There’s a lengthy interview in today’s Salon with a writer and intellectual I admire, George Lakoff. The title of the article is, “Progressives need to frame their values.” In the piece, Lakoff argues that progressives have to learn how to tie truths to values; to frame their arguments so that they better connect with voters’ values. It’s something that conservatives almost instinctively know how to do, but on the left end of the spectrum, we tend to offer laundry lists of intellectual solutions that are not connected to the voter’s values. Progressives need to do a better job of framing their political language to appeal to people’s deep-seated beliefs.
As someone who has worked in marketing most of my life, I do understand the importance of “framing” your appeals to consumers. You have to understand your audience and make your argument relevant to them. Where I work now, we are all about “behavioral economics,” and how to truly engage consumers to the point that they are not merely purchasers of your product, but brand advocates who champion your brand.
So I don’t necessarily disagree with Lakoff’s arguments about framing, but my question is this — Is the issue really about “framing” an argument correctly or is it about conveying progressive ideals, which are inherently about values, openly, enthusiastically and without apology, something too few Democratic candidates seem willing to do? Lakoff admires Elizabeth Warren and her ability to convey the values behind her progressive policies, but is Warren framing her argument or simply espousing progressive ideas clearly and confidently?
In other words, is the core problem for Democrats a marketing issue or more simply about finding their political courage? Again, I look at Al Franken’s recent campaign. Franken is a liberal, but during his tenure in the Senate, he has emphasized his work for Minnesotans and the value he’s brought to the state. In other words, he rarely gets on a soapbox to simply espouse liberal causes, but tends to link them with the needs of Minnesotans, and that has won him two elections. His Republican opponent used all of the “framing” arguments in the conservative playbook against Franken, but they didn’t work.
I am hoping that after the mid-term debacle, Democrats will stop reflexively running to the center, and begin to take their lessons from Warren and Franken and Sanders and other proud progressives. It’s important to understand “framing,” but I think success will really be achieved when Democrats find the courage to speak from their hearts and proudly convey their progressive beliefs and how those beliefs can help this country be far more successful and prosperous than it is today.