on taking back a hijacked a language

I think I’ve mentioned it here before, but the next book we’ll be reading in the Progressive Book Club is George Lakoff’s, “Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate–The Essential Guide for Progressives.” Lakoff, for those of you who don’t already know the name, is a UC Berkley professor of Linguistics, and fellow at the Rockridge Institute. His recent work deals generally with the use of language in American political discourse, and specifically on how the Republicans have been successful over the past few decades of using language to win the hearts and minds of American voters.

From “Pro Life” to the “No Child Left Behind” the Republicans have dedicated a great deal of time and effort to the framing of the debates they’ve initiated. (They generally win before the debate even begins, just by setting the stage and announcing the name of their initiative.) They are masters of the focus group, and when they launch something, like W’s new “Ownership Society” initiative, you can be damned sure they know it’ll resonate with people. If you haven’t seen the episode of PBS’s Frontline that profiles Frank Luntz, one of the leading Republican message men, you should check it out. Love him or hate him, it’s absolutely amazing to watch him in action. (That last link will take you to an interview with Luntz. If you want to see video of him in action, click here and go to video number five.)

So, here’s the good news… Not only do we now have Lakoff telling us what’s being done, but, as of a few days ago, we also have Luntz’s new 160-page playbook. Yes, it’s apparently fallen into the hands of the Democrats, who are now busily going over his war plans. (You can download the document for yourself and join in on the conversation if you follow that last link to the Daily Kos site.) And, if you want to check out the analysis that’s already been done, check out the Think Progress site. They’ve had the document for a few days now and they’ve made a lot of progress.

So, since the Lakoff book is short, and since it has everything to do with Luntz, I’m going to suggest that we add the newly discovered playbook to this month’s reading assignment. Does that sound doable to those of you in the club?

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5 Comments

  1. brett
    Posted February 25, 2005 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    mark, I would say that sounds fairly doable, but i’ve always had a problem with the word ‘doable’, so instead i’ll say it’s possible. If you or anyone else finds a good html or plain text version of the report online, please post it here as I’m not a huge fan of PDF files, especially when they’re 8mb downloaded via my dial-up connection.

    Otherwise, i like the idea of having the reading group focusing on some odd ephemera like this, that wasn’t intended as a literary work or meant to be discussed by a bunch of ‘progressive-types’. Considering the amount of agitprop being generated by the ‘Right’, perhaps we could start including one or two short items with a ‘regular’ book each month.

  2. Kristin
    Posted February 25, 2005 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    “Agitprop” is my new favorite word. Right after “doable.”

    I am really looking forward to Don’t Think of an Elephant. I am filled with a horrified admiration for those darn phrase-turners the Republicans employ. They come up with the most appealing monikers, and it’s not until later that the details prove to be less warm and fuzzy than metal mommy monkey with no fur.

  3. brett
    Posted February 25, 2005 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Lately I’ve started to like “Realpolitik”, as well as “Zeitgeist”. The german language always makes overtly evil things even more sinister, somehow.

  4. mark
    Posted February 26, 2005 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Did I mention that Mike (and I believe Jerod) took German in high school?

  5. brett
    Posted February 26, 2005 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Das ist wunderbar! Ich habe dieses selben sprache studiert, wahrend ich im HochSchule war!

    Hallo? Mike und JF? Werden sie mit mir sprechen, bitte? Ich habe so viel zu sagen!

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