George Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at U.C. Berkeley and a well-known Democrat strategist, and Elizabeth Wehling, a graduate student and one of Lakoff’s researchers, recently published a book that is being called a “game-changer” and a “precious gift” to progressives, titled The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic.
But before we tell you anything about it, the book’s highlighted reviews should be an indication of what you’re getting into:
Zombie at PJ Media sarcastically responded to Blades’ comment: “Because everybody knows that the best way to convince undecided and conservative voters is to dazzle them with compliments you got from Van Jones and George Soros.”
Having read the entire work, Zombie has more information:
Before you even open the book, its sly self-referential gamesmanship leaps off the cover: the very title itself is a wink-wink-nudge-nudge ironic-but-not-really reference to Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book, the kind of hidden-meaning secret message that progressives like to call a “dog whistle,” although they insist that only conservatives resort to such underhanded gambits.
But Lakoff is not just any intellectual celebrity: he is deemed one of the most important contemporary philosophers of progressive thought. You know how whenever Democrats lose an election, they invariably blame their “poor messaging” and never ever the content of their policies? Lakoff came up with that. Liberals find it very reassuring: We don’t need to rethink our ideas — we just need to express ourselves more clearly.
As a linguist, Lakoff focuses on the notions of “cognitive frames” and “conceptual metaphors,” which refer to the overarching filters through which each person perceives the world ... The Little Blue Book is Lakoff’s attempt to transform his high-minded theories into nuts-and-bolts instructions for how all Democrats — from the White House to the drum circle and everything in between — should speak to conservatives, undecideds and the media. [All emphasis added]
Another one of Lakoff’s instructions that you have probably encountered, though never fully understood, is the order to “use your own language; never use your opponent’s language.”
On page 43, he writes: “Be aware of what you believe and repeat it loud over and over; never repeat ideas you don’t believe in, even if you are arguing against them.” This mantra even comes in at number one on Lakoff’s list of “The 10 Most Important Things Democrats Should Know.”
Similar to Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals,” the fingerprints of Lakoff’s advice are seemingly on the framework of almost every political debate, whether the participants are aware of it or not.
For instance, it doesn’t matter that Republicans have been arguing that a baby is a baby, whether it is in the womb or not, for decades. Today, you will rarely hear someone who is in favor of abortion refer to the baby as anything but a “fetus.” They typically use the words “reproductive rights” or “a woman’s right to choose” to re-frame the debate from whether a baby is being killed to whether a woman has “reproductive rights,” never responding to the argument that a baby is involved.
Similarly, you can try to explain to a group of “Occupiers” why taxing the rich won’t help them land a job, but all you will likely leave with is an earful of how Wall Street is “greedy” and how people are being exploited.
Another one of Lakoff’s main “themes” is that conservatives embody, essentially, an abusive father household, and that leftists embody a welcoming one where both parents make decisions together. Referencing a book from 1970, Lakoff reportedly writes that “the role of the mother [in the idealized conservative family] is to uphold the authority of the father. If she does not, she may have to be disciplined as well.”
And this is where, according to Zombie, Lakoff’s ideas “backfire:”
There’s a new frame in town: The nanny state. In a masterful maneuver of political aikido, conservatives have taken Lakoff’s antediluvian “strict father conservatism” frame and completely reversed it. Conservatism now stands for freedom from authority, while is it progressivism that seeks to implement the new scolding parent metaphor, now known as the “nanny state.” It’s liberals who want to tell you what to do and what is allowed, not conservatives.
And this frame is widely accepted by the general public not simply because of superior conservative messaging, but because there is evidence backing it up. It is mostly liberal politicians, not conservative politicians, who pass laws and regulations telling citizens what they can and cannot do, what they must and must not buy, what they are and are not allowed to say.
Who seeks to impose the “strict parent” paradigm now? Liberals. And everyone knows it. Yet still there’s George Lakoff off by his lonesome still pounding his fists about “strict father conservatives.” All the rhetoric in the world can’t hide the fact that conservatism now stands for unintrusive small government, and that progressivism stands for intrusive big government. The “nanny state” frame is so powerful and self-evidently true that it can’t be ignored away, and can’t be euphemized away.
So what’s up next from this linguistic “Jedi” of the left?
Apparently, he issues a set of recommendations on how progressives should approach a number of policy issues each chapter, and is hankering to re-claim the word “liberty.”
Rather than engage in a debate on socialism versus capitalism, Lakoff urges leftists to say something along the lines of: “This debate is about liberty from corporate government and corporate meddling in our lives,” or, “The laissez-faire market limits your personal liberty.”
But what is most surprising (and disturbing) for those on the right, is that Lakoff seems to actually believe that if you just come up with the right “label” or euphemism, reality itself will change around it.
Progressives have a history of changing the language of the debate, but are they now starting to believe that reality and right-and-wrong are actually malleable, if phrased with the right argument?
As a layperson, an outsider, I have always assumed that a new label doesn’t change the intrinsic nature of what is being labeled. Thus, I could take a can of beans, peel off its label and replace it with a label that says “Cherries,” but that doesn’t mean the contents of the can suddenly transform into cherries; it remains beans, regardless of what the label says.
But Lakoff seems to be saying, throughout The Little Blue Book, that when you slap a new label — or euphemism, or “conceptual metaphor” or “moral frame” or whatever you want to call it — on an idea, that this somehow transforms the idea itself and people’s opinions about it. “I don’t like new taxes,” says Average Joe. “These aren’t taxes — they’re a Deficit Reduction Bonanza!” Lakoff might say. “A Deficit Reduction Bonanza? Why didn’t you say so earlier? Sounds great! Where do I sign up?”
Lakoff endlessly argues that liberals need to come up with better “narratives” and “frames,” but then simultaneously acts like those new narratives and frames are factually true, that the new way of describing something somehow changed its nature.
The few “average” people who have reviewed the book on Amazon so far seem to reflect Lakoff’s contribution to the political discourse.
While a seemingly conservative reviewer wrote that the book is “comedy gold” and “pure political propaganda,” another solemnly said:
I found this book to be very informative on the differences between progressive and [conservative] political viewpoints. It not only explained the different ideologies in a straightforward manner, but also gave the reasons why one person would be attracted to one side over the other.
Of course, this reviewer possibly now thinks that conservatives encourage abusive families, and want to somehow translate that abuse to a national scale.
And the cycle continues.
If you want to read more of Zombie’s take on the “Little Blue Book,” read the rest of his article (titled “Quotations from Chairman Lakoff”), here.
Updates will be added.