|June 9, 2006|
Framing Versus Spin: Rockridge as opposed to Luntz
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Two weeks ago, Rockridge published The Framing of Immigration by George Lakoff and Sam Ferguson, an analysis of the framing surrounding immigration used by progressives and conservatives, as well as a discussion of framings not being used, but which would reveal important truths.
Late last week, the DailyKos leaked a memo by Frank Luntz, the Republican messaging strategist, advising Republicans how to talk about immigration. If you want to compare what Rockridge does with what Luntz does, this is your chance.
The Rockridge Institute is a non-partisan progressive think tank that goes behind the language (the surface words and slogans) to reveal the deep frames — the moral values, political principles, and fundamental ideas, both progressive and conservative — that are implicit in political discourse.
Our goals are simple:
We seek to empower the public to recognize framing on their own, to be less susceptible to the spin tactics of political operatives, to express their deepest beliefs, and to come up with the best framings, both deep and surface, for revealing important truths. Language matters, and we show why.
The Framing of Immigration exemplifies these goals. Framing the situation in terms of “illegal immigrants” skews the discourse. It characterizes people who are almost all honest and hardworking as criminals, thereby ignoring their contributions to American lifestyles and the American economy. And it ignores the systemic causes and problems: our cheap-labor economy that drives down the cost of labor, and the many political and economic causes that contribute to pushing so many people to leave their home countries.
Contrast this approach with Luntz’s. Luntz understands the power of language and political frames. However, he uses it for manipulative ends. Here’s a sample: “This is about overcrowding YOUR schools, emergency room chaos in YOUR hospitals, the increases in YOUR taxes, the crime in YOUR communities.”
Luntz understands, as we have pointed out, that there is a large split in the Republican party between nativist and free-market activists. The nativists want to expel undocumented immigrants, whereas the free-marketeers want to keep the undocumented immigrants here as a permanent non-voting source of cheap labor. Luntz suggests using the language of prevention to gloss over this rift in the party:
Put simply, the solution to immigration reform starts with the Principle of Prevention. Not only is it seen as critical to effectively implementing all other reforms, but it is also politically neutral. Those who take a less aggressive approach to illegal immigrants currently in the country still agree with the idea of preventing new illegal immigrants from entering.
What this hides are the two ugly sides of the conservative split:
Luntz is working to hide the ugly truth. He is a spin-doctor, and this is what spin-doctors do — use language to maneuver out of sticky situations.
Where we shed light on the information masked by frames — presenting
as many considerations to the public as we can, Luntz uses frames to
mask information in the service of conservative ends. We use frame
analysis to open the debate. Luntz uses frames to constrain and manipulate
public discourse for the sake of Republican victories.
Luntz is at his most manipulative when he tells Republicans first how to appeal to nativists for their votes and then to Hispanics for theirs. Here is Luntz, appealing to anti-Hispanic nativists.
And here is Luntz advising on words that do NOT work with Hispanics. It’s worth quoting at length what he tell Republicans NOT to say to Hispanics:
Note that it is almost the identical language. Luntz is advising Republicans to be two-faced, to speak one way to the nativists and avoid that very language when speaking to Hispanics.
The purpose of spin is to get oneself out of tricky political situations, to repackage bad political ideas and sell them under a different name. The Republicans are in such a situation. According to Luntz, they have made significant inroads in the Hispanic community. To keep these gains, Republicans must be cautious. Overzealous nasty rhetoric about immigrants might reach the ears of Hispanics and threaten these gains. So he urges speaking to the nativist base out of one side of your mouth, and to Hispanic supporters out of the other. As Luntz says:
We deplore these tactics.
Nevertheless, critics have continued to confuse what Luntz does and what we do here at Rockridge. We are using this as an opportunity to demonstrate the wide differences. Yes, we both analyze language and we are both involved with framing. The similarities end there.
Luntz’s aim is to unify Republicans by pointing out which frames work to their political advantage — whether or not they serve the truth and whether or not they are moral. We use frame analysis coming from a cognitive science perspective to educate the public and help progressives to better understand and express their deepest values and to better serve the truth.
Luntz creates secretive messaging for political elites (his memo was leaked—all of our papers are public). We empower grassroots progressives by articulating our shared values openly, and hope that political leaders might be listening as well.
Luntz spins and creates slogans to sell right-wing policy to the American public and to keep hidden agendas hidden. We examine and critique political framing to expose implicit values and agendas.
Where Luntz suggests language for manipulating the public, we are interested in authenticity — in helping progressives say what they believe, in advancing traditional progressive values, and in framing important truths so that they can be recognized.
We take an honest look at our own beliefs as well as those of others. Our intentions are explicit and open.
We believe that you can abide by the deepest of democratic values, say what you believe, tell the truth, and win elections — and that deep and honest framing is essential to those ends.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Sam Ferguson is a Research Associate at the Rockridge Institute. He is facilitating the development of the Progressive Handbook and comments on the framing of current issues.
George Lakoff is a Senior Fellow at the Rockridge Institute and a Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley.
Dr. Lakoff has published a multitude of articles in major scholarly journals and edited volumes. He is the author of the influential book, Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, Second Edition, (2002). He is also the author of Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About The Mind (1987) and co-author of Metaphors We Live By (1980) [with Mark Johnson], More Than Cool Reason (1989) [with Mark Turner], Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge To The Western Tradition (1999) [with Mark Johnson], Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics Into Being (2000) [with Rafael Núñez] and, most recently, Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values, Frame the Debate (2004).
© 2006 The Rockridge Institute, www.rockridgeinstitute.org
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