Category "Conservative / Liberal - What Do They Mean"

Reagan Advisor Bruce Bartlett on Where The Right Went Wrong

February 25th, 2012 by Andy in Conservative / Liberal - What Do They Mean

This is a tremendously insightful interview with conservative economist Bruce Bartlett, former policy adviser for Reagan. Something which everyone should take in, particularly those who claim to ascribe to the more conservative side of things. Perfect for passing along to friends, colleagues, relatives, who claim to be adherents of a virulent anti-tax ideology, a la Grover Norquist-like, and ascribe it to being “conservative.”

Bartlett brings real clarity to how far off the rails we are, particularly when it comes to operating in a fact-based environment, especially in regards to understanding tax policies and the role of government.

This is good stuff in light of confronting the thick sludge of ideology which has overwhelmed our capacity for reasoning and real critical thought in our society today. It’s especially telling in that he is talking about facts, and how he doesn’t quite understand how no one talks about facts, and how today’s Republican base doesn’t want factual information. And even if you provide them, they reject them because they don’t correspond to their already pre-determined beliefs.

Read The Transcript

Frank Schaeffer: I’m Now a ‘Liberal’ Because I’m a Conservative

January 7th, 2010 by Andy in Conservative / Liberal - What Do They Mean

This is an interesting piece from a former member of the so-called “Christian Right” and his take on what has become of the modern conservatism. Here are just a couple of the more provocative and salient points from this insightful essay…

I grew up in a fundamentalist missionary family that in the 1970s and 80s morphed into my father’s activity as one of the founders of the Religious Right. We would hobnob with Republican leaders from Ronald Reagan to Gerald Ford and the Bush family, Jack Kemp and many others.


“Conservative” means that you believe it’s right to legalize torture, but reject health care for all.

These days to be a conservative means that you hate the United States government elected by the people; believe that if millions of citizens are out of work that it’s their own fault and that the rest of the community should not help them by spending tax dollars; think that Sarah-believes-in-casting-out-demons-before-she-ran-for-gov- ernorship-Palin speaks for you. To be a conservative means you believe that healthcare reform will lead to “death panels”; that the president of the United States is not a “real American”; that a university education is a dangerous thing; that Americans who live in big cities are less American than those who live in small towns; that brown people, blacks, progressive whites, gays, public school teachers, Hispanics, immigrants, are somehow conspiring to subvert the “real America” with a “gay agenda” or a “Muslim agenda” or at least the browning of “our” white America.

In other words to be a conservative today is to be an anti-American, nihilistic libertarian know-nothing who believes in unregulated consumerism and the theology of dominion, and the Rapture that many conservatives also subscribe to along with such “facts” as that Obama is the — literal! — Antichrist.

Other than trying to stop women from having abortions and fighting the whole world, our “terrorist enemies”, in other words everyone “not like us”, conservatism today is nothing more than a pent up reaction against everything “we” don’t understand — like art, literature, government, history, geography, diversity, how people get to be gay, black or female… things like that.

Conservatism today is actually not for anything. It is just against everyone but “us” and a few like us bound together by an alternative reality, otherwise known as Fox/NRA/Beck/Palin/Jesus’s Return–”News.”

The irony is that conservatives used to wrap themselves in the American flag and belonging to a cause built on higher ideals than pure selfishness and individual choice. Patriotism was based on principle, not fear and anger. Conservatism led by people such as the late William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater and others had its feet firmly planted in what it regarded as the reality-based community as opposed to liberal wishful thinking about progress coming from government, human nature, etc.


What is the conservative movement today, and/or the Republican Party?

It’s about as far away from conservatism as it can get. It is a party ready to trash its own country in support of nihilistic, selfish market-driven “values” the very opposite of conservative values of family, community and stability. It is in fact what conservatives of the 60s said the hippies were: selfish brats with no sense of responsibility to anyone. It’s also a party of armed revolution not so subtly egging on its lunatic fringe to commit violence. It applauds white rubes who show up at public meetings carrying a loaded assault weapons “to make a point” and signs reminiscent of Timothy McVeigh and his famous T-shirt; “the tree of Liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants” and the like are held up by Murdoch/Beck/Fox and company — those profiteers off the unregulated market — as paragons of good sense and free enterprise and gun rights.


Frank Schaeffer is the author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back and the forthcoming Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism).

Read the full article originally posted on The Brad Blog

William Kristol: Triumph of the Shill

February 9th, 2008 by Andy in Conservative / Liberal - What Do They Mean

This is one of the absolute best, most pointed and funny descriptions I’ve read about one of America’s premier bloviators on war and empire, neo-con(artist) William Kristol, editor of The National Review [Correction - The Weekly Standard], Faux News talking head, and now contributor to the seemingly ever-declining New York Times.

Here are just a few of the money shot lines from this literary deconstruction by Ellis Weiner, referencing Kristol’s latest NYT piece on how America is reaping the rewards of the triumph of Conservatism…

Shown here in its native environment, [is] the deep right-wing concern with “responsibility” as, inevitably, it applies only to others. A chicken hawk may be a chicken but, God damn it, he’s also a hawk. He knows your responsibility when he sees it.


“It’s not easy to defend excellence in an egalitarian age.”

Tell me about it — especially when so many of those doing the defending — your Kristols, your Podhoretzes, your Goldbergs and, yes, your Bellows — are legacy hires and/or winners of the nepotism lottery.


When billionaires get tax breaks, they receive “incentives.” When working class families get food stamps, they’re the perpetrators (and the victims, really) of “the welfare state.” When government serves corporations, it’s “a partnership.” When government serves individuals, it’s “socialism.” When William Kristol rides his father’s contacts and reputation to a sinecure insulated from any commercial or marketplace consequences — and suffers not an ounce of setback for having been wrong about everything — he’s showing “self-reliance.” When you ask that the FTC at least protect your children from poison in Chinese toys, you’re encouraging “the nanny state.” Clear?

Read The Full Post Here

Neo-Cons On a Cruise (To Obliviousness) - Revealing What They Really Think

July 23rd, 2007 by Andy in Conservative / Liberal - What Do They Mean

This article from Alternet is disturbingly amazing. These people seem to be displaying truly pathological dis-ease, disassociated by the norms of human empathy, understanding, compassion. The disconnect from reality itself just through incorporating a basic knowledge of real world facts on the ground in regards to people and situations in our world is bad enough. However, what takes it to a truly frightening level is the lack of any sense of non-ego self-awareness and spiritual connectivity to life itself, that is really scary. Their attitudes are indeed indicative of members of a death cult. This is the same kind of worship of raw physical power, and a sense of entitlement not to have to engage oneself in the trials and tribulations of those ‘less well off’ (in this sense materially, since these people seem to be highly impoverished in any sense of conscience or soulfulness) that has animated the agents of empire and murderous folly throughout the ages.

This report comes from a cruise sponsored by the National Review, and reads more like a holiday convention of the NSDAP.

A sweet elderly lady from Los Angeles is sitting on the rocks nearby, telling me dreamily about her son. “Is he your only child?” I ask. “Yes,” she says. “Do you have a child back in England?” she asks. No, I say. Her face darkens. “You’d better start,” she says. “The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they’ll have the whole of Europe.”

I am getting used to these moments - when gentle holiday geniality bleeds into‚Ķ what? I lie on the beach with Hillary-Ann, a chatty, scatty 35-year-old Californian designer. As she explains the perils of Republican dating, my mind drifts, watching the gentle tide. When I hear her say, ” Of course, we need to execute some of these people,” I wake up. Who do we need to execute? She runs her fingers through the sand lazily. “A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralise the country,” she says. “Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that’s what you’ll get.” She squints at the sun and smiles. ” Then things’ll change.”

This is just the intro, the tip of the iceberg on this story, taken from this journey of The Strangelove Boat. These people go on to celebrate the merits of the Ku Klux Klan, the reason our media is wholly controlled by ‘liberals’, how all the WMDs in Iraq were smuggled into Syria at the last minute, William F. Buckley and George Will are heretics to conservatism, former fascist dictator of Chile Gen. Pinochet is ‘a hero’, global warming is ‘a myth’, etc… These people simply live in an alternate reality uninhabited by facts and real live human beings and souls.

Read The Full Report

Why Conservatives Can’t Govern

May 17th, 2007 by Andy in Conservative / Liberal - What Do They Mean

I’d be interested in hearing some lucid, coherent replies or rebuttals from self-described conservatives regarding this. Granted, perhaps quotation marks should be placed around the term “conservative” in reference to this article here, since these people today parading around under the banner have little in common with what has been historically understood as conservatism.

What Is a Conservative?

July 23rd, 2006 by Andy in Conservative / Liberal - What Do They Mean

Bill Zide on the “C” Word. This is one of the better rundowns on the nature of the modern American conservative.

Once upon a time there were real “Conservatives.” They believed in fiscal and political responsibility. They expounded on the virtues of getting government out of people’s lives. They talked about caution with regard to the use of military force and foreign intervention. They even promoted a policy of governmental accountability. Many of these people existed in the Republican Party. They might have been off track, behind the curve possibly, or at times deluded, but most tended to be civil, honorable and sincere. They were more often than not the necessary loyal opposition.

Now, “Conservative” has become a particularly dirty word. Worse yet, it seems to be heading toward becoming totally meaningless altogether. Once, the root of the word “Conservative” was “conserve,” a word that implied caution and preservation. Now, it seems that this new brand of “Neo-” or “Theo-Conservative” that populates the rank and file of the current GOP leadership has put the “con” back into “conservative.” They are more about being against things than being for anything real or substantive.

Read The Full Article Here

People Getting Restless At Conservative Forum

March 11th, 2006 by Andy in Conservative / Liberal - What Do They Mean

Dana Milbank of The Washington Post takes a look at the winter of discontent that is settling over the conservative movement of America. The continuing ridiculous attack against anyone criticizing the Bush administration as being ‘liberal’ is starting to wear a bit thin.

“You have to understand the people in this administration have no principles,” Sullivan volleyed. “Any principles that get in the way of the electoral map have to be dispensed with.”

Boaz renewed his plea. “Any Bush economists hiding in the audience?”

There was, in fact, one Bush Treasury official on the attendance roster, but he did not surface. The only man who came close to defending Bush, environmental conservative Fred Singer, said he was “willing to overlook” the faults because of the president’s Supreme Court nominations. Even Richard Walker, representing the think tank that fired Bartlett, declined to argue. “I agree with most of it,” he said later.

Unchallenged, the Bartlett-Sullivan tag team continued. “The entire intellectual game has been given away by the Republican president,” said Sullivan. “He’s a socialist in so many respects, a Christian socialist.”

This line is telling. Funny how they want to label Bush a ’socialist’, because these conservatives just can’t come to grips with the fact that someone from the right could be this disastrously corrupt. They can’t seem to conceive that the undoing of America could come stage right, after spending their lives in ideological struggle against those from stage left.

That said, I am glad these folks are coming to their senses and seeing through the dangerous and self serving nonsense that is the Bushevik regime and crime syndicate. But if they so ideologically blinded, they would have seen this coming nearly 3 decades ago. Then-Republican Kevin Phillips did, why didn’t they?

Read The Article

Sports In Cinema Serving as Examples of America’s Conservatism?

February 8th, 2006 by Andy in Conservative / Liberal - What Do They Mean

Are sports stories in the past few decades examples of the reflection of the triumph of conservative values in our culture?

That is what David Brooks seems to think, a political hack who continues to rank as either one of the most disingenuous or perhaps just one of the most astronomically ignorant pundits today who qualifies himself as ‘conservative’.

Danny Goldberg deconstructs his latest frivolous ‘logic’ with this well-done piece on the meaning of sports metaphors in popular entertainment films, and Brooks’ demonstration of the “Delusions of Conservative Normality”.

Too bad the network news shows won’t allow a figure such as Mr. Goldberg to spend some time with Mr. Brooks during some of his seemingly endless talking head TV appearances.

Read the deconstruction of Mr. Brooks here

The Conservative Case Against George W. Bush

September 4th, 2004 by Andy in Conservative / Liberal - What Do They Mean

The Conservative Case Against George W. Bush
By William Bryk
August 6th, 2004

Theodore Roosevelt, that most virile of presidents, insisted that, “To announce that there should be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American people.” With that in mind, I say: George W. Bush is no conservative, and his unprincipled abandonment of conservatism under the pressure of events is no statesmanship. The Republic would be well-served by his defeat this November.

William F. Buckley’s recent retirement from the National Review, nearly half a century after he founded it, led me to reflect on American conservatism’s first principles, which Buckley helped define for our time. Beneath Buckley’s scintillating phrases and rapier wit lay, as Churchill wrote of Lord Birkenhead, “settled and somewhat somber conclusions upon… questions about which many people are content to remain in placid suspense”: that political and economic liberty were indivisible; that government’s purpose was protecting those liberties; that the Constitution empowered government to fulfill its proper role while restraining it from the concentration and abuse of power; and that its genius lay in the Tenth Amendment, which makes explicit that the powers not delegated to government are reserved to the states or to the people.

More generally, American conservatives seek what Lord Acton called the highest political good: to secure liberty, which is the freedom to obey one’s own will and conscience rather than the will and conscience of others. Any government, of any political shade, that erodes personal liberty in the name of social and economic progress must face a conservative’s reasoned dissent, for allowing one to choose between right and wrong, between wisdom and foolishness, is the essential condition of human progress. Although sometimes the State has a duty to impose restrictions, such curbs on the liberty of the individual are analogous to a brace, crutch or bandage: However necessary in the moment, as they tend to weaken and to cramp, they are best removed as soon as possible. Thus American conservative politics championed private property, an institution sacred in itself and vital to the well-being of society. It favored limited government, balanced budgets, fiscal prudence and avoidance of foreign entanglements.

More subtly, American conservatism viewed human society as something of an organism in itself. This sense of society’s organic character urged the necessity of continuity with the past, with change implemented gradually and with as little disruption as possible. Thus, conservatism emphasized the “civil society”–the private voluntary institutions developed over time by passing the reality test–i.e., because they work–such as families, private property, religious congregations and neighborhoods–rather than the State. In nearly every sense, these institutions were much closer to the individuals who composed them than the State could ever be and had the incidental and beneficial effect of protecting one’s personal liberty against undue intrusion from governments controlled by fanatics and busybodies, that which Edmund Burke presciently called the “armed ideologies,” and thus upheld our way of life as flying buttresses supported a Gothic cathedral.

But the policies of this administration self-labeled “conservative” have little to do with the essence of tradition. Rather, they tend to centralize power in the hands of the government under the guise of patriotism. If nothing else, the Bush administration has thrown into question what being a conservative in America actually means.

Forty years ago, when Lyndon Johnson believed the United States could afford both Great Society and the Vietnam War, conservatives attacked his fiscal policies as extravagant and reckless. Ten years ago, the Republican Party regained control of Congress with the Contract with America, which included a balanced-budget amendment to restore fiscal responsibility. But today, thanks to tax cuts and massively increased military spending, the Bush administration has transformed, according to the Congressional Budget Office, a ten-year projected surplus of $5.6 trillion to a deficit of $4.4 trillion: a turnaround of $10 trillion in roughly 32 months.

The Bush Administration can’t even pretend to keep an arm’s length from Halliburton, the master of the no-bid government contract. Sugar, grain, cotton, oil, gas and coal: These industries enjoy increased subsidies and targeted tax breaks not enjoyed by less-connected industries. The conservative Heritage Foundation blasts the administration’s agricultural subsidies as the nation’s most wasteful corporate welfare program. The libertarian Cato Institute called the administration’s energy plan “three parts corporate welfare and one part cynical politics…a smorgasbord of handouts and subsidies for virtually every energy lobby in Washington” that “does little but transfer wealth from taxpayers to well-connected energy lobbies.” And the Republican Party’s Medicare drug benefit, the largest single expansion of the welfare state since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, was designed to appeal to senior citizens who, as any competent politician knows, show up at the polls.

None of this is conservative, although it is in keeping with the Bush family’s history. Kevin Phillips, whose 1969 classic The Emerging Republican Majority outlined the policies that would lead to the election of President Reagan, describes in his American Dynasty the Bush family’s rise to wealth and power through crony capitalism: the use of contacts obtained in public service for private profit. Phillips argues the Bushes don’t disfavor big government as such: merely that part of it that regulates business, maintains the environment or aids the needy. Subsidizing oil-well drilling through tax breaks, which made George H. W. Bush’s fortune, or bailing out financial institutions, such as Neil Bush’s bankrupt Silverado Savings and Loan, however, is a good thing.

This deficit spending also helps Bush avoid the debate on national priorities we would have if these expenditures were being financed through higher taxes on a pay-as-you-go basis. After all, we’re not paying the bill now; instead, it will come due far in the future, long after today’s policy-makers are out of office. And this debt is being incurred just as the baby boomers are about to retire. In January 2004, Charles Kolb, who served in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush White Houses, testified before Congress that, at a time when demographics project more retirees and fewer workers, projected government debt will rise from 37 percent of the economy today to 69 percent in 2020 and 250 percent in 2040. This is the sort of level one associates with a Third World kleptocracy.

Even worse than this extravagance are the administration’s unprecedented intrusions into our constitutional privacy rights through the Patriot Act. If it does not violate the letter of the Fourth Amendment, it violates its spirit. To cite two examples, the FBI has unchecked authority through the use of National Security Letters to require businesses to reveal “a broad array of sensitive information, including information about the First Amendment activities of ordinary Americans who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.” Despite the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure, the government need not show probable cause: It does not need to obtain a warrant from a judge. And who can trust any law enforced by John Ashcroft, who single-handedly transformed a two-bit hubcap thief like Jose Padilla first into a threat to national security and then, through his insistence that Padilla, an American citizen, could be held without charges, into a Constitutional crisis?

All this stems from Bush’s foreign policy of preemptive war, which encourages war for such vague humanitarian ends as “human rights,” or because the United States believes another country may pose a threat to it. Its champions seem to almost joyously anticipate a succession of wars without visible end, with the invasion of Iraq merely its first fruit: former Bush appointee Richard Perle, from his writings on foreign policy, would have us war against nearly every nation that he defines as a rogue. The ironic consequence of this policy to stabilize the world is greater instability. It reminds me of the old FDR jingle from the Daily Worker:

I hate war, and so does Eleanor, But we won’t feel safe until everybody’s dead.

To be sure, there’s more than enough blame to go around with the Congress’ cowardly surrender to the Executive of its power to declare war. The Founding Fathers, who knew war from personal experience, explicitly placed the war power in the hands of the Congress. As James Madison wrote over 200 years ago:

The Constitution expressly and exclusively vests in the Legislature the power of declaring a state of war… The separation of the power of declaring war from that of conducting it is wisely contrived to exclude the danger of its being declared for the sake of its being conducted.

But since the Korean War (which the Congress defined as a “police action” to avoid using its war powers), war has been waged without its formal declaration. Thus Congressional power atrophies in the face of flag-waving presidents. Perhaps Congress is too preoccupied with swilling from the gravy trough that our politics has become to recall its Constitutional role as a co-equal branch of government, guarding its powers and privileges against executive usurpation. The Congress has forgotten that the men who exacted Magna Carta from King John at sword point instituted Parliament to restrain the executive from its natural tendency to tax, spend and war.

Moreover, there is nothing conservative about war. As Madison wrote:

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. [There is an] inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and…degeneracy of manners and of morals…No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

By contrast, business, commerce and trade, founded on private property, created by individual initiative, families and communities, has done far more to move the world forward than war. Yet faith in military force and an arrogant belief that American values are universal values still mold our foreign policy nearly a century after Woodrow Wilson, reelected with a promise of keeping America out of World War I, broke faith with the people by engineering a declaration of war within weeks of his second inauguration.

George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign supposedly rejected Wilsonian foreign policy by articulating both the historic Republican critique of foreign aid and explicitly criticizing Bill Clinton’s nation-building. Today, the administration insists we can be safe only by compelling other nations to implement its vision of democracy. This used to be called imperialism. Empires don’t come cheap; worse, “global democracy” requires just the kind of big government conservatives abhor. When the Wall Street Journal praises the use of American tax dollars to provide electricity and water services in Iraq, something we used to call socialism, either conservatism has undergone a tectonic shift or the paper’s editors are disingenuous.

This neo-conservative policy rejects the traditional conservative notion that American society is rooted in American culture and history–in the gradual development of American institutions over nearly 230 years–and cannot be separated from them. Instead, neo-conservatives profess that American values, which they define as democracy, liberty, free markets and self-determination, are “universal” rather than particular to us, and insist they can and should be exported to ensure our security.

This is nonsense. The qualities that make American life desirable evolved from our civil society, created by millions of men and women using the freedom created under limited constitutional government. Only a fool would believe they could be spread overnight with bombs and bucks, and only a fool would insist that the values defined by George W. Bush as American are necessarily those for which we should fight any war at all.

Wolfowitz, Perle and their allies in the Administration claimed the Iraqis would greet our troops with flowers. Somehow, more than a year after the president’s “Mission Accomplished” photo-op, a disciplined body of well-supplied military professionals is still waging war against our troops, their supply lines and our Iraqi collaborators. Indeed, the regime we have just installed bids fair to become a long-term dependent of the American taxpayer under U.S. military occupation.

The Administration seems incapable of any admission that its pre-war assertions that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction were incorrect. Instead, in a sleazy sleight of hand worthy of Lyndon Johnson, the Administration has retrospectively justified its war with Saddam Hussein’s manifold crimes.

First, that is a two-edged sword: If the crimes of a foreign government against its people justify our invasion, there will be no end of fighting. Second, the pre-war assertions were dishonest: Having decided that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, the policymakers suppressed all evidence that it did not. This immorality is thrown in high relief by the war’s effect on Iraqi civilians. We have no serious evidence of any connection between Iraq and 9/11. Dropping 5000-pound bombs on thousands of people who had nothing to do with attacking us is as immoral as launching airplanes at an American office building.

To sum up: Anything beyond the limited powers expressly delegated by the people under the Constitution to their government for certain limited purposes creates the danger of tyranny. We stand there now. For an American conservative, better one lost election than the continued empowerment of cynical men who abuse conservatism through an exercise of power unrestrained by principle through the compromise of conservative beliefs. George W. Bush claims to be conservative. But based upon the unwholesome intrusion into domestic life and personal liberty of his administration and the local governments who imitate it, George W. Bush is no conservative, no friend of limited, constitutional government–and no friend of freedom. The Republic would be better served by his defeat in November.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Liberals & Conservatives and ‘’The Free Market'’

February 10th, 2004 by Andy in Conservative / Liberal - What Do They Mean

“The ‘Free Market’ Doesn’t Exist”: More on framing from George Lakoff
UC Berkeley Web Feature
October 27th, 2003

The NewsCenter’s conversation with George Lakoff, UC Berkeley professor of linguistics and cognitive science, continues. Here, Lakoff dissects the hidden associations of everyday terms such as liberal, progressive and free market.

Are “progressive” and “liberal” different, or is Rockridge trying to sidestep the conservatives’ successfully having framed “liberal” as pejorative?

Well, there is some of that, but both terms are kind of mushy and vague. After World War II and the Vietnam War, “liberal” came to mean someone who supports [Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s] New Deal, and a strong military and foreign policy. The term “progressive” originated from people who were Democratic Socialists, but the socialism aspect has dropped away, and it’s come to mean what I call “nurturant morality.” It includes choosing peace whenever possible, environmentalism, civil liberties, minority rights, notions like social justice through living wages, et cetera. “Progressive” has been chosen, in part, to contrast in a forward-looking way with “conservative” - for example, as when Podesta chose the name “The Center for American Progress” for his new think tank.

‘Conservatives have a word for people who are not pursuing their self interest. They’re called “do-gooders,” and they get in the way of people who are pursuing their self-interest.’

Also, within traditional liberalism you have a history of rational thought that was born out of the Enlightenment: all meanings should be literal, and everything should follow logically. So if you just tell people the facts, that should be enough - the truth shall set you free. All people are fully rational, so if you tell them the truth, they should reach the right conclusions. That, of course, has been a disaster.

Meaning, for example, that if you tell people that the tax cuts are overwhelmingly benefiting the richest 1 percent of Americans at the expense of a balanced budget, liberals think people will naturally revolt against the measure.

Exactly. It never works. And liberals don’t know why. They don’t understand that there’s another frame involved. Here’s another example: I’ve been working with a lot of nongovernmental organizations and advocacy groups of various kinds, including an environmental health group researching what they called the “body burden.”

The what?

The body burden - you have to hear it twice, right? It refers to the amount of toxic chemicals you have in your body. This group did a study with the Centers for Disease Control and found that there are vast numbers of toxic chemicals in our bodies, and in the bodies of newborn babies, in mothers’ milk, and so on. I asked them how they were going to frame this. They said, “What do you mean? We’re just going to put out a report with all the statistics, and they’ll be so shocking that everything will change.” So they did: a few papers ran it on page 17, some papers ran it a little but more. The next day it was done.

But is that a failure of framing, or a failure of infrastructure, as in no public relations team, no properly prepared talk-show guests on staff?

It’s a failure of the whole thing: not taking communication seriously and not taking conceptualization seriously. Anyway, they came back to me a couple of months later and asked how they should run a campaign on it. I said, “It’s very simple. You call your campaign Be Poison-Free.”

Why use the word “poison”? Because the framing of poison has a poisoner. It makes you look at who is doing the poisoning. Everyone knows what poison is - it kills you. Everybody knows that. Now of course you then have to run a serious campaign and have the money to do that and have the public relations support, which is harder, but the first step is understanding how to frame it.

What about the phrase “free market”? Is that an example of framing?

Yes, but one that’s so deeply embedded that it’s difficult at first to see how. You have to start with the metaphor that the market is a force of nature, which comes from [the economist] Adam Smith, who says that if everybody pursues their own profit, then the profit of all will be maximized by the “invisible hand” - by which he means nature. There is also a metaphor that well-being is wealth. If I do you a favor, therefore making things better for you, then you say, “How can I ever repay you? I’m in your debt.” It’s as if I’d given you money. We understand our well-being as wealth.

Combine them, and you get the conservatives’ version that says if everybody pursues their own well-being, the well-being of all will be maximized by nature. They have the metaphorical notion of a free market even in their child-rearing system. It’s not just an economic theory; it’s a moral theory. When you discipline your children, they get internal discipline to become self-reliant, which means they can pursue their self-interest and get along in a difficult world. Conservatives even have a word for people who are not pursuing their self interest. They’re called “do-gooders,” and they get in the way of people who are pursuing their self-interest.

OK, but how is that a frame, rather than a guiding ideology?

Because the “free market” doesn’t exist. There is no such thing. All markets are constructed. Think of the stock exchange. It has rules. The WTO [World Trade Organization] has 900 pages of regulations. The bond market has all kinds of regulations and commissions to make sure those regulations carried out. Every market has rules. For example, corporations have a legal obligation to maximize shareholder profit. That’s a construction of the market. Now, it doesn’t have to be that way. You could make that rule, “Corporations must maximize stakeholder value.” Stakeholders - as opposed to shareholders, the institutions who own the largest portions of stock - would include employees, local communities, and the environment. That changes the whole notion of what a “market” is.

Suppose we were to change the accounting rules, so that we not only had open accounting, which we really need, but we also had full accounting. Full accounting would include things like ecological accounting. You could no longer dump your stuff in the river or the air and not pay a fee. No more free dumping. If you had full accounting, that constructs the market in a different way. It’s still a market, and it’s still “free” within the rules. But the rules are always there. It’s important for progressives to get that idea out there, that all markets are constructed. We should be debating how they’re constructed, how they should be constructed, and how are they stacked to serve particular interests.

Comments? E-mail
Copyright UC Regents

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Next Article »

Search Articles

USTV Recommended Read: