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September 27, 2006


But Brendan, what would you suggest progressives do? Simply call out GOP spin until they get embarrassed and stop doing it? You may be waiting forever.

This reminds me of David Brooks' infamous NYTimes column of several months (even a year or two?) ago. In it, he decries the angry left for amping up their own spin and smear machines. Yes, it's bad when the GOP does it, but if both sides do it, well then, that's just far worse for our discourse! (As a regular reader of Brooks -- until they put up the wall -- I found his prior condemnations of his vicious conservative fellow-travelers to be, well, non-existent.)

After years of getting mugged while trying to remain on the high road, Progressives have finally started to fight fire with fire. And it's about time.

I know your interest is in identifying and calling out spin. But at some point you must concede that removing the current charlatans in power is the first step towards restoring sanity to government. Then and only then can we start to dial back on the partisan invective.

Having actually listened to the Lakoff DFA training, I'm not sure that you did so. One example of the points Lakoff made stands out in my mind: the Democrats' response to the "cut and run" meme. Prominent Democrats have tried to rebut "cut and run" with their own phrases -- Lakoff cited "lie and die" and "bleed or lead" as examples. First of all, as Lakoff points out, if you're going to change the terms of a debate it's best not to echo the words your opponents are using. That's why "lie and die" sounds so risible: it just reminds you of "cut and run."

Lakoff made a deeper point as well: that Democrats have to be careful not to paint the desire to leave Iraq as a question of mere expediency. That's why "cut and run" is so powerful: it portrays those who want to remove our troops as cowards, people who lack the moral courage to expend American might (and the lives of our soldiers) in order to bring about a lasting peace for the Iraqi people. It suggests that proponents of withdrawal are asking Americans to forego doing the honorable thing.

Obviously expediency is part of the calculation behind withdrawal -- as of course it's a large part of why we entered Iraq in the first place. But Lakoff wanted to see Democrats to mention the moral reasons for ending our involvement. As we cite the problems our presence in Iraq is causing us as Americans, why can't we also note that we are occupiers, that we are imposing our will on a conquered territory at the barrel of a gun? Why can't we mention the terrible toll our occupation has exacted in terms of Iraqi lives, health, and living standards?

It may be that these reasons don't lie behind any American politician's call for redeployment. But is it dishonest for advocates of withdrawal to say, "and, oh yes, leaving -- ending our occupation -- would also be the moral thing to do?"

Ultimately that's what Lakoff is up to, and what he says the conservative movement has been up to. His point (and I haven't had time to check out your links to see if this advice works in the real world) is that people are actually more likely to be moved by appeals to their values than their self-interest. And the lesson he wants progressives to learn is to talk about the values that lie behind the policies they advocate for. Democrats have been making arguments based on expediency and self-interest, and Lakoff's hypothesis is that this is why they've been losing elections.

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