George Lakoff wrote the book,
"DON'T THINK OF AN ELEPHANT!"
Try as you might, you can't help but think of an elephant reading the title of Lakoff's book. The book encourages progressives and liberals to reframe conservative arguments that promote our values. The book is in response to the Orwellian linguistic wizardy of right wing word twister, Frank Luntz.
Republicans use phrases like "tax relief" to promote their ideology and make it digestible to the contemporary voter. The Republicans under Luntz are masters at this linguistic framing, and Lakoff argues that those of us left of center can take the same strategy to thwart the GOP from winning future elections.
Traditionally, Democrats and liberals have tried to win political points through debate and dialogue. That may have worked in Lincoln's day, and even as recently as in Kennedy's time, but Nixon, and the Republicans that followed, began to craft their messages to fit into soundbytes. it works.
For example, we could turn the debate about healthcare by changing words that promote our values and are easily digestible in soundbyte America. We could say, smart healthcare instead of universal healthcare. We can argue how smart healthcare promotes small business, local economies, and provides greater health coverage for everybody in a cost-effective manner, that promotes industry growth in health care.
I propose we take the concept offered by Lakoff one step further. Too many liberals and progressives today react to what Republicans, conservatives, and tea baggers are shouting about. We need to generate new conversations by not falling into their linguistic traps. We need to step beyond the binary liberal/conservative paradigm engineered by conservative think tanks. The whole argument falls into their playing field.
We're smarter than they are, just not organized like them. We need to be dismissive of their small ideas and not be afraid to claim their ideas are backwards, destructive, or reckless. As a rule, conservatism is always trapped in the past. Republicans aren't just the "Party of No, they're also the "Party of Old Ideas."
Also, instead of addressing poo flung by right wing monkeys, let's attack their ideas, and then present a new and viable alternative. Arguing with them inside of their frame wastes our time, weakens America, and prevents any real meaningful change from being inacted. For example, look at how effective the right has been in stopping any legislation from being enacted that curbs or reduces global warming. The delay has been great for big business, but there will be disastrous (possibly civlization killing) consequences for delaying action. All they have to do is muddy the waters and argue for equal time in the media. Like it or not, its an effective strategy that wins in the short term.
Words have power, they create our world, and without them we would never have built civlization. As progressives its our calling to make civlization civilized. The conservatives use language by trying to go back to a glorified past that never existed. As progressives we can use language to create a future filled with possiblity, freedom, and opportunity. The future hasn't been built, and its always a place of wonder. The GOP, trapped in the past, can only produce old and worn out ideas with a new coat of paint. That's not progress, its sad. Unfortunately, it's effective for them to win elections.
We can trump them and move light years beyond them by looking at how we use language and by not focusing solely on what right-wing poo flingers shout about. Once we've moved past them, and reduced their linguistic trickery to a worn out paradigm, we can then bring real dialogue to America that brings change by honestly looking at all points of view to produce the most viable options.
The future is ours to invent with our words. Let's create a platform that encourages debate, openess, and progress that makes a difference for others. If we fail, we'll only see the US degrade into a nation that we talk about in the past tense. "The US was a great country once." I don't want to live in that GOP created America. Progressive values build progressive futures.