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Framing as Strawman Politics

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Has George Lakoff ever met a conservative? Read any conservative books? Actually sat down and talked over conservationism with someone who actually holds it? From his latest co-written article “Bush is not Incompetent” it appears the answer is no. Lakoff’s latest “research” shows that refraining from a discussion isn’t about getting your points out, it’s about changing the facts and definitions so you can demonize opponents who may have perfectly valid points of view. It’s the politics of tyranny, not democracy.

Consider how Lakoff defines the three fundamental tenets of conservativism: individual initiative, the President is the moral authority, and free markets are enough to foster freedom and opportunity. Focusing exclusively on the second tenet for a moment, where does this come from?

Certainly not any conservative books, politicians, or for that matter, any conservative church has ever or would ever say the President of the United States is the moral authority for the nation. If this were so, Bill Clinton would be doing crusades instead of Billy Graham. Or George H.W Bush. Or Jimmy Carter. No one is suggesting we supplant the Pope with George W. Bush. Not even dominionists believe this, and that’s easy to verify because you can fit every real dominionist in this country in a phone book (despite hysterical claims that there are hundreds of millions of them about the wreak death and destruction on pagans, cross-dressers, and mixed-fabric clothing).

I challenge Lakoff and the Rockridge Institute to back up their “research” to prove that conservatives believe the President should be the moral authority. I have a veritable library of conservative books and articles in my office, and no where has this ever been suggested to my knowledge.

Moving to the third tenet, that free markets are enough to foster freedom, not only do conservatives not believe this, if they did believe it they’d be anarchists. When talking about the right to own property, absolutely, the free market is the answer. However, there are some areas that the free market is not sufficient and conservatives recognize that. If the free market where enough, there would be no need for government. Laissez-faire conservatives are by and large a thing of the past, or for that matter, they’re called “libertarians” and even they would argue that government should enforce contracts.

Lakoff can say conservatives disregard stewardship of the commons all he likes, it still isn’t true. If this were true, conservatives would be calling for disbanding (or at least privatizing) police departments, fire departments, and the like. Government should be the last resort when dealing with how to manage an asset, that doesn’t mean it’s completely off the table.

Lakoff further contents “where profits cannot be made “ conservation, healthcare for the poor “ charity is meant to replace justice”. The horror at having a society that of its own initiative provides for those least fortunate and most in need! That’s virtually putting the poor in boxcars to be gassed.

In regards to Katrina, one can argue that Bush (who is a moderate, not a conservative) failed to handle the situation appropriately. To blame conservationism for the failure is highly incongruous with the facts. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (D) and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco (D) would be astounded to know that they are conservatives and they certainly share some blame in the fiasco. As far as planning in how to deal with hurricanes in New Orleans, it was entirely the effort of local officials, not federal ones. Lakoff engages in a radical rewriting of history in addition to his rewriting of conservative philosophy to construct a nice little strawman.

Lakoff demonstrates clearly the problem with framing, PR consultants, and politics in general. Instead of viewing the opposition as someone who may have reasonable disagreements with you, one portrays their opponents as demons, as evil incarnate that must be destroyed. Political discussion is impossible. Compromise is impossible. All that is left is the mud-wrestling that has become the norm on talk shows and blogs. No one wants to compromise or work with incarnate evil.

This is the beginning of the demise for democracy. As much as the left likes to claim that dissent is patriotic, with articles like this it is clear that dissent isn’t what they want. Two sides arguing and presenting their ideas is one thing. One side insisting that an entire class of people, any iteration of ideology that disagrees with their own, is a demon to be destroyed isn’t a free society. It’s the politics of division. It’s the founding blocks of tyranny.

It’s time to lose the PR consultants, the focus group spin, and popular demonology of politics to realize that our political opponents may disagree with us, but generally they are sincere and honest people. Let’s let the ideas do the talking and do battle and lose the politics of personal destruction that both sides use to devastating effects to democracy, to unity, and to freedom.

John Bambenek is an academic professional at the University of Illinois and a columnist for the Daily Illini. He blogs at Part-Time Pundit

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