Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's not about the issues, stupid

I've said over and over on this site that most people don't understand just how on-point McCain campaign manager Rick Davis is for running a campaign that is not based on the "issues". The way individuals formulate opinions about candidate a, b, and c, or issue x, y, and z is not a matter of ingesting a series of external facts that all add up in a neatly mathematical fashion. Unfortunately, classical liberalism functions along these lines. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard someone say something to the effect of "My god if Obama would just talk about the issues he'd win this thing!" Or "I can't believe that some idiots still don't believe in global warming when the facts are as plain as day." I'm sure all of you have your own examples to reference.

The point here is that in order to effectively communicate reason and reality, you need to do more than simply lay out facts in a clinical manner; you need to use narratives and frames that allow a person's conscious and unconscious thought to put the "facts" in a place of reference that will do your cause, candidate, issue, etc the most good. You can point out McCain's lies until you are blue in the face but you do so against decades of a very public and a very often repeated narrative of straight talk. The media can point out McCain's lies until they are blue in the face but they do so against decades of a very public and very often repeated narrative of media bias. The trick here is two-fold: first, to re-frame the issues, lies, candidates, etc in a frame or narrative that does not reference the existing frame or reference; second, to re-frame the matter at hand in such a fashion that old frames begin to lose their effectiveness.

Your homework for the day is to read this very short article from George Lakoff entitled "Don't think of a Maverick". Here's a short sample:
The Obama campaign just put out an ad called "No Maverick". The basic idea was right. The Maverick Frame is central to the McCain campaign and, as the ad points out, it's a lie. But negating the Maverick Frame just activates that frame and helps McCain. You have to substitute a different frame that characterizes McCain as he really is. There are various possibilities. Let's consider one of them. Ninety percent of the time, McCain has been a yes-man for Bush. Think in terms of questions at a debate. If the question is, is McCain a maverick?, you are thinking about him as a maverick, even when you are trying to find ways in which he isn't. McCain wins. If the question is whether McCain is a yes-man for Bush, you put McCain on the defensive. People think of him as a yes-man 90 percent of the time, and try to think cases when he might not have been. This is not rocket science. It's the first principle of framing.
Folks, if you want the issues to matter, you have to be aware of how they are framed and who benefits when a particular frame is referenced. Also, Lakoff has a few words about a subject near and dear to my heart: conservative populism. At Minvolved I wrote a lot about this subject and how it was vastly misunderstood by liberal politicians. It is a cultural issue, not an economic one. (It is also the fatal flaw at the heart of the book What's the Matter with Kansas. People voting against their economic interests only seems that way when you assume you know how they prioritize their interests, or when you fail to navigate your way through clearly identifiable frames when attempting to communicate with the yokels. It's more of an issue of What's the Matter with how we Forgot to talk to Kansans, but that's a subject for another day.) Conservative populists respond to appeals to identity; they've internalized the frames to such an extent that an attack on one of their own is felt equally by all. Once you get in on the action (like, say, a Connecticut-born, Yale-educated son of a former President), you receive the benefits of membership. This is where much of the elitism talk is generated from concerning Obama. In this sense, his "otherness" goes far beyond the silly race-baiting ads that McCain is running. These are the same buttons that were being pushed with Kerry, and the same people are responding.

While writing this I saw that Charlie ran a post with the same, hat tip to Charlie. Go read his take too.

No comments: