A common way to disparage the government’s constitutional efforts to “promote the general Welfare” is to call it the nanny state. Like tax relief, this two-word phrase packs a punch, and Framologists should avoid and reframe it.
Connotations of the nanny metaphor include:
Because nannies care for children, if the government is behaving like a nanny, it is inappropriately treating us like children.
Nannies are employees, so who is the boss? If We the People are the boss, we should be telling the government what to do, not the other way around.
Nannies are optional. They can be fired. Parents can care for their own children or hire a different nanny. If the government is like a nanny, do we need it at all?
Nannies are usually women, and in the patriarchal strict-father model, women are supposed to support their men, not tell them what to do.
So this two-word phrase brings to mind several tenets of the strict-father view of government. Consider reframing the “nanny state” as one of the following:
A strong, caring state
A reponsible state
A protective state
According to George Lakoff, empathy and responsbility are the core progressive values, and speaking of government this way brings these values to mind.
It likely also would bring their opposites to mind. Do opponents of the “nanny state” really want:
An uncaring state
A negligent state
An absent state
A wimpy state?
How do you think Framologists should reframe the nanny state?
According to Dr. Paul M. Johnson, sequestration is the withholding of funds from government agencies by the US Treasury that exceed a cap set in current law. The effect is to limit the funds available to Federal agencies.
In today’s sequestration debate, the process is being used to automatically cut government spending nearly across the board. George Lakoff points out that, although the current sequestration was intended to be distasteful to liberals and conservatives alike, it serves a major goal of extreme conservatives: “maximal elimination of the public sphere”.
Even though it looks likely that a deal reducing sequestration cuts for two years will pass Congress, sequestration isn’t going away. Therefore, it’s important that progressives reframe this debate so that Americans can see what’s immoral about this budget-slashing.
A great place to start is to talk about progressive views of government and public resources, which are under attack everywhere. Dr. Lakoff sums it up like this:
Progressives tend to believe that democracy is based on citizens caring for their fellow citizens through what the government provides for all citizens — public infrastructure, public safety, public education, public health, publicly-sponsored research, public forms of recreation and culture, publicly-guaranteed safety nets for those who need them, and so on. In short, progressives believe that the private depends on the public, that without those public provisions Americans cannot be free to live reasonable lives and to thrive in private business. They believe that those who make more from public provisions should pay more to maintain them.
I’ll add (as Lakoff has elsewhere) that from a progressive perspective, protection of citizens’ rights, health, safety, and opportunity to prosper is a moral mission of government in a democratic society. Shirking these responsibilities is wrong and deprives citizens of our right to enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
After framing government in terms of progressive values, it’s time to reframe what is now known as “the sequester.” This term makes it sound like the issue is dollars. The same is true for budget cuts and automatic spending cuts. Talking about money keeps the focus on the conservative narrative of out-of-control government spending. Progressives should avoid such language and frame the issue as the government’s responsibility to protect Americans’ lives, liberty, and wellbeing.
I’m not sure what phrase should replace “the sequester” and would love to hear your suggestions. Here are some ideas:
budget cuts for the 99% but not the 1%
the shirking (e.g. “We cannot allow the shirking to continue because Americans’ lives, freedom, and wellbeing are in the balance.”
The phrases “debt ceiling” and “debt limit” are misleading. While they make it sound as if Congress were debating whether to spend more money, raising this limit merely allows the U.S. Treasury to pay the bills that Federal law has required it to pay. It’s like paying off a credit card: Any additional debt incurred by the government compared to last year has already been billed and therefore must be paid. Slate’s Matthew Yglesias explains.
Progressives should avoid using these phrases because they confuse the public about what is happening and serve the interests of opponents. Instead, they should explain that the issue is whether the government should continue paying its bills on time and in full as it has for more than 200 years. Demanding legislative concessions first is irresponsible and unpatriotic because it shirks the duty of Congress to protect the credit rating of the United States.
Should it be known as the pay-the-bills measure or the billpay OK? What do you think?
UPDATE: The Omaha World-Heraldpublished a letter to the editor from me that reframes the debt ceiling as a billpay authorization.