George Lakoff, professor of linguistics at UC Berkeley, has published an article called The Santorum Strategy. Here are some excerpts if you don’t have time for the whole article:
…The Republican presidential campaign is about a lot more than the campaign for the presidency. It is about guaranteeing a radical conservative future for America.
… And among the things they and their fellow conservatives managed to do was change public discourse, and with it, change how a great many Americans thought.
… This is extremely important for so-called “independents,” who actually have both conservative and liberal moral systems in their brains and can shift back and forth. The more they hear conservative language over the next eight months, the more their conservative brain circuitry will be strengthened.
… No matter who gets the Republican nomination for president, the Santorum Strategy will have succeeded unless Democrats dramatically change their communication strategy as soon as possible. …
… When you negate conservative language, you activate conservative ideas and, hence, automatically and unconsciously strengthen the brain circuitry that characterizes conservative values.
… I think Democrats need much better positive messaging, expressing and repeating liberal moral values — not just policies– uniformly across the party. That is not happening.
One of the reasons that it is not happening is that there is a failure to understand the difference between policy and morality, that morality beats policy, and that moral discourse is absolutely necessary. This is a major reason why the Democrats lost the House in 2010. Consider how conservatives got a majority of Americans to be against the Obama health care plan. The president had polled the provisions, and each had strong public support: No preconditions, no caps, no loss of coverage if you get sick, ability to keep your college-age child on your policy, and so on. These are policy details, and they matter. The conservatives never argued against any of them. Instead, they re-framed; they made a moral case against “Obamacare.” Their moral principles were freedom and life, and they had language to go with them. Freedom: “government takeover.” Life: “death panels.” Republicans at all levels repeated them over and over, and convinced millions of people who were for the policy provisions of the Obama plan to be against the plan as a whole. They changed the public discourse, changed the brains of the electorate — especially the “independents” — and won in 2010.
As long as the Democrats have no positive moral messaging of their own, repeated over and over, the Santorum Strategy will go unchallenged and conservative populism will expand.
The Santorum Strategy does not end with this election. It is part of a permanent campaign that has been going on since the Gingrich revolution of 1994, and will continue into the indefinite future.
Democrats tend to be literalists, assuming that the presidential campaign is only about the presidential campaign and that birth control is only about birth control. In 2010, they thought that health policy was only about health policy, even as conservatives were metaphorically making it about freedom (“government takeover”) and life (“death panels”).
It is vital that Democrats not make that mistake again.
Even progressive news programs promote the conservative worldview by replaying the conservative talking points during their programs. On the other hand, DEMs and progressives provide few progressive “thinking points” for these programs to replay.
Santorum could be our next president for the same reasons Reagan, Bush II, and 40 Tea Party Reps got elected.
If we don’t change the conversation to progressive moral values, we’re going to lose – again.