Time for Progressives to Grow Up

In the 'framing' debate, let's stop talking about families and start talking about strong communities

| May 26, 2005


'Framing' is all the rage these days. In his book Don't Think of an Elephant, professor George Lakoff, a linguist and darling du jour of Democratic strategists, argues that liberal and conservative politics derive from people's differing views on child rearing -- the conservative 'strict father' versus the liberal 'nurturant parent.' Conservatives have mastered the art of framing issues in strict father terms. To start winning voters back, he says, liberals need to come up with better frames that reclaim the family from the Right.

All this talk of families misses the mark, says Frances Moore Lapp?, author of Diet for a Small Planet. Especially in wartime, if progressives try to answer Right-wing rhetoric with softer family metaphors, they'll continue to lose. Instead, they should speak in terms of strength and protection: like 'strong, safe communities.' 'If the Left is indeed stuck with nuclear-family metaphors, they're seriously out of luck; in scary times like these 'strong father' will win out over what is seen as 'soft mother' every time.' Besides, she adds, parenting metaphors are inherently hierarchical.

Progressives should speak in terms that 'frame' them as equal, mature adults and evoke the growing sense of community that's spreading across the globe. 'A 'strong communities' frame might require progressives to stop, for example, talking about the 'environment,' which non-progressives can hear as a 'soft' distraction in war time, and frame ecological challenges as threats 'to safe air and water and food.'' From the open-source software movement to the food security movement, notes Lapp?, people are realizing the value of mutual support and cooperation beyond the immediate family. 'Let's choose frames that capture what most people intuit: We all share one small -- shrinking -- planet, and our real hope therefore lies in creating strong communities.'
-- Leif Utne

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