The Framing Wars – Language and Substance in Debate

I just read a must-read article called The Framing Wars, the cover story in yesterday’s NYTimes Magazine. It is an enormously informative, entertaining, and instructive piece that looks inside the Democratic struggle to match the art that Republicans have mastered: using language to frame the debate to suit one’s point of view. The excellent writer Matt Bai implicitly makes points about the rhetorical devices of framing (and the associated cognitive/emotional causes of how we pick which side of the debate to be on) that appeal to anyone who spends some portion of their day trying to convince someone of something. It’s long, so print and read (even if you’re squeezed tight into a train, like I was). I find these longer, quasi-news/quasi-analysis pieces so much stronger than the daily he-said she-said politics coverage of most rags – especially since the writer isn’t afraid to bring his or her own voice and opinion into the piece.

3 comments on “The Framing Wars – Language and Substance in Debate
  • Ben,

    You might find this discussion that I had with my friend Matt Josefowicz interesting:

    Matt linked to the same article, which noted that the Republicans have eight simple words to sum up their values:

    Lower taxes
    Less government
    Strong defense
    Family values

    The author of the article offers up these suggestions for the Democrats:

    Stronger America
    Broad prosperity
    Better future
    Effective government
    Mutual responsibility

    This suggestion just shows the malaise that affects the Democratic Party. No ability to deliver strong sound bites.

    My friend Matt offered the following:

    Fair Taxes
    Good Services
    Safe America
    Fair Business Environment

    Getting better, but still kind of squishy. Words like fair, good, and safe, better, effective, and so on are abstract and lack specificity.

    Putting on my Karl Rove hat, I eventually offered (with Matt’s help on the last item), the following:

    Greater equality
    Caring government
    International cooperation
    Personal freedom

    Now that is a list to conjure with. Too bad the Democrats will never adopt any such thing.

  • hiya ben

    just found your blog–from a linked site i enjoy checking out from time to time on even numbered dates.

    i look forward to your future posts.

    ps. noticed how much you LOVE rich dad…they have an interesting article on real estate on did ya see it?

    peace out

    // josh

  • Ben,

    Let me preface my remarks by saying that I haven’t read Lakoff’s Don’t think of an Elephany although I did skim–barely–his more serious work Moral Politics. I don’t think that Matt Bai really understands Lakoff’s argument. I think that Lakoff has been fetishisized, but that Bai is unduly dismissive of Lakoff’s core insights.

    See this blog post by Glenn Smith.

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