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Frame This by Leighton Woodhouse

by Leighton Woodhouse

It was sometime during 2002 that the name "George Lakoff" started coming up from time to time on my local NPR station, in a handful of book reviews, and in other sources of political and academic chatter. I remember being heartened at the time to learn that some creative thinking was finally coming out of our side of the aisle. After all, by the time that "Moral Politics" was in its second printing, two years of Republican rule had been preceded by eight years of a Democratic presidency whose brand of progressive innovation followed the formula: Take one part Latest Republican Policy Initiative, add one part water. In spite of the fact that I was, and remain, seriously skeptical of the claim that political dispositions can be boiled down to whether your parents were nice to you or not, and slightly dubious of the notion that "frames" are literally built into the structure of your brain, it was quite a relief to hear that at least we were starting to move our party's conversation away from choosing which core Democratic value to butcher this week to pick up two percentage points in the Sunbelt suburbs.

Lately, however, I've been following the growing celebrity of George Lakoff with dismay. The man has some interesting ideas, to be sure, and in the narrow field of professional political wordsmiths, they deserve a good deal of attention. But I'm starting to get the sense that Democratic rank-and-filers, desperate for a beacon to follow to victory in '06 and '08, are beginning to regard his advice as The Answer To All Our Problems. To hear a lot of progressives talk about Lakoff, you'd think that we were just handed some sort of secret decoder ring that unlocks the secrets of the other side, and now it's just a matter of deciphering Frank Luntz's talking points, breaking the code and using it for the powers of good. In the imagination of a good number of Lakoff devotees, the two-party system is nothing but a massive Skinner Box, and winning political campaigns is just a matter of knowing all the right buzzwords that trigger some primitive response mechanism that makes voters reach for either the lever marked "Republican" ("Tax relief!" Bzzt!) or "Democrat" ("Right to marry!" Bzzt!). Is this what behavioral scientists see when they look at the world?

The first practical problem with taking Lakoff's advice too seriously is that, frankly, rank-and-file Democrats have little to no power to institute it. We can all agree that the next time the Republicans start talking about tax cuts, our side should talk about the wealthy sharing the obligation to pay our "patriotic dues." But unless the DNC starts mass emailing draft proofs of its talking points and swing state ad scripts for our review, it really doesn't matter what we think.

"Well," you may reply, "we could always band together and demand that our representatives start using more effective frames," and that's absolutely true. But that brings me to my next point: We didn't lose the 2004 election because we used the wrong catch phrases, and we wouldn't have won it if John Kerry had read "Don't Think of an Elephant." We lost the 2004 election for a complex array of reasons, among them: a weak candidate, an unclear national security plank, a reactive field strategy, African-American voter disenfranchisement, the decades-long demise of organized labor, over-reliance on overpriced and out-of-touch consultants, and a host of other problems. Any one of these factors will require our banding together and demanding things of our representatives; do we really want to top our list with the request that they start saying "Right-wing power grab" repeatedly every time they have a microphone in front of them? Is this really the biggest fish we have to fry?

The second problem with taking Lakoff's advice too seriously is the converse of the first: Lakoff lets us off too easily. Lakoff's message is quite easy for rank-and-file Democrats to stomach, because it lays all the blame on the campaign professionals and none of it on things that regular people can and must do  something about. As much as I sympathize with the sentiment – the Kerry campaign was horrendous – I reject the notion that campaigns belong to the consultants' to win or to lose, and that we have nothing to do with it. Armchair quarterbacking is as easy as it is useless; fortunately, unlike professional football, in party politics we can do more than sit around and be spectators. This is our party, we're the ones who suffer from its defeat, and it's thus our responsibility to build the basis for its success. The answer to our party's woes is not to yell at the coaches, or to get Bob Shrum to do better focus group tests on the "frames" he chooses.

Solutions require a lot more hard work on our part. Poor framing doesn't even begin to describe the degree of the Democratic Party's disrepair. If I were to point to a single, paramount cause of the Democratic Party's decades-long decline, it would be the decimation of the labor movement in an era of free market globalization. Unions were once the institutional backbone of progressive political engagement; in 35 years, their representation has been reduced from nearly a third to less than 13% of the workforce, and they have to fight hard to keep their own members from voting Republican.  Moreover, their decline has coincided with the rise of evangelical churches as the institutional backbone of conservative Republicans.

Again, the 2004 election, like the 2000 one, was decided by a dizzying array of factors, but chief among the reasons for the steady rise of the GOP since the 1960s is the fact that the Republicans have developed a strong foundation of enduring institutions that has brought conservative activists together in person, molded their common values into strong ideological convictions and clear political objectives, and put them to action on the ground. Politics is merely the formal exercise and expression of the power that religious conservatives have accumulated over years of organizing themselves into a coherent movement with a single voice. The institutions they have built to accomplish that feat include not only the network of evangelical churches, but the constellation of self-help groups, magazines and newspapers, rock bands, summer camps, political action committees and so forth that orbit around it. It is this type of grassroots foundation that is missing from our party, and that is our task to re-create if we hope to win elections in the future without compromising the values that separate us from the party of Ann Coulter and James Dobson. Juggling synonyms will do nothing to accomplish that task. Politics may exist in our heads, but it also exists in the world, and we're losing in both arenas.

Posted by Charlene Johnston on May 23, 2005 at 08:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (31)

The Story of DemocracyFest

In Febuary of 2004, I noticed that people on the DFA blog were talking about "Deanfest, " a festival that would never happen. I thought, Why not? In short, the answer is because planning such an event is not an easy task, but being a Deaniac and thinking anything was possible, I set off to make it happen.

Never having planned an event like this before, I requested help on the DFA blog, and My Vote is My Voice was formed by Al, Charlene, and myself to plan the event. Many sleepless nights later, DemocracyFest was born in Pittsfield, MA. Five Hundred Deaniacs gathered for the 2 day festival to celebrate the Dean campaign and plan for the future. Attendees enjoyed a steady stream of speakers and music, and 160+ of us received campaign training.

The positive response from attendees was so overwhelming that MViMV thought it should be an annual event. We realized that things would go much smoother if there was a local co-sponsoring organization involved, so we called for proposals. We accepted proposals from CA, TX, and VA. After public IRV voting for the location of DemocracyFest 2005, Austin, TX, was announced as the location for this year's event. The local organizer is Democracy For Texas.

We hope to see you there on June 17th-19th! www.myvoteismyvoice.com/html/deanfest_2005.html

Can't make it to DemocracyFest 2005? How about DemocracyFest 2006? Want DemocracyFestt 2006 to be held in your backyard? More details on how to submit a proposal to co-sponsor the third annual DemocracyFest with My Vote is My Voice will be posted next month!

Posted by Jessica Falker on May 16, 2005 at 06:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)



Recently a friend of mine lost his Naturalization Certificate in a fire. This is the one of most coveted documents in history because it grants foreign born citizens a new identity, being an American. In order to replace the Naturalization Certificate, the Department of Homeland Security which now houses the Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) denied the replacement certificate pending a Biometric analysis. The notification from CIS included local sites that perform the biometric analysis for a fee.

Biometrics are automated methods of recognizing a person based on a physiological or behavioral characteristic.  Some of the features include measurements of; face, fingerprints, handwriting, hand geometry, iris, retinal, vein, and voice.   Biometric technology is now the foundation of a secure identification and personal information data collection system maintained by the Department of Homeland Security.

The information is uploaded for various purposes to be utilized by numerous governmental agencies for verification and distribution, all under the premise of increasing security.

In 1903 NY State Prison began fingerprinting prisoners for security purposes and since then the government has systematically proposed various schemes to collect information on the citizenry. Since then, states have been collecting personal information for anyone requesting a driver’s license, professional license, Medicaid or welfare benefits. The Judicial Branch in several states has ruled against mass collection of personal information as a violation of personal privacy.

In Perkey v. Department of Motor Vehicles (1986) the Supreme Court of California ruled that, "The collection of fingerprints for ... unspecified and widespread usage infringes on individual privacy rights." 

Fingerprints, facial geometry, and retinal scans and the communication thereof are protected under the right to liberty and property which is a basic understanding of the US Constitution which has been backed by 200 years of case law, protecting these basic human rights.

The government’s stance is that the war on terror has prompted the need for increased security measures. When the citizenry allows blatant violations of basic Civil Liberties it is the death of Democracy. In Politics Aristotle said, “ The basis for a democratic state is liberty”

We must save our liberty for the democratic state is in an ominous risk of extinction.

Ok everyone; look into the retinal camera for your close-up.

Posted by Narges Niedzwiecki on May 6, 2005 at 08:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Frank Costanzo Guest Blogger

All, thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts.

I have been pondering the Easter Island statues.  For hundreds of years, these enigmatic blocks of rock with their huge eyes have been looking out to the sea in hopes of seeing others of “their kind.”  The SETI telescope array is reminiscent of the Easter Island display.  With numerous dishes pointed to the heavens, modern man searches for life in the universe.  We are always seeking “our kind.”  In this case intelligent life.

So it is for those of us who are Red State Progressives.  We are always searching, always looking for “our kind.”   The problem is that often we are as static as the Easter Island stones or the SETI telescopes.  We stand still and hope that a progressive comes into view, identifies themselves as “our kind” and engages us in dialogue.  On the rare occasion that this happens, the conversation tends to center on the less intelligent life forms, the non-progressives. 

I submit, that our jobs are to be proactive and to present our views in a cohesive rational fashion.  With the proliferation of radio talk shows (and blogs) there has been a debate about our participation in such shows presented by the rightwing.  Some argue that we should stay away as those who listen to and participate in such can never be swayed to our side.  That it is just a waste of time and effort.  Others believe we should participate if for no other reason to take up the air-time.  I think we should not shrink from any opportunity to present our views and be proud of them.

After all, what are our beliefs; at a minimum tolerance.  But it all boils down to respect.  We respect people and their views.  We respect the freedom of others to do what they wish.  Oddly, in this regard, we are not far apart from the conservatives who espouse the notions of personal freedoms and liberties.  Perhaps that is what we should be telling them.

So I ask do we bother to speak our truth even in conservative venues or do we use our time to work with the undecided or the persuadable masses?

Frank Costanzo

Phoenix, Arizona

Posted by Frank Costanzo on May 2, 2005 at 07:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (77) | TrackBack