What conservatives really want, and how we’re helping them get it

Our old friend George Lakoff has a brilliant essay on the Common Dreams website today. Here’s a clip. I’d encourage those of you with time to follow the last link and read the whole thing, though.

….The central issue in our political life is not being discussed. At stake is the moral basis of American democracy.

The individual issues are all too real: assaults on unions, public employees, women’s rights, immigrants, the environment, health care, voting rights, food safety, pensions, prenatal care, science, public broadcasting, and on and on.

Budget deficits are a ruse, as we’ve seen in Wisconsin, where the governor turned a surplus into a deficit by providing corporate tax breaks, and then used the deficit as a ploy to break the unions, not just in Wisconsin, but seeking to be the first domino in a nationwide conservative movement.

Deficits can be addressed by raising revenue, plugging tax loopholes, putting people to work, and developing the economy long-term in all the ways the president has discussed. But deficits are not what really matters to conservatives.

Conservatives really want to change the basis of American life, to make America run according to the conservative moral worldview in all areas of life.

In the 2008 campaign, candidate Obama accurately described the basis of American democracy: Empathy — citizens caring for each other, both social and personal responsibility — acting on that care, and an ethic of excellence. From these, our freedoms and our way of life follow, as does the role of government: to protect and empower everyone equally. Protection includes safety, health, the environment, pensions and empowerment starts with education and infrastructure. No one can be free without these, and without a commitment to care and act on that care by one’s fellow citizens.

The conservative worldview rejects all of that.

Conservatives believe in individual responsibility alone, not social responsibility. They don’t think government should help its citizens. That is, they don’t think citizens should help each other. The part of government they want to cut is not the military (we have 174 bases around the world), not government subsidies to corporations, not the aspect of government that fits their worldview. They want to cut the part that helps people. Why? Because that violates individual responsibility…

This is the America that conservatives really want. Budget deficits are convenient ruses for destroying American democracy and replacing it with conservative rule in all areas of life. What is saddest of all is to see Democrats helping them.

Democrats help radical conservatives by accepting the deficit frame and arguing about what to cut. Even arguing against specific “cuts” is working within the conservative frame. What is the alternative? Pointing out what conservatives really want. Point out that there is plenty of money in America, and in Wisconsin. It is at the top. The disparity in financial assets is un-American — the top one percent has more financial assets than the bottom 95 percent. Middle class wages have been flat for 30 years, while the wealth has floated to the top. This fits the conservative way of life, but not the American way of life.

Democrats help conservatives by not shouting out loud over and over that it was conservative values that caused the global economic collapse: lack of regulation and a greed-is-good ethic.

Democrats also help conservatives by what a friend has called Democratic Communication Disorder. Republican conservatives have constructed a vast and effective communication system, with think tanks, framing experts, training institutes, a system of trained speakers, vast holdings of media, and booking agents. Eighty percent of the talking heads on TV are conservatives. Talk matters because language heard over and over changes brains. Democrats have not built the communication system they need, and many are relatively clueless about how to frame their deepest values and complex truths.

And Democrats help conservatives when they function as policy wonks — talking policy without communicating the moral values behind the policies. They help conservatives when they neglect to remind us that pensions are deferred payments for work done. “Benefits” are pay for work, not a handout. Pensions and benefits are arranged by contract. If there is not enough money for them, it is because the contracted funds have been taken by conservative officials and given to wealthy people and corporations instead of to the people who have earned them.

Democrats help conservatives when they use conservative words like “entitlements” instead of “earnings” and speak of government as providing “services” instead of “necessities.”…

Why doesn’t Lakoff have an office at the White House? Why isn’t he meeting with our elected Democratic leaders on a daily basis? Why isn’t this article on the front page of the New York Times instead of on a site like Common Dreams? At the very least, I’d encourage you to follow the link above, and share the article via Facebook or whatever social networking platform folks are using these days. A hell of a lot of people need to see this.

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  1. Ez Marsay
    Posted February 20, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Yes, this is beautiful.

    What he doesn’t mention—nor should he—is the individual responsibility of the average citizen for figuring things out. An example: that someone like Gingrich or Boehner is not only full of horseshit, but also full of sorrow and sadism, and how their public personae and politics are a direct extension of that.

    In other words: it’s also a heartbreak that our neighbors and loved ones can’t filter and sort, and wake up to loving kindness, a.k.a., progressivism. I tell you what, Jesus and Che wouldn’t be on TV hissing “Read my lips . . .”

  2. Bob 2
    Posted February 21, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting excerpts of this essay. I read it yesterday from Huffington Post and was struck by the clarity of thought. I intended to reread it tonight, as its worth fully absorbing. I would encourage others, as you did, to read the whole essay.

  3. Posted February 21, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    I said this on your facebook page and I’ll say it again here, hopefully without the fight: I think it’s unfair to say that Conservatives are not interested in helping people. They just think that it is an individual responsibility to help people, rather than a government responsibility to help people. I base this on the fact that the Conservatives I know, especially the richer ones (no shit), are very generous with their time and money, giving to and working in charities. That may not be everybody’s experience, but it sure is mine. I don’t like to think of these people being unfairly thought of as stingy assholes when they are anything but. It’s not the reality; it’s demonizing actual people who just aren’t that way. Hate away if you have to, but I know that this statement: That is, they don’t think citizens should help each other is just flat out untrue from personal experience. They just think it’s an individual responsibility to help each other out, rather than a government responsibility — and they do it. My motive here is to stick up for people, not to be a dick.

    In addition, I don’t hate Starbucks. Our next gig is March 9th at the Circus Bar in Ann Arbor, free admission. Boycott starts at 10pm. Also free.

  4. Ms. Pacman's Lover
    Posted February 22, 2011 at 2:57 am | Permalink

    Will y’all play Wagon Wheel?

  5. Meta
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    Lakoff has a new article in which he talks about the current events in Wisconsin.

    Here’s some of it.

    Let’s start with the case of the Lincoln Legislators. As is well known about Lincoln, and as the Political Wire reports,

    On December 5, 1840, Democrats “proposed an early adjournment, knowing this would bring a speedy end to the State Bank. The Whigs tried to counter by leaving the capitol building before the vote, but the doors were locked. That’s when Lincoln made his move. He headed for the second story, opened a window and jumped to the ground!

    Lincoln would be, and we all should be, proud that the Wisconsin state senators have courageously crossed the state line to Illinois to avoid a quorum in Wisconsin that would have a disastrous effect, not only on Wisconsin, but on America for the indefinite future.

    Quorum rules are an inherent part of democracy. They are in the Wisconsin Constitution for a reason. When an extreme move by a legislative majority would be a disaster, patriotic legislators can, like Lincoln, refuse to allow the disaster and have the power to stop it. That is their democratic duty, not only to their constituents, but to the nation.

    That is why I think these legislators should be called the “Lincoln Legislators” as a term of honor. They understand that their courage is being called upon, not just in the name of collective bargaining rights, but in the name of protecting democracy from a total conservative takeover. The Lincoln story, and the greater good story, should be in the media every day. And Democrats nationwide should be hailing the courage, and vital importance, of those legislators.

    Yet the media keeps reporting on them as “fleeing” and refusing to do their jobs. Where there is positive reporting, as on MSNBC’s The Ed Show, it is only about defending unions and collective bargaining rights.

    The media — and the Democrats — also need to do a much better job on a sneaky conservative media strategy. The clearest example occurred in the NY Times. David Brooks, in his Feb. 21, 2011 column wrote: “Private sector unions push against the interests of shareholders and management; public sector unions push against the interests of taxpayers.” I turned on CNN that day and heard Anderson Cooper introduce the Wisconsin protest story as a battle between taxpayers and unions. These are massive distortions, but they are what conservatives want the public to believe.

    The real issue is whether conservatives will get what they really want: the ability to turn the country conservative on every issue, legally and permanently. Eliminating the public sector unions could achieve that. Collective bargaining rights are the immediate issue, but they are symbolic of the real issue at stake. That is the story the media should be telling — and that Democrats everywhere in America should be shouting out loud.

    What is standing in the way of having the real story told? It is the frame of collective bargaining itself, which only points to the parties that are doing the bargaining and what they are bargaining over.

    The real point of collective bargaining is the idea of fairness inherent in democracy. Without unions, large corporations have an unfair advantage in hiring individual workers: Workers have to take what is offered, a fair wage for work done or not. Unions help to even the playing field, enabling workers to have a fair chance against wealthy, powerful large organizations — whether corporations or governments.


  6. Posted February 28, 2011 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    Corporations are supposed to serve the people, not rule them. This includes banks and the stock markets. Unions and collective bargaining were created to protect people from being taken advantage of by corporations and greedy owners. Shipping jobs oversees, busting unions, taking away benefits and pensions; these are all ways to force employees to take the same jobs at lower wages and then pay other large corporations for the health benefits and private pensions they used to get as part of their wages, while keeping taxes the same or higher leaving less for the workers and their families and providing a lower tax base for cities and states. Hence less public funds, fewer services, less safe environments, more emergency room visits since no one, especially the poor can afford healthcare (ER’s are the most expensive type of healthcare to provide and drive up healthcare costs), seniors on the streets because they have to purchase Medicare, get reduced SS benefits, and have heavily taxed pensions providing less income to buy services, and on and on. Fewer and lower paying jobs are the only things available. Say “goodbye” to the middle class. Such corporate behavior is unpatriotic. It is undemocratic. It is immoral whatever your religion. As for corporations and the wealthy? They get tax breaks and have wealth enough to rise above all this. Some locate and live in tax-sheltered countries while city, state and federal budgets are balanced on the backs of the poor and middle class. Is this is how the US becomes a third rate power? With a sad, resigned whimper?

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