Lakoff and Negative Branding

I gave discussed George Lakoff before and much of this post will sound familiar. But Lakoff has a new post that, I think, illustrates my earlier points. Lakoff writes:

The right wing has worked for decades to alter the meanings of concepts that define our way of life. The Bush administration's distortions of language are a culmination of these efforts. To restore the meaning of values such as respect for the rule of law and reverence for human life, we all must do our part. We have many strong progressive leaders who are working to reclaim these concepts, but, as in the election at hand, they can succeed only when we are all fully engaged in this struggle.

Fair enough. Nothing to quarrel with there. Now let's consider what Lakoff specifically proposes.

Conservatives . . . have redefined the word "liberal." They have turned it upside down. What once was--and still should be--a badge of pride is now a label to run from. Consider the differences between the conservative tag on "liberal" and the real meaning that we should hold near and dear to our hearts.

Conservatives: Tax-and-spend liberals want to take your hard-earned money and give it to lazy no-accounts. Latte-sipping liberals are elitists who look down their noses at you. Hollywood liberals have no family values. The liberal media twist the facts. Leftist liberals want to end the free market. Antiwar liberals are unpatriotic wimps who can't defend our country. Secular liberals want to end religion.

Liberals: Liberty-loving liberals founded our country and enshrined its freedoms. Dedicated, fair-minded liberals ended slavery and brought women the vote. Hardworking liberals fought the goon squads and won workers' rights: the eight-hour day, the weekend, health plans, and pensions. Courageous liberals risked their lives to win civil rights. Caring liberals have made the vulnerable elderly secure with Social Security and healthy with Medicare. Forward-looking liberals have extended education to everyone. Liberals who love the land have been preserving our environment so you can enjoy it. Nobody loves liberty and life more than a liberal. When conservatives say you're on your own, we liberals know we're all in this together.

Well, I dunno, that might help. But I tell you what is missing -- negative branding of Conservatives and Republicans. For example, I would say:

The Rubberstamp Republicans serve the interests of corporations and the rich. They rubberstamp Bush's disastrous Iraq policies and pass special interest legislation like cutting the Paris Hilton tax, tax loopholes for Big Oil and block competition for Big Pharma. Unlike conservative Republicans, who have raised Congressional salaries while blocking a hike in the minimum wage, Democrats have fought for raising the minimum wage and fought for affordable health are in the face of stiff Republican opposition in service to big insurance companies.

And so on. Tailor the message to the audience. Talk about the environment, or the war, or unions, or stem cell or whatever issue works best. The point is contrast. Define yourself positively by contrasting with and defining Republicans negatively. LAkoff recognizes that the Republicans did it, but for some reason Democrats must eschew it. I really do not understand why.



Conservatives: Patriots do not question the president or his war policies. To do so undermines our nation and its troops. Revealing secret, even illegal, government programs is treasonous. The Constitution should be amended to criminalize political dissent in the form of flag desecration.

Progressives: The greatest testament to one's love of country is when one works to improve it. This includes principled dissent against policies one disagrees with and against leaders who promote those policies. Times of war are no exception. Our first loyalty is to the principles of our democracy that are embedded in our Constitution, not to any political leader.

Again, I would use a structure much as the one I described above:

The Rubber Stamp Republicans do not question President Bush on any issue, especially not on Iraq. Democrats demand accountability. Instead of blindly following and rubberstamping President Bush, Democrats demand facts, answers and accountability. The Republicans rely on McCarthyism. The Democrats debate facts and issues.

My point is negative branding is essential to Democrats regaining the upper hand in the war of branding and words.

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