Smaller Government = Wimpy Government

Like a traffic cop, government should be strong, caring, and responsible enough to protect our rights and safety.
Like a traffic cop, government should be strong, caring, and responsible enough to protect our rights and safety.
Photo Credit: RobertFrancis via Compfight cc

Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist famously said that he wants the federal government to be small enough to drown in a bathtub. If we take this metaphor seriously, then he wants a wimpy government–one he could easily overpower.

If he got his way, Uncle Sam would be wimpy in specific ways, especially:

  • Too weak to protect Americans from abuse and neglect by Big Business (because of deregulation of business) and
  • Too weak to help Americans suffering poverty and hardship (because of slashing the social welfare system).

What if supporters of industry regulation and social welfare argued like this?

My opponent says he wants smaller government. What he means is he wants a wimpy government:

  • a government too weak to stop oil companies from drilling in dangerous ways in dangerous places,
  • a government too weak to protect us when employers fail to pay overtime and discriminate against employees,
  • a government too weak to say no when state and local governments try to make it harder for citizens to vote,
  • a government too weak to punish car companies when they sell us cars with dangerous defects,
  • a government too weak to extend a helping hand when we suffer unemployment and poverty,
  • a government too weak to insist that businesses, communities, and individuals leave America cleaner, safer, and healthier than we found it through environmental regulations,
  • etc.

That’s unacceptable! I believe America is greatest when the government is our strong ally and protector:

  • Strong, caring and responsible enough to protect our rights when they’re violated;
  • Strong, caring and responsible enough to insist that Big Business consider not just shareholder value but also the wellbeing of its workers, communities, and the natural world that makes life and commerce possible;
  • Strong, caring and responsible enough to tell Big Oil, “Sorry, it’s too dangerous to drill there.”
  • Strong, caring and responsible enough to tell Big Finance, “Sorry, what you’re asking for could lead to another crash like in 2008. We can’t have that.”


Whatever you may think of these specific examples, the construction “a government too weak/wimpy to…” do something that Americans deeply value is powerful. It exposes what the vision of “smaller government” could mean.

And opposing this vision of wimpy government with a vision of strong, caring, responsible government also is powerful. That is what progressives want. We should proudly say so.

What say you?

P.S. I’ve never been able to square the drown-in-a-bathtub image with a strong military.

Prison Rehabilitation Needs Rehabilitation

Yesterday’s Morning Edition story about NY governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) proposal to reinstate a program to allow prison inmates to take college classes is a fascinating study in framing.

Let’s examine the story’s arguments for and against the proposal:

For Against
“‘Forget nice; let’s talk about self-interest,’ Cuomo [said]. ‘You pay $60,000 for a prison cell for a year. You put a guy away for 10 years, that’s 600 grand. Right now, chances are almost half, that once he’s released, he’s going to come right back.’Cuomo says helping inmates get a college education would cost about $5,000 a year per person — chump change, he argues, if it keeps that inmate from bouncing back into prison.” “What do you say to a Yoko Ono if Mark David Chapman [who killed her husband, John Lennon] says, ‘I want a college education?’ ” the reporter asked.
Cuomo also says, “Let’s use common sense, the economic cost, the human cost — let’s invest and rehabilitate people so they have a future.” “[T]axpayers just won’t stand for inmates getting a free college education, while middle-class families struggle to pay for their kids’ tuition, housing and books.”That is the vast majority of feedback that I’m also getting from my constituents,” [NY State Assemblywoman Addie Russell (D)] says. “You know, ‘Where is the relief for the rest of the law-abiding population?'”
“There must be no doubt about whose side we’re on,” [President Bill] Clinton argued [in 1994]. “People who commit crimes should be caught, convicted and punished. This bill [eliminating student aid for inmates] puts government on the side of those who abide by the law, not those who break it.”
“Club Med” for inmates

Note that all the arguments against the proposal are about fairness, not money and self-interest. While the fiscal argument is strong, it doesn’t touch hearts. When made, as in this article, without being framed in values, it seems to inaccurately reduce justice to dollars.

The moral argument against touches both minds and hearts. Unless a strong moral argument in support is made over and over, I expect the nos will have it.

The argument against comes from what George Lakoff calls the strict-father worldview: prisoners are bad people who deserve only punishment. Their rehabilitation is solely up to them, not the state.

The argument in support comes from Lakoff’s nurturant-parent worldview: We are all in this together. Despite having done bad things, prisoners continue to be Americans and human beings and should be helped to return to society as productive citizens when possible and sensible. That is what we would want in their shoes, and rehabilitation makes the community stronger and safer.

Have I been fair in presenting the strict-father and nurturant-parent worldviews?

Political Bullying Is Wrong. There, I said it.

Bullying’s long history in American politics doesn’t make it right. I just re-read the About page and remembered that this blog’s focus is on standing up to political bullying of progressive Americans. Because some posts refer to conservatives or radicals, I’m going to make clearer that Framology’s opponents are not conservatives or even radicals by revising these terms to bullies, political bullying, etc. in past posts. It will take a little while, and if I miss some, I’d appreciate it if you would point them out.

As stated in the About page, America has always had a range of political opinion, and that’s as it should be. I wouldn’t want Americans to all believe alike.

This is the bold vision of Framology: American politics as a bully-free zone.
Photo Credit: Eddie~S via Compfight cc

But bullying fellow Americans to advance political agendas is wrong. And the only way to end political bullying and create a more civil politics is to stand up to it without bullying in return. Framology’s role is to help progressive Americans find the words to confidently do this.

What is political bullying? Here’s the beginning of a list:

  • Name calling
  • Using deception intentionally to advance one’s goals
  • Using law, police or military power, intimidation, or other means to take away the basic human rights of others
  • Attributing evil motives to others without evidence
  • Slander
  • Perverting political or judicial processes to serve the narrow interests of a party, religion, socio-economic group, or other faction instead of the country we all love

What do you think of this list? What’s missing? Do you think some should be removed?

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?

Why Pro-Business Policies Aren’t

Everybody knows what pro-business policies are: low taxes, low minimum wage, less regulation, reduced ability to sue corporations, “right-to-work” laws (a topic for another post), etc. We “know” this because that’s what business lobbies usually want.

But these policies should be known as pro-management, not pro-business. That’s because they give management more power and money while depriving workers and the community.

To thrive, business needs not only management but workers, suppliers, customers, and a prosperous community. Real pro-business policies support all of these.
To thrive, business needs not only management but workers, suppliers, customers, and a prosperous community. Real pro-business policies support all of these.

But businesses also need workers:

  • Educated workers who can do their jobs with a minimum of training
  • Healthy workers who can come to work each day and do their best
  • Loyal workers who feel valued by their employers
  • Prosperous workers who can not only pay their bills but patronize their own and other businesses.

Businesses also need customers. In Economics 101, I learned that demand means the desire for a product or service plus the ability to pay for it. That means the community must prosper, not just management. People can’t patronize businesses without money. (And yes, this is related to the triple bottom line.)

And when we don’t trust a business or industry, we don’t want to support it. Wise government regulation of business helps create that trust.

So real pro-business policies would sound like this:

  • Strong support for public education to create an educated workforce
  • Strong public health efforts and ready, affordable access to health care, including preventive health care and mental health care
  • Support for workers’ work-family balance with family leave, child care, and so on
  • Support for living wages so the workers, community, and its businesses can thrive
  • Support for government regulations that give people confidence in business.

Do you think pro-management is a good reframe of pro-business? What might be better?