Why refuting conservative lies will never work.
I’ve been haunted by a question recently: How did the GOP win the House in 2010?
I can’t even come up with analogy to express my disbelief of this insane fact that we’ve been living with for more than a year now. How can I explain the dismay at watching the GOP win a popular vote in this country less than two years after letting our economy crash? How could the same people that brought you the Iraq War and didn’t bring you bin Laden ever be returned to power?
Is it like hiring the designer of the Hindenburg to head the FAA? Is it like choosing Lindsay Lohan to be your sober coach? Is it like putting Karl Rove, the Koch brothers and all the billionaire polluters who brought you the Bush administration right back where they can do the most damage?
It’s actually exactly that.
So how did they do it?
From The Fox Effect, I’m reminded having a news organization actively organizing protests and an apocalyptic lunatic suggesting the President was a Nazi helped. But it wasn’t enough.
The fact is, the GOP won in 2010 because they are better at politics than Democratic Party. Much better. Their key advantage? They make moral arguments, not policy arguments.
Brain scientist George Lakoff puts it like this:
This is a major reason why the Democrats lost the House in 2010. Consider how conservatives got a majority of Americans to be against the Obama health care plan. The president had polled the provisions, and each had strong public support: No preconditions, no caps, no loss of coverage if you get sick, ability to keep your college-age child on your policy, and so on. These are policy details, and they matter. The conservatives never argued against any of them. Instead, they re-framed; they made a moral case against “Obamacare.” Their moral principles were freedom and life, and they had language to go with them. Freedom: “government takeover.” Life: “death panels.” Republicans at all levels repeated them over and over, and convinced millions of people who were for the policy provisions of the Obama plan to be against the plan as a whole. They changed the public discourse, changed the brains of the electorate — especially the “independents” — and won in 2010.
This article is a must read for any progressive. But like most Lakoff pieces it leaves me with the question: “What moral arguments should we be making?”
Here’s as close as he gets to revealing that:
The basic moral values in the progressive moral system are empathy and responsibility, both for oneself and others. This leads to a view of government as having certain moral obligations: providing protection and empowerment for everyone equally. This requires a vibrant commitment to the public — public infrastructure (roads, buildings, sewers), public education, public health, and so on. No private business can prosper at all without such public provisions. The private depends on the public.
Sounds like Elizabeth Warren, right? But it doesn’t sound like many other Democrats.
This is the problem. It’s much easier to make the conservative argument. Lakoff even explains how what looks like a suicidal policy on birth control fits into conservative logic and reinforces their worldview.
Democrats lose because they refute conservative arguments. No, this IS freedom. No, he’s not a socialist. No, there are no death panels! All of these reinforce the conservative values of freedom and life.
Democrats lose because they don’t make their own arguments based in empathy and responsibility. ObamaCare saves lives, protects parents and makes health care fair.
Democrats lose when they don’t attack Republican policies as what they are: cruel and reckless.
Democrats are better at governing because policy matters. But it doesn’t win elections.
No matter how bad they are at governing, this GOP knows how to win. If we forget that, the reckless cruelty of the Ryan/Romney plan may be law before we can even ask: “How the fuck did that happen, again?”
[CC image by dutchlad]