Tuesday, September 26, 2006

William Galston on Lakoff's Chico Marxism

Galson reviewing Lakoff's new book over at Democracy. Not theology but UU's the only folks I know who've bought into Lakoff.
To the Berkeley linguist-cum-Democratic guru, what matters are not the facts, but the frames through which the facts are viewed. As he assures us in his new book, Whose Freedom?, "frames trump facts"–that, if facts are inconsistent with frames, they will be ignored. In his view, what ails progressives is that conservatives are far more aware of their guiding assumptions and more self-conscious about using language to "frame" issues to their advantage–regardless of the facts. To regain effectiveness, then, progressives must fight fire with fire. Instead of arguing the facts, Lakoff says, they must substitute their frame for that of the conservatives and reclaim the concept of freedom–in his words, "America’s most important idea."

Lakoff is entirely correct in placing freedom at the center of American identity and politics, yet like Chico, he ignores reality and only endorses as facts the assertions that are consistent with his worldview. Whose Freedom? could have been a provocative book from one of the few members of academia with real influence on Democratic leaders; instead, it is a jerry-rigged polemic built to fit Lakoff’s political agenda. And that’s a shame, because progressives can–and should–enter the debate about what freedom means in America today.

Lakoff’s analysis–as previously laid out in his best-selling Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate–has proved appealing to many Democrats. Its underlying message is reassuring: Forget about rethinking anything except your rhetoric; there’s nothing wrong with the party that a more self-conscious and aggressive articulation of the progressive frame can’t cure. Indeed, Lakoff dominated the post-2004-election post-mortems and was showered with invitations to brief Democratic lawmakers and strategists.

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