Words and values


How can you explain that 52 percent of Republicans in Mississippi still believe Obama is a Muslim? After all that’s happened, and all that’s been said. After that very legal birth certificate.

It seems to me there’s no way to understand it, except to say that we live in different worlds. That’s become increasingly apparent over the last many months.

It it’s true, I want to understand what the parameters of their world is. Not because I think they’re reasonable, much less true. But because something’s wrong. In the struggle between the left and the right, the right has grown stronger. I don’t mean that they’ll win in the next election. They may or they may not. Either way they’ve re-made the world into a place where it’s acceptable to talk about the yays or nays of contraception. Where social security and medicare are under fire, and not just for minor changes. All this and much, much more.

All of these things and so many more seem incredible to liberals or progressives or whatever we on the left want to call ourselves. I remember in the 1980s, when (Dukakis) was running for president—I think it was then, maybe including a few years before or a few years after—that “liberal” became a dirty word. I didn’t see it happen. It was almost mysterious. The same kind of thing is happening now, but on a much broader scale. Words are changing their meanings and ideas are becoming arguable when we thought any debate about them had been resolved decades ago. The President is a socialist and a Muslim. Say it often enough, and it’ll stick somewhere, although neither word means what’s claimed of Obama.

George Lakoff, a professor of linguistics at the University of California, writes that Democrats are remiss in letting Santorum and Republicans like him repeat conservative tenets over and over again, that they change or reenforce the construction of reality in people’s minds. Even when liberals are attacking Republicans, they repeat the Republican positions in loud voices and then—often in smaller print and in terms of policy rather than values—argue against them. Just as often with scathing words and jokes. What stays with many are the Republican points, the conservative world view, rather than the refutations.

We should be putting our positions in a values framework and repeating them often.

Our two different worlds break down into something like this, according to Lakoff (with apologies to him since I’m keeping these descriptions rough and short):

The Left
Model: the family, caring for each other, parents are equal partners, etc.
The importance of the community, taking care of one another.
The government must be large enough to help regulate and assist business, to promote economic opportunity and the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”

The Right
Model: the family with the father in charge
The centrality of the individual and his liberty, and especially his right to pursue economic prosperity
Capitalism will raise all ships if people work hard. The most deserving will find their way to the top.

I don’t know if I’d put it in quite the same terms as Lakoff—the father head of the family may be an implied construct, but I’m not sure it’s something every conservative would want to claim.

But I do think he’s absolutely right about the failure of those on the left to make moral arguments and to assert their values in a positive way. The right is not alone in supporting “values” candidates.

This is a debate about morality as well as about economics. In the months to come, I hope we begin to make a loud and positive case for our side.

Author: latefruit

I am forever writing the great American novel, practicing the piano (in hopes of joining an amateur string quartet someday), gardening, and now, since I've gotten old when I wasn't looking, trying to figure out what that means.

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