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Drum Reviews Lakoff

I'd been debating whether to pick up George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant, which has picked up a fair bit of buzz for it's notion of how politicians "frame" dialogue -- a concept that I spent a couple of years wrestling with in my communications Master's program. There really seems to be nothing new there, other than the fact that Lakoff's popularizing a lot of concepts that gained traction during the general semantics phase of rhetorical study. (See S.I. Hayakawa's important and accessible Language in Thought and Action.)

Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly has reviewed the book, and I've seen his criticisms elsewhere as well:

"Framing," of course, is Lakoff's claim to fame, and he bases his analysis of contemporary American politics on the idea that conservative and liberal worldviews are based on a "strict father/nurturant parent" dichotomy.... As it happens, I think he stretches this metaphor farther than it can reasonably go, but that's not my real problem with him. My problem is that although he does a good job of explaining how conservatives use framing to their benefit, he fails to provide very much compelling advice for liberals.

...Lakoff may have identified a serious problem for which he deserves credit but he hasn't identified a serious solution. In fact, here's how he ends the book, with his nomination for a "ten word" philosophy for liberals:

  • Stronger America
  • Broad Prosperity
  • Better Future
  • Effective Government
  • Mutual Responsibility

Maybe it's just me, but those sure don't sound as zingy as Lower Taxes, Family Values, and A Kick-Ass Military. I'm a liberal myself, but even so this list almost put me to sleep. (It's also a list that doesn't strike me as especially liberal. With the possible exception of the last bullet, is there anything there that would be out of place in the Republican party platform?)


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You might find Oliver Willis' "Brand Democrat" campaign providing a bit more fodder for a framework.