Monday, March 29, 2010

How to Respond to Conservatives ('04)

Link: How To Respond To Conservatives
by George Lakoff

[edited; full text at the link above]

[I'm not very good at this. I get too angry. And I believe the facts should convince any rational person.]

1. Show respect
2. Respond by reframing
3. Think and talk at the level of values
4. Say what you believe

Now the details:

Progressive values are the best of traditional American values. Stand up for your values with dignity and strength. You are a true patriot because of your values.

  • Show respect to the conservatives you are responding to. No one will listen to you if you don't accord them respect.

  • Listen to them. You may disagree strongly with everything that is being said, but you should know what is being said. Be sincere. Avoid cheap shots.

  • What if they don't show you respect? Two wrongs don't make a right. Turn the other cheek and show respect anyway. That takes character and dignity. Show character and dignity.

  • Avoid a shouting match. Remember that the radical right requires a culture war, and shouting is the discourse form of that culture war. You gain a victory when the discourse turns civil. They win when they get you to shout.

    What if you have moral outrage? You should have moral outrage. But you can display it with controlled passion. If you lose control, they win.

  • Distinguish between ordinary conservatives and nasty ideologues. Most conservatives are personally nice people, and you want to bring out their niceness and their sense of neighborliness and hospitality.

  • Be calm. Calmness is a sign that you know what you are talking about.

  • Be good-humored. A good-natured sense of humor shows you are comfortable with yourself.

  • Hold your ground. Always be on the offense. Never go on defense. Never whine or complain. Never act like a victim. Never plead. Avoid the language of weakness, for example, rising intonations on statements. Your voice should be steady. Your body and voice should show optimism. You should convey passionate conviction without losing control.

  • Conservatives have parodied liberals as weak, angry (hence not in control of their emotions), weak-minded, softhearted, unpatriotic, uninformed, and elitist. Don't give them any opportunities to stereotype you in any of these ways. Expect these stereotypes, and deal with them when they come up.

    By the way you conduct yourself, show strength, calmness, and control; an ability to reason; a sense of realism; love of country; a command of the basic facts; and a sense of being an equal, not a superior. At the very least you want your audience to think of you with respect, as someone they may disagree with but who they have to take seriously. In many situations this is the best you can hope for. You have to recognize those situations and realize that a draw with dignity is a victory in the game of being taken seriously.

  • Don't expect to convert staunch conservatives.

  • Avoid the usual mistakes. Remember, don't just negate the other person's claims; reframe. The facts unframed will not set you free. You cannot win just be stating the true facts and showing that they contradict your opponent's claims. Frames trump facts. His frames will stay and the facts will bounce off. Always reframe.

  • Once your frame is accepted into the discourse, everything you say is just common sense. Why? Because that's what common sense is: reasoning within a commonplace, accepted frame.

  • Never answer a question framed from your opponent's point of view. Always reframe the question to fit your values and your frames. This may make you uncomfortable, since normal discourse styles require you to directly answer questions posed. That is trap. Practice changing frames.

  • Be sincere. Use frames you really believe in, based on values you really hold.

  • Tell a story. Build up a stock of effective stories.

  • Always start with values, preferably values all Americans share like security, prosperity, opportunity, freedom, and so on. Try to win the argument at the values level.

  • Remember that our goal is to unite our country behind our values, the best of traditional American values. Right-wing ideologues need to divide our country via a nasty cultural civil war. They need discord and shouting and name-calling and put-downs. We win with civil discourse and respectful cooperative conversation.


  • If they are nurturant at home but strict in business, talk about the home and family and how they relate to political issues:

    Real family values mean that your parents, as they age, don't have to sell their home or mortgage their future to pay for health care or the medications they need.

  • Use rhetorical questions: Wouldn't it be better if…? Such a question should be chosen to presuppose your frame:

    Wouldn't it be better if we had a president who went to war with a plan to secure the peace?

  • Suppose someone argues against a form of universal health care. If people don't have health care, he argues, it's their own fault. They're not working hard enough or not managing their money properly. We shouldn't have to pay for their lack of initiative or their financial mismanagement.

    Most of the forty million people who can't afford health care work full-time at essential jobs that cannot pay enough to get them health care. Yet these working people support the lifestyles of the top three-quarters of our population. Some forty million people have to do those hard jobs—or you don't have your lifestyle. America promises a decent standard of living in return for hard work. These workers have earned their health care by doing essential jobs to support the economy. There is money in the economy to pay them. Tax credits are the easiest mechanism. Their health care would be covered by having the top two percent pay the same taxes they used to pay. It's only fair that the wealthy pay for their own lifestyles, and that people who provide those lifestyles get paid fairly for it.

  • Your opponent says, “We should get rid of taxes. People know how to spend their money better than the government.”

    “The government has made very wise investments with taxpayer money. Our interstate highway system, for example. You couldnʼt build a highway with your tax refund. The government built them. Or the Internet, paid for by taxpayer investment. You could not make your own Internet. Most of our scientific advances have been made through funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health—great government investments of taxpayer money. No matter how wisely you spent your own money, youʼd never get those scientific and medical breakthroughs. And how far would you get hiring your own army with your tax refund?”

  • Use wedge issues, cases where your opponent will violate some belief he holds no matter what he says. Suppose he brings up abortion:

    Raise the issue of military rape treatment. Women soldiers who are raped (by our own soldiers, in Iraq, or on military bases) and who subsequently get pregnant presently cannot end their pregnancies in a military hospital, because abortions are not permitted there. A Military Rape Treatment Act would allow our raped women soldiers to be treated in military hospitals to end their rape-induced pregnancies.

    If he agrees, he sanctions abortion, in government-supported facilities no less, where doctors would have to be trained and facilities provided for terminating pregnancies. If he disagrees, he dishonors our women soldiers who are putting their lives on the line for him. To the women it is like being raped twice—once by a criminal soldier and once by a self-righteous conservative.

  • Suppose he starts touting smaller government:

    Point out that conservatives donʼt really want smaller government. They donʼt want to eliminate the military, or the FBI, or the Treasury and Commerce Departments, or the nine-tenths of the courts that support corporate law. It is big government that they like. What they really want to do away with is social programs—programs that invest in people, to help people to help themselves. Such a position contradicts the values the country was founded on—the idea of a community where people pull together to help each other. From John Winthrop on, that is what our nation has stood for.

  • Your opponent may use language that means the opposite of what he says, called Orwellian language. Realize that he is weak on this issue. Use language that accurately describes what heʼs talking about to frame the discussion your way. Suppose he cites the “Healthy Forests Initiative” as a balanced approach to the environment:

    Point out that it should be called “No Tree Left Behind” because it permits and promotes clear-cutting, which is destructive to forests and other living things in the forest habitat. Use the name to point out that the public likes forests, doesnʼt want them clear-cut, and that the use of the phony name shows weakness on the issue. Most people want to preserve the grandeur of America, not destroy it.

No comments:

Post a Comment