Election Section

Moral Politics

by george lakoff

Though this book came out in 1996, it is particularly relevant now, november 5th, 2004 as we democrats pick ourselves up and start over - trying to understand 'it'and go back to the task of re-framing our message.

This review (Compelling Morality Models Explain Our Nation's Divisiveness) is off the internet, by Ed Uyeshima ( thank you Ed) and gives good reasons why you should try and find the book .

It's refreshing to see a resurgence of interest in George Lakoff's principles of cognitive linguistics as they apply to the current political landscape. After just finishing his recently published "Don't Think of an Elephant", I was more than intrigued to go back to his original treatise on this topic first published in 1996. An esteemed professor of linguistics at UC Berkeley, Lakoff is a senior fellow of the Rockridge Institute, the renowned liberal think tank that concentrates in part on helping Democratic candidates and politicians with re-framing political metaphors. He completely understands the power of words, and this book explains how those words feed his model, which render images we retain vividly within our minds regardless of what facts are presented to us.

In this revealing book, Lakoff's model suggests that the apparently contradictory positions between conservatives and liberals lie in the moral underpinnings of their respective mindsets. His treatise explains that conservatives tend to a view that favors what he calls the "Strict Father Morality" model of the family. Liberals, on the other hand, prefer the "Nurturant Parent Morality" model. Each implies a system of beliefs that determine how conservatives or liberals judge the morality of a situation. When the models are applied to the nation, the political clash ensues. He concedes that while the model's ability to predict various aspects of political decisions may not be sufficient proof of its validity, it would certainly be a strong indicator as to predict behavior based on the consistency of the model. As a good academic, Lakoff spends the bulk of the book explaining the model and presenting empirical evidence of its existence in the current political environment. Yet the most intriguing part of the book is when he explains why US politics cannot get away from these morality-based models, and of course, as a self-professed liberal, why liberals have the better moral model. The message is that conservatives, with their push for "family values," understand very well where the basis for their politics originates. Liberals will have to come to a similar understanding if they want to come to the table for political dialogue. Fortunately, Lakoff's treatise is very well written (after all, he is a linguistics professor) and does not come across as a self-absorbed polemic like works by either Ann Coulter or Maureen Dowd.

This is strong, thought-provoking work. Lakoff paints liberals and conservatives as sitting on the opposite ends of a spectrum since the moral models are radial categories. He makes a compelling case for why the models cannot intersect, which he makes clear during his discussion of conservative vigilantism, where he dissects the motivation behind the Oklahoma City bombing. If you are undecided and have a commitment to the democratic process, this is essential reading before the election. If you want a briefer treatment, I suggest you read the aforementioned book by Lakoff, a slim volume entitled "Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate--The Essential Guide for Progressives". You cannot afford to be without an understanding of his models


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