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Lovin’ Lakoff


Dump on Lefty linguist George Lakoff and your mailbox fills right up. Here’s a note from San Franciscan Bennett Charles responding to Jim Ross’ comments from last week. This is a kind of eavesdropping because Charles sent part of this note to Ross directly.
There’s been some unfair Lakoff dumping. Just because the Volvo V70 Cross Country Liberals dig Lakoff doesn’t mean that his work is useless.

I think you are misreading Lakoff. His work has the same goal as you would like it to have: talking to people. Not bubble liberals, but people. This isn’t about some Chardonnay sipper from the Bay Area Hills telling po’ folks what to do and how to vote. He’s exploring and mapping the different modes of political communication and thought that exist in America. Who can deny that there are a lot of different modes out there? He gets specific about them in a brilliant way that we can build on….. Thing is, you already know some of what Lakoff says because you’re not a bubble liberal. Lakoff’s in vogue now in such a trendy way because what he says is a Major News Flash to bubble liberals.
You and I and he would agree that intellectual policy arguments do not win elections, though many liberals mistakenly believe they can. The voters we need to reach do not make rational choices based on policy positions of candidates. They want to know *why* candidates think the way they do; they want to know their beliefs. (And, I would add, they want to see candidates who “fit” those beliefs, e.g. a rich guy portraying a populist can’t work. Or, you need a very, very good show, like Arnold. His personal lifestyle fits his message.) What Lakoff does (and what any wise candidate or consultant followers of his will do) is find ways to say why we believe in what we believe, to say what kind of America we want to live in, and to say what Democrats are about.

Well, my problem with Lakoff is a little different. I think the Lefty fascination with his emphasis on how things are said belies a condescension that persists among a lot of “progressives,” a word Lakoff favors instead of “liberal.” The idea, as far as I can make it out, is that since the Republicans lie but disguise their lies as pablum, then Democrats must do something similar to capture votes from folks who aren’t sophisticated (that’s elitist code, by they way, for “stupid) to understand the smoke and mirror show that’s so misled them and caused George Bush to be elected president. Lakoff’s take on “framing” and other sorts of talking tricks is, for many, the best way to remedy this state of affairs.
This is ridculous. It’s a thesis that rests squarely on the cynical premise that politics is made up of folks who are totally insincere and that winning is all that matters. Since no one needs to be sincere or truthful to win elections, it doesn’t matter what you say, what matters is how you say it. That, my friends, isn’t a slippery slope, it’s an abyss.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 11:07 AM | Permalink

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