George Lakoff makes a useful contribution to the current U.S. politicaldebate by applying the linguistic understanding of frames ("mentalstructures that shape the way we see the world") to the strugglebetween Democrats and Republicans, but his analysis is incomplete andhis recommendations will lead to continued defeat for Democrats iffollowed.
In Don’t Think of an Elephant Lakoff, a Professor ofCognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California atBerkeley, argues that "… we usually understand understand largesocial groups, like nations, in terms of small ones, like families orcommunities;" that we have two primary family models: "strict father"Republicans and "nurturant parent" Democrats; that political issues areframed through these models by Republicans to their advantage; and thatDemocrats should do the same since the values of nurturant parents are"… traditional American values, all the values we are proud of."
This way disaster lies. Lakoff’s analysis does not offer aconvincing response to the need for security in a post-9/11 world. ADemocratic "Mommy Party" will not defeat a Republican "Daddy Party" ina time of war. Lakoff denies he is proposing such a contest since hisDemocratic parent is gender neutral and "Nurturant parenting is, ofcourse, anything but permissive" but that argument is not likely tohave much traction outside Berkeley. Wars in the popular imaginationare fought by men, not nurturing parents.
More generally, Lakoff’s suggestion confines the Democrats to avoting population that is a fraction of the total population: hisapproach does not offer a realistic way to broaden the Party’s appealbeyond its base.
There is a third way: the successful family. The issue is not whatfamily model is adopted, but that the family be a success: rich,strong, happy and free. This is the way forward for Progressives, notthe "nurturing parent" model. We are opposed to Bush’s economicpolicies because they are ineffective and have hurt our economic performance compared to what was achieved under Clinton, not because we care more about rich or poor; we areopposed to the war in Iraq because it has increased terrorism and hurtthe war against Al Qaeda who attacked us, not because we are against war; we supportgay marriage because we support marriage; we support abortion rightsbecause we support freedom.
This emphasis on success provides common emotional ground forAmericans from Red States and Blue. More important, it unitesRepublican and Democratic pragmatists who are optimistic that theextraordinary historical record of American achievement can be carriedforward.
"People do not necessarily vote in their self-interest. They votetheir identity," Lakoff writes. The identity of success is the onething that unites us all and will win every election where itchallenges the identity of failure.