Politics and language, redux

This post was written by Friday blogger Annie Reid.

George Lakoff of the Rockridge Institute proposes taking a page from the Republican game book and restructuring how Dems and other liberals use language in politics. He argues that conservative Republicans have learned how to dominate discourse by creating the frames — the conceptual structures by which we understand an idea, the basic moral foundation — within which we speak of the issues.

For example, here’s how the phrase tax relief favors the conservative agenda:

The word relief evokes a frame in which there is a blameless Afflicted Person who we identify with and who has some Affliction, some pain or harm that is imposed by some external Cause-of-pain. Relief is the taking away of the pain or harm, and it is brought about by some Reliever-of-pain.

The Relief frame is an instance of a more general Rescue scenario, in which there a Hero (The Reliever-of-pain), a Victim (the Afflicted), a Crime (the Affliction), A Villain (the Cause-of-affliction), and a Rescue (the Pain Relief). The Hero is inherently good, the Villain is evil, and the Victim after the Rescue owes gratitude to the Hero.

The term tax relief evokes all of this and more. Taxes, in this phrase, are the Affliction (the Crime), proponents of taxes are the Causes-of Affliction (the Villains), the taxpayer is the Afflicted Victim, and the proponents of “tax relief” are the Heroes who deserve the taxpayers’ gratitude.

Every time the phrase tax relief is used and heard or read by millions of people, the more this view of taxation as an affliction and conservatives as heroes gets reinforced.

Lakoff proposes re-naming and re-framing the terms of the issues in his book, Don’t Think of an Elephant!

Here is a simple introduction to framing, along with some advice on how to talk to a conservative.

Democracy for America meetups talked about this last week in nationwide meetings, but this is just the beginning, they say. To find a group in your area, check here.


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