Category Archives: P

When They Make It Personal, Return to the Issue

As Slate blogger David Weigel has reported, James O’Keefe of Project Veritas (an Orwellian name) challenges Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) about an amendment he proposed to the Voting Rights Act.

Weigel observes:

There is no mention of the “Voting Rights Act” in the intro. It’s called “a part of federal law that gives Eric Holder the power to approve election law in 16 states,” and Sensenbrenner’s amendment is called “legislation to give [U.S. Attorney General] Eric Holder back power over state elections.” Framed that way, what conservative could possibly support it?

From a framing point of view, what strikes me is that O’Keefe’s language makes Eric Holder the issue. This seems like an attempt to repeat the success the right has had in discrediting the Patient Protection Act by calling it Obamacare. As I’ve pointed out, this name makes President Obama and people’s feelings about him the issue instead of the law’s contents.

When bullies try to make an individual (such as Attorney General Eric Holder) the issue instead of the policy, return the subject back to the values at stake. As far as I know, birds are still not allowed to vote.
Eric Holder Photo Credit: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Develop via Compfight cc
Voting Booth Photo Credit: seeingimonkey via Compfight cc

VotingBoothSo how should Framologists reframe personalization? Instead of just saying that it isn’t about Eric Holder, we should make clear the values and principles at stake. I think these are:

  • Equality. No state or county should be allowed to discriminate against voters based on race or language.
  • Protection. The American government has a responsibility to protect the rights of its citizens. In this case, the federal government is the proper level because some states have a history of racial discrimination in voting.
  • Freedom. An abstract right to vote is meaningless if states or counties make it too hard to exercise. Protecting this right creates the freedom to vote.

So Framologists would explain that the amendment is about equality, freedom, and protection of Americans’ right to vote without discrimination. I’d recommend not naming Mr. Holder by saying, e.g., “It’s not about Eric Holder.” As George Lakoff has pointed out in Don’t Think of an Elephant, putting a no or not in front of the topic doesn’t stop people from thinking about the topic and their feelings and mental associations with it.

If it seems important to defuse the Eric Holder association, we could say something like, “If the amendment became law, of course we would expect the attorney general, whoever that might be, to enforce it. He should not only because it’s his job but because he would be protecting our right to vote and supporting freedom and equality.” That returns the subject where it belongs.

What do you think? Am I making too much of this?

A Much-Needed Alternative to the Political Spectrum

A previous post argued that the political spectrum is too simple a metaphor to account for the full range of political ideologies and introduced the Political Compass as an alternative. The problem with this Political Compass for Americans is that it uses the word libertarian–the name of a political party–on one of its axes.

What seems most risky to people in each of Dan Kahan's quadrants.  Source: This Is How You Should Talk to a Climate-Change Denier by Judith Shulevitz in The New Republic
What seems most risky to people in each of Dan Kahan’s quadrants.
Source: This Is How You Should Talk to a Climate-Change Denier by Judith Shulevitz in The New Republic

But Yale psychology professor Dan Kahan offers a model that may better encompass political worldviews. Like the Political Compass, his involves two axes. They are individualist-communitarian and hierarchical-egalitarian. Writing in The New Republic, Judith Shulevitz diagrams the four quadrants with the things Kahan’s research found most threatening to people in each quadrant.

A problem with using Kahan’s model in political communication is that talk of individualist-hierarchical vs. communitarian-egalitarian just doesn’t roll off the tongue like left vs. right.

What if we used these axes: individual-first to community-first and top-down to side-by-side? How do you think they should be called? Which quadrant fits you best? (Mine is the egalitarian-communitarian or community-first and side-by-side quadrant.)

Framing the Political Spectrum

Framing political opinion as either left or right puts people into boxes that often don’t fit them. George Lakoff identifies basic two systems of moral reasoning, which he calls the “strict-father model” and the “nurturant-parent model.” His books about politics and many of his blog posts describe these, and I strongly recommend reading Lakoff. So far this seems to support the left-right political spectrum, right?

Ah, but Dr. Lakoff’s research has found that many–if not most–Americans use both systems of moral reasoning on different political issues. For example, I want government to be a nurturant parent toward citizens most of the time but a strict father toward misbehaving corporations. All of a sudden, we’re not just one or the other.

I think a better metaphor than the left-right political spectrum is the Political Compass. This makes left and right one axis and authoritarian-libertarian a second axis. Take its test and see what you think!

A potential problem for this system in America is that the term libertarian refers to a specific set of ideologies and even a political party. I do think that progressives should talk about authoritarianism when appropriate. But if we don’t want to advertise the libertarian movement, what term should we use as the opposite of authoritarian?

Framing Political Correctness

I first heard the phrase political correctness (PC) in the early 1990s. Do you know its origin?

It refers to using language to emphasize people as human beings that have certain characteristics rather than defining them by their characteristics. I’ve heard it called “person-first” language, and that’s how I’ll call it. Here are some examples of obsolete terms from my childhood with their person-first replacements:

Obsolete Term New, Better, Person-first Term
Colored Person of color or African-American
Retard Person with mental retardation
Cripple Person with a disability
Schizophrenic Person with schizophrenia

I see the adoption of person-first language as an important advance in American culture. It’s a way to show that we appreciate our fellow Americans as human beings.

So why do some deride it as political correctness? This phrase invokes a worldview of  elites imposing an orthodoxy on people that don’t want it. There may just be some of this until person-first language becomes accepted everywhere.

The truth is that these groups and others often insist on person-first language for themselves. They don’t want to be called by the old terms that defined them as different from others and perhaps less of a person. It’s sad to think that courtesy could be so politically charged.

I think that when others talk about political correctness, progressives should talk about person-first language and putting people first. This is still a new idea to many, so please do so with kindness.

How do you think political correctness should be reframed? What have I missed?

P.S. One the tags that my blogging platform recommended for this post was “Geraldo Rivera!” How about that? Also “Georgia.” I’m scratching my head.

Framing Pensions

One reason it’s important for more Americans to understand framing is that it’s so easy to use words and phrases that sound neutral but actually contain ideological bias. Do you know if journalists are taught framing theory in college? If you have knowledge or experience with this, please let me know. I think journalists should be taught this if they aren’t already.

The phrase I have in mind is “unfunded pension liabilities.” If you search online for this phrase, you’ll find it in countless articles.

This probably is a politically-neutral term among accountants. After all, in accounting, a liability is just a minus on the spreadsheet. For example, my phone bill is a monthly liability in my budget. That doesn’t make it bad; it just means it needs to be paid.

The words "unfunded" and "liabilities" add unfortunate connotations to "pension."
The words “unfunded” and “liabilities” add unfortunate connotations to “pension.”

But since conservatives have made government debt a major issue, the words unfunded and liabilities when applied to pension serve the conservative narrative of reckless overspending by government. Because the word liability does mean bad and risk to be avoided in the world where we non-accountants live, it implies that pensions are somehow bad. This reduces resistance to abolishing pensions and replacing them with retirement-savings plans that may or may not provide the hoped-for income in retirement.

Given a nationwide campaign against pensions, it’s important to reframe the issue. What should progressives say when, e.g., the mayor of Omaha argues that pensions should be replaced with 401(k)s and 403(b)s?

As George Lakoff argues in this latest Huffington Post article, “Pensions are delayed payments of wages for work already done, and taking away pensions is theft.” The wages have been delayed to increase the workers’ security in retirement. To ensure that retired workers have a measure of financial security is a way that we Americans support each other and ensure broadly-shared prosperity. To renege on pensions is is irresponsible and wrong, and we should say so.

When well-meaning people (or pension opponents) say “unfunded pension liability,” we could say, “The liability isn’t the pension but the failure to fund the pension. We have to ensure that retired workers get what they’re owed and can enjoy the freedom and security they’ve earned in retirement.”

How do you think progressives should defend pensions?