Two years ago, cognitive scientist and renowned linguist George Lakoff gave us Don 't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. The book is basically a playbook on how conservatives think, how they build infrastructure, and how they use it to win elections. To date, it doesn 't appear that progressives have listened to his wisdom.
We are still fighting the same way we did two years ago, and six years ago. We spread our money out thinly, try to activate the grassroots without giving them a budget, and refuse to pool our efforts and put our energy into seriously reframing the political dialogue. We are still on the defensive, because we won 't step back and breathe and realize that it is going to take years to get back on top, not months.
We still read conservative columnists and listen to conservative radio and television programs and wonder how people could be "stupid " enough to buy into them. We still try to change the world by "speaking truth to power " instead of believing Lakoff 's claim that people only accept facts that fit their frames.
We aren 't funding think tanks, and we aren 't buying media time, and we aren 't hiring progressive thinkers to sit at board tables and reconfigure our message for a better America.
It is long past time for us to take a page from Lakoff, and from the very successful conservative movement. It is time for us to stop playing defense, and start playing offense. It is time for us to stop using the language created by conservative think tanks, and start developing our own. Telling the truth isn 't enough anymore.
In August of 2005, The Washington Post ran a story saying that wealthy liberals were planning on donating over $80 million to fund liberal think tanks. The group, called the Democracy Alliance, would serve as a financial clearinghouse, giving grants to institutions like the Center for American Progress and Media Matters for America. It was as if the clouds had broken and a new day was dawning --as if we finally realized that we have a lot of very, very rich people in our camp who are willing to part with a little cash for a better tomorrow.
That was five months ago, and not a word since.
Not to mention, funding existing projects is very important, but giving a few million dollars to Media Matters isn 't going to help us change the world. Media Matters is a great project --and it is important to inform the public when they are being lied to --but we need to build infrastructure. We need to take that money and create new projects. We need to use it to hire linguists and brilliant political minds and promising interns and we need to create new frames for the American public. Media Matters works within the current system --it fights the good fight by speaking truth to power. This is noble, but it hasn 't worked in a long time, and it isn 't working now.
The reason that media watchdog groups exist is because the conservative infrastructure buys so much media time, they can say whatever they want. If conservatives are buying four times as much media time as progressives, then they have all the time in the world to plant their ideas in the heads of the American people and we have one-fourth that amount of time to try to dig it out or replace it. Considering the lack of time and money we have put into framing, it is no surprise that we are losing.
Conservative donors put roughly $400 million a year into conservative think tanks and organizations. Four hundred million dollars a year. $400,000,000.00 every single year. Their smallest operations run on a few million a year --many of ours run on air. We 've been working for free while the conservatives are housing their interns in apartments in Washington, DC. It 's no wonder that we can 't work together and get anything done.
Conservatives also play big-picture politics. They sit down and they compromise, and they fight the battles they know they have a chance of winning first, and the really crazy ones later. They give and take, amongst themselves, so that everyone gets most of what they want, while we squabble and argue with each other and accomplish nothing. They come up with strategic initiatives that seem harmless, or close to, but have far-reaching consequences that we don 't see because we aren 't used to looking at the world that way.
We keep fighting each little battle as it comes --we fight each Supreme Court nominee, each scandal, each lie --we need to play big-picture politics. We need to look at Bush 's nominees and figure out exactly why he wants them on the court --we need to look further than Roe v. Wade, or an anti-minority past, and find out how the feelings of the nominee will ultimately effect the choices he or she will make and how those choices will effect the American people. We need to look at the scandals and wonder how they fit into the conservative worldview, why regular Americans don 't care that they are breaking the law. We need to keep uncovering lies and speaking the truth, but at the same time we need to create new frames for the American people and we need to buy media time and get those frames out there whenever we have a chance --this is the only way to make the public see the truth --as long as their frames fit the lies, they will accept them. When the frames fit the truth, the people will see the truth.