Friday :: Jan 21, 2005

George Lakoff Decodes Inaugural Speech To Be All About Money

by Steve

As a follow-up to the Peggy Noonan piece I ran below, I wanted to also pass along this.

UC Berkeley linguistics professor George Lakoff, who weíve talked about before here, has spent a good deal of time trying to decode the GOPís Luntzspeak efforts at using language deceptively to reframe political debate. He provides a useful decoding of the presidentís speech yesterday, and concludes that for all the lofty rhetoric about freedom and liberty, what Bush was really espousing, aside from the usual coded Christian imagery, was something different than what progressives think of when they talk about freedom and liberty.

In Bush's parlance, "freedom" has been recast largely as "economic freedom," a political shift that could damage liberals already searching for a cohesive message, analysts said.

"What he's done is take over the old progressive language of 'freedom' and redefined it without explicitly saying it -- only with code words -- in terms of a conservative worldview," said UC Berkeley linguistics Professor George Lakoff. "Those people who've got that worldview will understand the code words."

In Lakoff's decoding of Thursday's address, "freedom" meant "unfettered economic markets." Same goes for phrases such as "ownership society" and "the governing of the self." They're conservative shorthand for believing that the government should not be regulating business. "Conservatives have been masterful at this, but they've been working on it for 35 years, while progressives have just been standing by," Lakoff said.

Bill Whalen, a research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, agreed that Bush's speech had transferred the concept of freedom "from the foreign policy world to the domestic policy world."

When Bush said, "By making every citizen an agent of his or her own destiny, we will give our fellow Americans greater freedom from want and fear, " Whalen said, he was espousing the conservative ideal of the self-made person who doesn't need a government handout.

"He's essentially using it to say the days of New Deal policies (of government assistance) are over," said Whalen, who worked on George H.W. Bush's unsuccessful 1992 presidential campaign.

Even when Bush used "freedom" in political terms Thursday ("The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world"), Lakoff interpreted it as the desire for individuals to benefit from free markets -- not just personal liberties -- across the globe.

"Yes, (he means) freedom to pursue democracy," Lakoff said. "But what constitutes democracy? He's saying, 'This is freedom to pursue money.' "

Lakoff also offers some sage advice for Democrats about how to do battle with the Bush rhetoric on Social Security:

Democrats must come up with a set of values to explain why they feel that, say, Americans shouldn't be able to invest their Social Security funds in the stock market, Lakoff said. And the rhetorical battle will probably come back to the concept of "freedom."

"When Republicans talk about Social Security, they talk about freedom," Lakoff said. " 'You can invest your money better than the government can.'

"The Democrats respond by giving all the facts and figures," he said. "None of them say, 'This is an issue about whether we're going to have a guaranteed annuity for everyone in our family, the American family, or whether you're on your own, buddy.'

"Rather, they argue the details," Lakoff said. "As soon as progressives argue the details, conservatives come back and argue their own details, and nobody knows the difference. And as soon as you get into the technical details, the liberals lose. Because the other guys are arguing values."

Yes, as we have been saying, the values arguments can be turned to our advantage once we are ready to engage and talk freely about them. We can start by asking these moral values voters why they support political leaders who claim to be Christian while grafting the teachings of Jesus onto a Social Darwinist pursuit of money.

Steve :: 2:54 PM :: Comments (40) :: Digg It!