Saturday, October 28, 2006

Lakoff's Beef with the New Direction

Posted by Cardozo

If there’s one thing you can teach us, Bush (and there may in fact be just the one thing), it’s the importance of teamwork. Your six years in office have been a rather inspiring testament to the importance of loyalty and candor. There were times when one or several of your team members goofed up and, say, brought trumped up evidence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program before the United Nations. Or released the name of a covert CIA agent. Or accidentally shot someone.

But through all of these trials, no one can reasonably say of you, Bush, that you turned your back on your party. You may have turned seven shades of red during backroom discussions, but out there in public not a whisper of a shadow of a grimace ever touches your lips, that would cause anyone to doubt your faith in God and Party.

Clearly, as evidenced by recent news, we Dems lack the same expressed devotion to our cause. Yes, the importance of self-criticism and of questioning authority constitute founding doctrines of modern progressivism, but these can be taken too far, or rather, they can be redeemed during the wrong time and in the wrong place. Check out George Lakoff’s New York Times op-ed on Friday. Lakoff (who you would actually love, Bush, because he understands you, but who you might not know because you don’t have the, um…time…to read books) has been on the very forefront of the push to make progressives smarter at communicating, or “framing,” our beliefs to the persuadable public. Lakoff, however, used the New York Times bully pulpit not to contribute to such a re-framing himself, but rather to mock the recent attempts at same by the Democratic establishment. This at a time when Democrats are probably just one or two mini-scandals away from reclaiming a majority in Congress. We could put out a California wildfire with Henry Waxman’s drool.

But in the last few days of the political tug-of-war that ends November 7th, Lakoff dropped the rope to tell us we all suck at tugging. It’s a trick you Republicans very rarely seem to pull, Bush.

It is true enough that the Democrats' “New Direction” lacks the linguistic fortitude of the “Contract with America,” but at least we are trying. Furthermore, we are beginning to learn from past mistakes and inject new life into our Get-out-the-vote efforts. So I am going to recommend to Professor Lakoff – and other defeatist progressives out there who are already primed to describe precisely how we blew our big chance – that they follow your lead, Bush, and keep the criticism in check until after election day. Surely our doctrine of self-criticism will still be intact on the 8th.


PK said...

Listening to, and watching the Republicans, is like being in Rome, at the colosseum. I feel like I should be wearing a toga, and prayerfully not get noticed in some corner up in the stands.

EO said...

Self criticism is a quality that is unfortunately missing from the repertoire of all the political entities I've heard, in the US or otherwise. But that's probably with good cause. You'll never hear McDonalds, the Gap, Microsoft, or Apple acknowledge past mistakes in their commercials - and it seems these days elections are decided more along the heuristic models that govern fast food purchasing than those we might wish actually decided the fate of the nation.

Speaking with republicans and democrats, one might actually think they live in different countries depending on whoever is in the white house at the time of asking. So much for the constraints of reality.

And so, when PR is the primary consideration of any politician, it is only to be expected that incumbents will invariably "stay the course," and challengers will offer a "new direction," either of them avoiding the concrete at all costs.

The challenger's freedom from a "course" to be "stayed" leaves the door open for the creative flows that have given birth to such meaningless slogans as "a new direction" (?) - and "compassionate conservatism (??)" (-Bush 2000).

Whatever the issues 4 years from now, we can probably count on the pleasure of choosing between a "stayworthy course" and a "new direction" - much to Lakoff's very justified consternation.

Self criticism is great, but it won't get votes. But for the optimistic few - here's to self criticism!

eo said...

PS - (to more directly address Lakoff's point) - it seems commitment doesn't get many votes either.

You can only commit to the will of a few (and upset the rest) but you can vaguely attract the masses...

And so it seems the challengers (whatever color they may be) will be firmly committed to vagueness - progressive and intellectual consternation not withstanding.