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December 10, 2004


Jason Kuznicki

I think this strategy would backfire worse than we can possibly imagine. Social conservatives would glory in being called "moral elites." They'd wallow in it. For the most part, that's what they are doing already, and talk like this would only play into their hands.

To social conservatives, there is an enormous gulf between morality and mere politics. The latter is ephemeral, this-worldly, and fundamentally a false value: At least half the sting of "political correctness" comes from the first word of the term, which says right away that liberals have taken up the wrong set of values. Moral elitism, though, is no vice.

The speech would go something like this: "Liberals now openly make fun of religious people. Can you imagine that? Openly making fun of religion! They now call it 'moral elitism.' Well guess what--If you have religion, even just a little tiny bit, then you are on our side. Through Jesus Christ, we truly are superior."

The Democrats would never win another election.

Russell Arben Fox

I think Jason is probably right, John; while "elite" does have a certain sting, in connection with morally and religiously grounded legislation it would only have any affect on those people who already kind of assume that moral and religious concerns, like economic or political ones, are social constructs. If you don't believe, or at least are open to the possibility, that morality and religiousity aren't simply social constructs, then the idea of being morally "elite," "superior," "aristocratic" (or, to get more Biblical about it, chosen or elect) isn't necessarily going to turn people off. Save those who are already on the libertarian fence, of course, and perhaps that's your hope; but that's an entirely different issue.

Also, one other potential problem with this bit of "framing," one that I don't think is avoidable. You say: "Let Democrats say they are for Democracy. Let the people decide. We are not a moral elite imposing our values on others."

Two words, John: Stephen Douglas.


We'll, you've got to have the thing about protecting the rights of minorities, yeah. But I built that in by expressing remembering to mention rights and freedom. So I'm covered on that score.

Interesting that you two don't think the moral elites would might me calling them that. Drat.

Kip Manley

Who cares what the moral elites themselves think about it? It's everybody else that everybody else is after. "Politically correct" was for a good long while an inside joke the left played on itself, after all. Took sneering repetition after sneering repetition to twist it and turn it and shake it all about.


I think that you're missing something about "politically correct" that makes this unlikely to work: it's not purely a terminological framing effect. People didn't hear the term applied to things that they were neutral or positive towards and suddenly say "oooh, that sounds icky. I'm against it." While the term was still gaining traction it referred to a pretty specific kind of mealy-mouthedness (and perhaps a hand-wringing moral relativism) that people found somewhere between absurd and objectionable..."person-holes", "wymyn", "differently-able", "x-challenged" People, including many liberal Democrats I know, bought and laughed at Politically Correct Bedtime Stories precisely because there was a certain kind of easy to recognize and easy to parody stance that Politically Correct referred to, and even people sympathetic to its motives found it laughable. At least originally, while people were learning to use it, most of the situations you would describe as being Politically Correct, instead of using the term you could describe the situation and get the same reaction.
I don't think "morally superior" or "morally elite" would work the same way. Unless you start by restricting it to a very small subset of conservative positions I don't think you're going to find that many people who find it surprising and laughable that there are those who take whatever stance morally superior is supposed to encode. Specifically, I think you need it to mean something that will cause folks who never heard the term to roll their eyes when given an example (maybe if you started just using it to describe Don Wildmon, and his type). Without that, I don't think you'll get the widespread take-up and acceptance of negative connotations that will let you broaden it and use it as the kind of club you seem to want. Instead it will stay the same kind of tag as "reality-based community", an in-group marker of those who use it. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as the PC used to say.


I like the reasoning, but I also see a supply-side problem. "Moral elites" isn't quite snarky enough to create the buzz necessary for its widespread adoption by the lefty commentariat.

The right's framing is driven largely by spite, a genuine desire to stick it to the hippies, commies, yuppies, etc. Thus, if you want to fire up the base on the left, a phrase should convey "Jesus freak." But we know the left is already fired up. To make inroads into the blue-collar vote, you'd need to resusitate William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold."


"My opponent says we wants to let the people decide. But why won't he let them decide about the sanctity of marriage, about partial birth abortion, about the death penalty for killers, about the ability of your children to say prayers in schools? They call us the "moral elite", but we just represent the common sense of everday americans. He's the one who won't let the people decide."

After the Republican candidate gives that response, I think you just lost the democrats Rhode Island.


I made this same comment on another blog; I think "Moralist elite" works just a little better than "Moral elite", as having a sliver of implied hypocrisy ("Morally superior", on the other hand, is brilliant.") With that, I think it's snarky enough to stick.

Unless you start by restricting it to a very small subset of conservative positions I don't think you're going to find that many people who find it surprising and laughable that there are those who take whatever stance morally superior is supposed to encode. Specifically, I think you need it to mean something that will cause folks who never heard the term to roll their eyes when given an example...

You know, I don't think this is much of a problem. If we prime the pump with references to "the Sen. Santorum 'gays are gonna git you' moralist elite", "the Bill Bennett 'gambling isn't a virtue?' moralist elite"... I think people will catch on pretty fast.


All this is beginning to remind me of Thucydides III.82...(sigh)...But since I'm Asian, let me live up to the stereotype by quoting Zhuangzi instead (I'm sure John will forgive me for this irrelevance):

"The fish trap exists because of the fish; once you've gotten the fish, you can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit; once you've gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning; once you've gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can have a word with him?" (Ch. 26 end; Watson tr.)


baa, my proposal may be a loser but I'm sure it doesn't stink as bad as you imply. Everyone understands about majority rule plus the courts to decide what the Constitution says majorities can't do, because minorities and individuals have rights. That's basic Americanism 101. You can be mad at what the courts have said, but it isn't so hard for a candidate who isn't himself the courts to avoid personal responsibility for that which he isn't personally responsible for. Namely, court decisions. Well, I won't write it out tonight. But I think it's pretty easy to slip under the guard of that little speech and give back as good. You just say yes to voting on things. You pass laws. (What else?) If the courts say they are un-Constitutional, they are struck down. Been that way for a while. Founders thought it was a good idea. Do you say different? Making the Rep sound like he never read the Constitution won't win you the election, but it can't hurt. The Democrat doesn't need to sound all pedantic and lawyerly about it either. Just be real plain and direct: look, our plan is just to do what the Constitution says. (Any objections to the most essential features of this document from our colleagues across the aisle? No. Good.)

The moral superiority thing, I should say, isn't supposed to be the big gun that blasts everything wide open. It's just a little rhetorical gun that makes it clear that people are being morally superior, in an annoying way, when they are. Americans are egalitarian and think that fences make good neighbors and don't like people who think they are better than other people telling people what to do. That's why their ancestors came to this country. This puts the latest crop of Republicans at a disadvantage if it can be exploited.


Hi, Loy, good to hear from you! How are you?


Quite well actually...thanks for asking, though it's getting cold over here in Toronto (snowed the other day). By the way, if all goes well, we are expecting a new loy coming May:-)

Anyway, I think you were right in the post--in the sense that appeal to one's "moral superiority" really has no place in the liberal democratic process. It is not a public reason (in the Rawlsian sense) given the the fact of moral pluralism. It smells of snobbery, etc. If that's so, then pointing out that one's political opponent is precisely making just an appeal--"they think they are the moral elites"---constitutes a powerful rhetorical point: "look, they think that they are holier than us..." in a liberal democratic context.

But it cuts both ways: the side making the expose' have to refrain even the impression that they think they are (morally) superior as well. Else, it would just be two sides calling each other names...

The impression I get from listening to right wing talk radio (and from talking to, say, American Church going friends) is precisely that from their perspective, it's the left that thinks of itself as being morally superior--"they look down on us folks in Jesusland as ignorant gun-carrying, minority hating rednecks, etc." It seems to me that the right has been playing by your proposed playbook for a while now: they are far, far more experienced at this game.

David Moles

What's the worst thing that can happen? If it gains traction, then, great. If not, what have we lost? (And don't say "Rhode Island". Nobody's talking about basing a whole campaign on this, any more than the GOP has based a whole campaign on "politically correct".) I say we give it a shot.

joe o

Framing isn't a stupid idea. It also isn't brain science. They showed this conservative guy on PBS who came up with the phrase "death tax". He just gets a big ass list of words and goes over them with a focus group. The ones that poll well are then faxed to all the republican polititions for repetition. Democrats should be doing this too, we shouldn't rely on Lakoff tossing out phrases in books.


It seems to me that the right has been playing by your proposed playbook for a while now: they are far, far more experienced at this game.

My friends, we declare that this nation is able to legislate for its own people on every question, without waiting for the aid or consent of any other nation on earth; and upon that issue we expect to carry every state in the Union. I shall not slander the inhabitants of the fair state of Massachusetts nor the inhabitants of the state of New York by saying that, when they are confronted with the proposition, they will declare that this nation is not able to attend to its own business.


"[Sen. Kerry] said something revealing when he laid out the Kerry Doctrine. He said that America has to pass a global test before we can use American troops to defend ourselves...

He talks about PAYGO. I‘ll tell you what PAYGO means, when you're a senator from Massachusetts, when you're a colleague of Ted Kennedy, pay go means: You pay, and he goes ahead and spends."

Jeremy Osner
Close tag.

Democrat: You're a moral elitist!

Jerry Falwell: Yes I am! All fags should die!

Democrat: ?

What then, John? What then?


John, the idea is right - tagging Falwell et al as the elitists they are - but the word choice is a poor one by leaving the "moral" in there. Once you concede that not only is the far right composed of the elite, but of those who are morally elite, who are ethically superior to the rest of the country, you've literally conceded the moral high ground.

Their smear against the left isn't merely that we're elitists; it's that we're morally degenerate elitists who have forfeited decency for a coarse, amoral modernist understanding of the world which we, in our arrogance, believe to be superior to the Simple Values Of Decent Folk. Any framing and counter-framing coming from the left should work to disarm the right of the notion that they're moral at all.

Kris Lytle

Speaking from the right - those who have posted that this wouldn't work are correct. The idea of the liberal elite has been so ingrained into the heads of "average Joe Republicans" that they consider themselves counter-cultural - rebels, if you will - in voting Republican. They relish voting against against Susan Sarandon, The Dixie Chicks, Alec Baldwin and all the celebrities who have made the left so trendy. Also: the average conservative doesn't consider himself to be imposing his own "superior" morality on others; rather, he considers himself to be upholding what has been the general, mainstream lifestyle and morality of the U.S. in modern times, conserving the culture against those who would impose their own post-modern morality upon all of us. It's the definition of conservatism. Are there some extremists who go overboard with it? Yeah, sure, we've got our Falwell like you've got your Moore. But the mainstream Republican thinks Falwell's just as nutty as Moore.

Agree or disagree with the above, I think it more accurately pinpoints the attitude of the mainstream right than anything I've seen posted here. I'd like to see the left get itself back together and be a more serious competitor and, more importantly, a check on some of my party's less moderate constituencies. I don't think, however, that trying to label us as "moral elites" is going to have the effect you want. Especially given some of the columns written in the wake of the election - Jane Smiley's "unteachable ignorance of the red states" comes to mind - it's going to be a hard sell to make us come off as the elitists.


"it's going to be a hard sell to make us come off as the elitists."

Maybe if Richard Dawkins wrote a personal letter to each of you...


"it's going to be a hard sell to make us come off as the elitists."

If it's going to be hard, it'll be hard only by dint of the fact that Republicans have been smearing the left as elitist as a political strategy for thirty-plus years now. Given that the majority of the country is opposed to the goals of social conservatives, it's an amazing testament to the power of framing that the increasingly shrinking views of the cultural right have managed to be packaged as - what did you call them? - "mainstream lifestyle and morality."

Dobson, Falwell, Reed, Robertson - whether the average Republican thinks they're "as nutty as Moore" or not, they have far more influence than Michael Moore ever dreamt of having. Moore isn't getting constitutional amendments proposed just to win his vote, or crackpot justices elevated to the federal bench just to make the loons on his mailing list happy.

The problem for the Republicans is that these people are arrogant elitists of the worst sort. They're firmly in the minority of the country, and they think their cruel and spiteful take on religious belief should override the direction of the rest of the country.

Sixty percent of the country wants to uphold Roe v Wade. Two-thirds want to extend some form of marriage rights to gays, as either civil unions or as full civil marriage. As the religious right increases its political power within the GOP, it's been decreasing its power within American society. The right is losing - and indeed, has already lost - the culture wars. It's just a matter of how much damage they can do to basic American liberties before they implode (and take the Republican Party down along with them).

Sane Republicans, who don't want their party flushed in anger when Roe gets overturned by a court of crackpots, had better hope that Dems can marginalize the religious right within the next few years, before they seriously overreach and screw themselves and their party.

Greg London

"moral elite" doesn't really work to reframe these folks. you need to highlight to the moderates where these guys are over the top and get the middle of the road people to defect to reason.

Basically, the problem people are the ones who are attempting to take their belief in some far-out interpretations of the bible and are remaking our government in that image.

"Creationism should be taught in schools" type people who argue that since evolution is not a scientific law and only a theory, then all theories should get equal time in school classes.

on a tactical level, you need to show individual issues like teaching creationism in schools as religious extremists attempting to pass off their wild interpretations of the bible as scientificly sound.

On a strategic level, you need to show moderates the problem that this approach invites when separation of church and state are thrown aside. If we have to teach kids that the universe might have been literally created in six days, what other religions should be taught in science class as viable scientific theories.

Should meteorology include the study of the "theory" of rain gods because there is no 100 percent weather model to accurately predict rain?

Occam's Razor has been subverted by these zealots. "Do not multiply entities needlessly". Do not create any needless levels of comlexity, story, or entities to explain a thing. inventing rain gods breaks Occam's razor.

The scientific method has been trashed by these zealots. They've managed to re-frame "theory" as anything that is not proven as scientific law. and people are buying it.

If you want to reframe this and win, you basically need to take the dogma of the Dark Ages and reframe it in the light of the Age of Reason. Otherwise, dogma will continue to retake ground.

Randolph Fritz

"it's going to be a hard sell to make us come off as the elitists."

Oh, you mean "I don't need to do my Guard duty 'cause my father will get me off" isn't elitist? You mean "your kids go to jail for 20 years & mine get off 'cause I'm governor" isn't elitist? "Lets rework the tax system so the rich pay less and everyone else pays more" isn't elitist? William "writes books on morality and gambles away a fortune" isn't elitist? Rush "tough on drug crime" Limbaugh isn't elitist?

Bitter? I suppose I am. Would-be aristocratic elite is exactly what they are; one set of rules for them and theirs and another for all us working stiffs. If the charge of elitism can be made to stick, it'll hurt--because once the idea sticks, it'll be obvious it's true.


I think three things:

1. Someone upthread was right that "moralist elite" comes off better than "moral elite."

2. Someone else upthread was right about a larger issue, which is that framing is not rocket science, and it's not done by idle musing. It's brute marketing psychology. Get people in a room, find out what words do and don't bring up positive connotations, and act accordingly. "Moralist" has negative connotations, "moral" doesn't. But there's no need to guess at this stuff -- let's find out, do the research. It's distasteful work, but absolutely necessary.

3. Falwell is -- unequivocally, incontravertably, objectively, beyond any conceivable argument, nuttier than Michael Moore. Michael Moore has come to symbolize many things to many people, but the actual guy is only mildly nutty. Falwell is full-on batshit.


While I think this post exposes moral elitists for what they are, very well... I don't think it's good "framing". I think a message of anti-framing might be the winner.
After all, I've been calling right-winger Christian Coalition types "moral elitists with an attitude of superiority and domineering agenda" for years, and it's never caught on in pop-culture.
And I, for one, rather like being grouped in with the "latte-sipping" & the "tree-huggers". Those pop-culture tags mean that just being seen as liberal, makes me seem more cool & hip, and more environmentally active, than I really am. :) I haven't done any real big environmental activism in years, and I think I may have had a latte just once... I generally gulp hot cocoa, and continue to buy stuff in plastic packaging. But I consistently vote left, so all is forgiven!
I think that's the issue with the Republican moral values catch is...
"It's easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them." -- Alfred Adler
Republicans can live an unsavory immoral life, in so many ways, and redeem themselves instantly by voting for a candidate that supposedly upholds 'moral values', in other ways.


I feel like the addition of the Falwell/Moore dichotomy threatens (always threatens, an eternal truth of internet political discussion) to send an entire thread spinning into an Yglesias-style "Matt, you're too DLC"-frenzy. You can always recognize it with the "Falwell is 10 times worse than Moore"-style counter-arguments (no matter how true they are).

Perhaps this should be re-formulated as a weaker form of Godwin's Law...

Anyway, I wish my contribution to this thread to be two-fold... in the form of two links. I assume people here read the Language Log? (If you don't, you should).

First, the title of this post made me think of one of their greatest posts.

But second, they've had (over the course of several months) a good discussion of Lakoff and framing, from a linguistics-prof point-of-view.

Check it out...

Kris Lytle


Bitter? I suppose I am. Would-be aristocratic elite is exactly what they are; one set of rules for them and theirs and another for all us working stiffs.>>

The point I was trying to make is that the average Republican IS a working stiff. Middle class, suburban-living, kids in public school. Let's remember that a large number of Democrats - I'm thinking here of the Hollywood self-appointed elite, not to mention well-paid East Coast executives, dot-com millionaires, Democratic senators from Massachusetts, etc. - are very, very rich and have every advantage you attribute to those nasty, rich Republicans.

This misperception that the only people who vote Republican are the very rich is just not accurate and I don't see where it comes from ... one has only to leave the blue bubble of the coasts to see people at all income levels who feel that a free market, limited government and lowered taxes for all are the way to go. Bush's tax cuts took 2 million low-income tax payers off the tax rolls altogether. While the overall tax contribution of the richest 1% did decline somewhat from 2001 to 2004, so did their income - due to the recession.

I also doubt, really, that the exit polls that showed that "moral values" were people's number one concern are being interpreted correctly. Moral values is a pretty foggy field, and could mean anything from the religous beliefs that most people seem to assign to it, to a belief that one candidate is more honest or moral than another, to a belief in the morality/immorality of war, or anything else you can think of. I think it's a mistake for Democrats to assume that everyone - or even a majority - of the people who voted for Bush are real social conservatives, or if they are, that they have a strong desire to impose Christianity on the world. Sure, there are some like that ... but again, only about 35% of people nationally attend church on a regular basis, and even if every single one of them voted for Bush, which is doubtful, there's a big chunk of semi-religious or non-religious folk who voted for him, too.

I think still that you all are mistakenly conflating Falwell/Robertson et. al. with the Republican mainstream, and it's not going to do you any favors in the polls. Many Republicans who might otherwise have voted for the Democrats in this election were pushed away by the likes of Michael Moore and the rest of Hollywood lumping us all together and calling us stupid; Hillary standing up in a fundraiser and outright saying that she knows how to spend our money better than we do; the extreme snobbery and arrogance of both John ("Don't You Know Who I Am?) Kerry and Teresa; and again, every Democrat in the country calling us stupid. Why should we vote for you? Would you want to vote for someone who so obviously doesn't want to be associated with you?

The Democrats' problem in this election was that they and their main mouthpieces in the media have a palpable disdain for half the country. You can't walk around saying we hate you, you're stupid, and then expect to win votes.

If you want to frame yourselves in a way that will win you votes, you're going to have to come down off your high horses and talk to us. Use small words if it makes you feel better - because, after all, we're stupid.


"I think it's a mistake for Democrats to assume that everyone - or even a majority - of the people who voted for Bush are real social conservatives, or if they are, that they have a strong desire to impose Christianity on the world."

I think that was the ENTIRE POINT of this blog's ENTIRE post about this topic, on framing.

And accusing all "liberals" of being for high taxes, and Michael Moore lovers is JUST AS innacurate as your accusations. ;)
What do you suggest moderate Democrats do to win you over, Kris Lytle? Put a censorship muzzle on Michael Moore? haha. Perhaps you should look into muzzling Falwell so we don't have to be turned against you because of him?? ;) ;)

I'm with foo... attack premises, attack ideas, attack law proposals, attack opinions, attack arguments, attack viewpoints... but attacking people just gets everyone into the sandbox.

Name-calling is never productive. It's considered immature. It's considered verbal abuse.

But let's never forget the fact that name-calling comes from the right. I've been called "dirty liberal", "pinko commie", "tree-hugger" (which apparently is seen as negative), "latte sipping elitist" (when I don't even drink lattes and I'm not elite)...

Let's lighten up about this, and see name-calling for what it is. Ridiculous. (Worthy of being ridiculed?)

That's why I said the anti-framing message would be the only thing I could think of that would really work for anyone sensible.

I think this blog post was an enlightening approach of exposing the pot calling the kettle black.

That said, on the topic of political argument... I happen to think jobs being sent overseas to places which allow near-slavery conditions where even children are in the workforce is doing more to hurt the "working stiffs" of our nation than high taxes ever could. I'm a so-called working stiff (not a rich elitist by any stretch of the imagination), and I've yet to experience any bonuses from these tax cuts. I guess it's because I don't have children... Easy to see why I might be tempted to think it's some kind of Republican Christian conspiracy to get me to marry and have lots of babies! ;) Or perhaps shut me out of the loop of bonuses because I'm not a 'moralist elite' married with babies. ;) (Not that there's anything wrong with being married with babies. LOL.)


Can't we just call them Pharisees and be done with it?

Randolph Fritz

"Jerry Falwell: Yes I am! All fags should die!

Democrat: 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.'"

God's on our side. :-)

David Hungerford

(Background: I'm a lifelong Republican with fairly strong libertarian leanings. I give money to the EFF, the CBLDF, the Nature Conservancy, and Habitat for Humanity. I sometimes think about giving money to the ACLU, but then they pull a stunt like going after the great seal of Los Angeles County and I give up in disgust. My beliefs are conservative Christian but I don't think that imposing the behavioral constraints of my belief system on someone who does not share that belief system particularly accomplishes anything. I couldn't stand John Kerry and thought (and still think) he would have made a terrible president, but I voted for him anyway. I did this for three reasons: 1) John Ashcroft makes me ill, 2) losing to the most feeble Democratic candidate since Dukakis might force a change in the balance of power inside the Republican party, and 3) I was hoping for this to be 1976 all over again so we might get another Reagan in '08.)

I think some of you are losing sight of what you're actually trying to do here. You're not trying to impress your peers with the Overwhelming Correctness of your position, you're trying to come up with a strategy, a slogan, a descriptor, something to separate moderate red-state voters from the authoritarian far-right. So far in this thread I've seen at least two folks who, from all appearances, are moderate red-state voters make comments explaining where they're coming from and giving valuable perspective on what will and will not work with your target audience. The responses have been, to my moderate red-state voter eyes, insulting.

Stop it. We mention that Michael Moore pushes us away in droves, and your response is not "Okay, how do we make it clear the Moore is an outlier who does not speak for the majority of blue-staters?" it's instead "Well, Jerry Falwell is crazier, so nyaah." We say, "Lower taxes are good," and you say, "The Bush tax cut didn't do anything for me personally, so it's a conspiracy to make more Republican babies."

Feel the love.

I don't have any ready answers. It is my fervent hope that this thread does produce a useful concept or slogan. Sniping at each other is not getting it done. (Yes, I know I'm sniping at some of you in this comment, and if I were cool enough to figure out a way to make my point without doing so, I'd be happy to...but I'm not that cool so this is how I'm doing it.)

So. I'm gonna go out on a bit of a limb here and say that a big chunk of your target audience mostly wants to be left alone by government. Given the choice between a Democrat who's likely to reduce the amount of money they have to provide for their families (thus significantly impacting them), and a Republican who's likely to try to get people to conform to moral standards that they already conform to (thus not impacting them at all), it's not hard to see which one they're going to vote for. How can we get these voters to see that forcing their morality on their neighbors is exactly what they hate when the left tries to do it to them?

Maybe something can be done to make the point to rank-and-file evangelicals that the closer we get to some form of protestantism as a state church, the more that church will resemble the Catholic church of the middle ages (corrupt, money-grubbing) or today's Church of England (spiritually dead).

Okay, enough from me.



The more I see the "hollywood elite" phrase trotted out again and again, the more I feel the need to write my "as someone who works in the music industry with filmmaker friends, let me tell you EXACTLY how elitist our liberal industry is" blog post.

Walt Pohl

David: Your point is well-taken. When people get mad about the whole Michael-Moore-is-bad argument, they're just being ordinary human beings, not omniscient political calculating machines. Since Kerry didn't run on a "Michael Moore yay!" platform, and since the Republicans get away having scarier people be prominent advocates for their side, it seems so unfair that people's frustration boils over.


How about "political moralists", "political moralism," et cetera?


"The Bush tax cut didn't do anything for me personally, so it's a conspiracy to make more Republican babies."
Would you like to apologize Mr. Hungerford? Because you LIED about what I said. When there's proof above that's not what I said. And you have the audacity to put it in quotation marks!!!
I was simply pointing out how you might better understand my point of view. How hypocritcal of you to condemn me for that.
Yep, I feel the hate. I feel the lies. From you, Mr. Hungerford.
Nope, you don't have any ready answers, obviously. And that is quite enough from you, thank you very much.


Chief problem with comparing "moral elite" with "politically correct: --

The phrase "PC" was generated by the left. They used to actually use it.

What we need to do is pick a self-describing phrase USED BY THE RIGHT-WING and mock THAT. That way they will have to react defensively and withdraw/rethink their entire marketing effort. Making up a phrase ourselves will accomplish nothing.

What's a potentially silly-sounding catchphrase that the right uses FOR ITSELF? "Authentic American" is one that is a DIRECT analogue to "politically correct." People have ruined the concept of PC by just sneering, rolling their eyes, and saying, "Oh I'm sorry, am I being POLITICALLY INCORRECT?" *chuckle chuckle*

What we have to do is say something about health care and fair taxes and then sneer mockingly and say, "Oh, but that's just me being a FAKE AMERICAN again ... "

Fake American! Oh yeah, I'm made of naugahyde! That's me, a FAKE American! 100% chemical content! Ooh, I'm a FAKE American because I believe in health care, just like Harry Truman! Me and Ben Franklin, both FAKE AMERICANS because we question religion!

This is a GOLD mine, here.

We must attack one of their OWN CATCHPHRASES. That way not only do they have to back off from using it, which wll scrwe up their marketing, but we will have a cornucopia of potentially humiliating quotes from them when the phrase has begun to turn into a mock-fest.

Randolph Fritz

"The point I was trying to make is that the average Republican IS a working stiff. Middle class, suburban-living, kids in public school. Let's remember that a large number of Democrats - [...] - are very, very rich and have every advantage you attribute to those nasty, rich Republicans."

*** you, class warrior. It isn't what privileges these people were born with, or even gained during life--it's what they do with their privileges.

Al Gore--son of a senate opponent of the Vietnam war, enlisted in the army, served honorably though not in combat. John Kerry--son of a State Department official, not particularly rich, though he had rich relations, enlisted as Naval officer candidate, served with distinction in combat. W. Bush--son of extraordinarily rich oilman with long-time family ties to US intelligence services--got plum plum in Air Guard due to family influence, abandoned posting to work on a political campaign. Discharged honorably, apparently due to family influence. Goes on to order troops into war, treating them far worse than any troops in 'nam.

In a word, the difference is honor. When it came down to it, Al Gore and John Kerry were willing to lay down their lives for their country, in a war both doubted, and W. Bush wasn't even willing to do a job he enjoyed and promised to do.

"Moral elitist" is, I think, weak. But then I'm not quite sure what would be strong. Dishonest, dishonorable, and ignoble (which surely characterize W. Bush's behavior as a young man, whatever he later become) somehow are not heard from Democrats and I can only wonder why.

Randolph Fritz

Reflections on the foregoing leads me to the conclusion that we don't need reframing, we need to clean the pictures. For, after all, honesty and honor are conservative virtues.

"Why considerest thou the mote in thy brother's eye, and not the timber in thine own?"

Why, indeed?

I think Lakoff is probably right in that conservatives rely on the metaphor of a strict father for their model of governance. But John Kerry--a man whose "aggressiveness in combat caused a commanding officer to wonder whether he should be given a medal or court-martialed" (Kranish, The Boston Globe)--not a strong masculine figure? What is this shit?

In reality many liberals, like myself, think well of the martial virtues. And many conservatives think well of the virtues of nurturance. So wherein lies the difference? The right-wing extremists who we have much cause to hate embrace, not the stern-but-fair father, but the abusive father. And under the abusiveness, I think, fear. It is striking that anti-homosexuality has become a Republican platform plank. And we have Schwarzenneger as governor of California--what has he been elected on if not the image of the powerful masculine. Are we to conclude that the fear of being unmanly is a major force in US politics at this time? It seems so.

(To anyone who dismisses this as foolish: explain Schwarzengger.)

And what do we do about it?


Randolph, I think Schwarzenegger is an interesting case, but not obviously representative of the Lakoffian symbolology you want there; or, if so, in a more complicated way than you make out. During the recall campaign, Arnold was touted as a kind of Dick Murphy type; only, some observers said, without the brains. Whatever he's tilting after in the larger Republican scene now, the conventional wisdom at that time was definitely, and perhaps still is, that he could be counted on as a laissez-faire (decidedly non-spanking) guy on cultural issues, while a fiscal conservative, anti-special-interest guy, eteceteraetecetera, in the other part.

And, y'know, there was that stuff from the interview in that old mag about the locker-room orgy with a black girl, and then there was the somewhat less publicized stuff about how awesome he thought it was to smash a woman's face in a toilet in Terminator 3. And, ultimately, we Californians just weren't put off by that stuff. We vaguely knew that Gray Davis had gotten dicked over by the energy companies, and tried to cover his ass, and that the prison guards were making a shitload more than they ought to be, blah blah, and besides the recall was totally fun, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was running! Ultimately, that sort of thing was most important, I think. And, also, Arnold beat out arch conservative McClintock, who absolutely crushed everyone else in the debates, and with his "I will spank all misbehavors" attitude to boot. ANyway, whatever confluence of factors got Schwarzenegger elected, I really don't think it was the kind of masculine puritanism that's substantially a part of Lakoff's "strict father" archetype, or whatever he calls it.

And then there was other stuff. The sebaceous and inept Bustamante probably aggravated the whole thing, there's this continual vying between "Northern" and "Southern" California "values," and various other odd shit. And we had freaking Gary Coleman running, you know, so...what Schwarzenegger's election is evidence of, is, like, totally not obvious. Err, so, I'm trying to say, California is just weird as hell, and should be taken as a proxy for broader national trends/phenomena only with extreme caution and sensitivity.


Janis could be onto something, since "moralist elite" is actually a term I've seen to describe liberals.
I thought that was part of the point to this post here on this blog - to kind of show the pot calling the kettle black sort of thing. Which I think is important, and more people should be waking up to...

Randolph Fritz: Your wondering can be explained by the whole concept expressed in this blog post, I think...
It's not okay for people to "bash" Bush, like it's okay for people to continue even now "bashing" Clinton. I mean, haven't you noticed that the same people who spent years insulting Clinton, are the same ones who will jump on anyone daring to insult our current president?

If someone can explain this, all our curiosities might be satisfied!

spacetoast: Your explanation then begs the question - why is Arnold so popular in the first place as a celebrity?


Well, Chloe, I don't think my comment does, err, beg that question; at least the part about the utility of the Lakoff stuff in looking at that thing. I mean, I don't think Schwarzenegger's celebrity, either, is accounted for by his tapping into some pater familias archetype, or whatever. Maybe something somewhere (vaguely) in that vicinity, but, then, if you want to say that, it seems to me you're slicing things so coarsely that you're really not saying much of anything. That's kind of my problem with (what I'm familiar with of) Lakoff's ideas about the political rhetoric, in general. Seems like a very crude instrument where a more precise one is wanted.

I thoroughly enjoyed his screed against the philosophers, though.

Randolph Fritz

Chloe, if Democrats had said that Bush's conduct of his guard duty was dishonorable--which surely it was--there would be no doubt that Democrats had the "right" sort of moral convictions.

Spacetoast, I agree that Schwarzennegger did not run as a Lakoffian strict father. He seems to me a caricature of manhood with his teen-fantasy bulky muscles and his teen-fantasy treatment of women. But a Lakoffian strict father doesn't seem to me all that special, vote-getting-wise; John Kerry was the real thing, and the voters didn't go for him. Returning to Schwzarzenneger, he has based his celebrity on the image of powerful masculinity. And that, some substantial portion of the public bought.


Spacetoast, that damn screed is one of the big reasons I don't like Lakoff. He's a philosophical incompetent in the worst way. (I should do a looooooooooooong post about it, maybe.)


Yeah, Randolph, I buy that then. One more thing, though, about Lakoff. One thing that just intuitively feels amiss, or inadequate, to me, about his strategy, is that those Lakoffian "framings" seem to just pull up and stop on this idea of competing conceptual schemes. It's kind of like, the "strict father" or "nurturing parent," or whatever, gets represented somewhere out there in the public, is then taken as an input by the fellow on the street, and then just goes rattling around in his neurons according to whichever conceptual scheme it is, and finally he goes and does whatever he does...votes for Arnold or whatever. At any rate, I think that's what it amounts to as far as the particular issues Lakoff has weighed in on.

But, among other things, as much as Lakoff seems to have drawn on all of these psychoanalytic ideas, it's kind of surprising, I think, that he doesn't talk more about narrative, genre, and so forth, as "framing devices" themselves. His approach seems to be, "okay, we'll stick a new tag on it," which alone will be sufficient to catalyze the desired conceptual scheme, by whatever obscure means it does so, and then the kinematics of the conceptual scheme will take care of everything else. Wrong.

And then, look at how much of the Bushies' rhetoric involves casting whole stories around things. They have tons of cagey story-tellers on their team. The Dinks, in the wake of Clinton at least, seem always to respond by hedging, trying to define terms, and such stuff--look at how crappily their story of Kerry the war-hero got worked out--and on a certain way of looking at it, Lakoff's framing stuff is just an extension of that approach. His move is to stipulate new meanings, but then he goes home, as I see it.

Eh, somewhat relatedly, here is an interesting (free) article on genre in political advertising, which, I think, suggests some interesting stuff.

As for Philosophy in the Flesh, I guess I have read enough of philosophers interacting with caricatures and oversimplifications of ways of talking exogenous to that discipline that I can't help taking satisfaction in Lakoff's smear job. I guess it's just a "poetic-justice as fairness" kind of thing. Anyway, I gave up on trying to sort out the endless slurring match between proponents and opponents of Chomskyan linguistics, which is what that book seems to me mostly to be involved with.

Kris Lytle

What becomes obvious here is that you people aren't really interested in "re-framing" or gaining the votes of moderate Republicans; you're just interested in witty one-upsmanship and looking cooler than all those idiot rednecks. You all are gravely mistaken if you think that simply having the best catchphrase is going to return your party to power.

At some point you're going to have to realize that you lost the election on issues, despite the liberal elite's best attempts to make it all about who was cooler or better-spoken or had the best sound bites. Winning will require you to set aside the big-ass chips on your shoulders and give a damn about what the other 51% of the country thinks, whether you agree with it or not.

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