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