Y’all are familiar with George Rhymes-With-Jackoff, the guy behind “frames.” You know, if we call it “economic patriotism” rather than “socialism,” people won’t realize that it’s socialism, even though it completely and totally is, down to the last detail.
Those of us who read conservative political blogs think this is stupid, but as National Review‘s Jim Geraghty points out (via Ace’s overnight thread), this stuff does seem to resonate with the Low-Info Voters:
We political junkies love political philosophies, and keep subdividing ourselves into smaller and more precise groupings. (Crunchy Cons! Neoconservatives! Libertarian Populism! Reform Conservatives! Eisenhower Anarchist!) We love these labels and terms, because we feel that they help explain a coherent way of looking at the world, government, the Constitution, human rights, society, etc. But to a lot of people, they might as well be Dungeons & Dragons character classes. They don’t know which political philosophy best matches how they see the world because they flat-out don’t understand the terms and, perhaps most maddeningly, are not convinced that they need to know them — nor much about anything else.
The D&D metaphor is a good one. Now, this is not a knock on D&D, or “gamers,” or whatever. Please keep your nerd rage bottled up over the next few paragraphs. But: Everybody knows D&D has no real world consequences. Lots of people don’t want to learn the arcana of the game because, hey, if I wanted to put in hours and hours of study, I’d take a night class and actually learn something I can use to pad my paycheck. Right? There’s just no cash value there.
This is a rational economic decision. Yeah, ok, the non-gamer doesn’t know D&D; he only knows the stereotypes, and yes, of course, all those stereotypes are wrong. But there’s one thing he does know that’s indisputably true for him: He’s got better things to do with the 6-20 hours it would take to become minimally proficient at D&D. Economists call this rational ignorance, and it’s an important concept. P.J. O’Rourke explained how it works in politics in The CEO of the Sofa:
The danger with political issues, for liberals, is that you might try to understand them. This would bum you out. Big government, that you’re so fond of, is as complicated as airline fares. You’d go nuts if you really tried to fathom all of Washington’s programs, regulations, restrictions, discounts for seniors, and frequent campaign-donor upgrades. So you do with the U.S. what you do with US Airways: you hand over the money and let yourselves be sent to hell by way of Pittsburgh with nothing but peanuts on the trip. Economists call this “rational ignorance,” meaning that you could go to hell for $20 less (and get two bags of peanuts), but the time and effort wouldn’t be worth it.
The point of “frames,” I’m coming to realize, is to play up the rational ignorance, to use it in a bait-and-switch. We readers-of-conservative-political-blogs tend to use “low-info voter” as a synonym for “dumbass.” But they’re not. They’re rationally ignorant.
It’s an important distinction. LIVs don’t want to have to think about that wonky stuff. “Socialism” is wonky — ask someone who knows what he’s talking about to define “socialism,” and within five minutes you’re deep into “modes of production” and the whole 19th century schmear. But “social justice,” now… and “progress”… we all have an instinctive idea what those words mean. That our vague, fuzzy ideas are quite different from — in fact, usually diametrically opposed to — their specific, precisely defined policy goals is the whole point of the exercise.
The buzzwords, the “frames,” are designed to communicate one single, simple idea: We got this. You don’t need to put in the hard work of thinking about how “social justice” is to be achieved. Oh, sure, you could –and, of course, if you did, you’d find yourself agreeing with us 100% — but why bother? Don’t you have better things to do with your time?
One could, in fact, expand this maximization-of-rational-ignorance thesis to a lot of leftist attitudes. Their cult-like faith in “experts,” for instance. Data? You don’t need to see the data. Our guys have seen the data, and they’ve spent decades in college, racking up fancy degrees and reading articles in The Peer-Reviewed Journal of Peer-Reviewed Journals. They know what big words like “heteronormative” and “cisgendered” mean. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. And besides, American Idol is on. Did you hear Jennifer Lopez is back this year?
It’s important for us not to get frustrated with these people. We want to say — because it’s true– that rational ignorance of the small picture is dangerous, irrational, wildly irresponsible ignorance of the big picture. We don’t fall for baloney like “frames” because we’re accustomed to thinking in big picture political terms. When we hear political buzzwords, our first instinct is to ask for clarification: “Ah yes, comrade. ‘Social justice.’ And what policies do you plan to implement to achieve this? Oh, I see. So ‘economic patriotism’ is, in fact, just the same ol’ marxoblather that has been impoverishing millions since the 1840s. Got it.”
LIVs don’t do that. They don’t hear this guy
blathering on and hear propositions to be dissected and debated. Instead, they hear “this person is an expert. Look at those glasses! Listen to those big words! He must know what he’s talking about, because Rhodes Scholar.”
Because they themselves aren’t very good at it, garden variety liberals know how tough thinking is. How time-consuming. How boring. To someone like George Lakoff, who is good at thinking, this difficulty is a feature, not a bug. He teaches the notso-hotso reasoners among his disciples a technique for playing that up. And it works.
Geraghty suggests a possible line of counterattack, a possible reframing of liberal frames:
A little while back, I talked about celebrities who are not closely identified with the Republican party or conservative movement, who can articulate a conservative approach to an issue, and enjoy widespread applause: Adam Carolla, HGTV host Nicole Curtis, CNN host/chef Anthony Bourdain, Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs,” Gene Simmons of KISS . . . They say what they think, directly, but they rarely if ever frame their arguments in terms of political philosophies.
Which argument is likely to be most effective?
A) School choice is a good idea because it is consistent with the conservative principles that the government that is closest to the people is most likely to make the best decisions, is most accountable for those decisions, and is easiest to correct those decisions.
B) School choice is a good idea because it is consistent with the libertarian principles that the power of the state should be limited and the power of the individual should be maximized.
C) School choice is a good idea because it puts decisions in the hands of parents, who know what is best for their children.
This is the way to do it. Stealing another page from the liberal playbook, I’d highlight the speaker over the message. Ok, maybe Gene Simmons isn’t the best spokesmodel, but Mike Rowe can certainly deliver simple, effective, timeless messages about independence and free choice. He’s clearly a masculine guy, articulating, both consciously and subconsciously, the message that real men look after their families. They don’t turn them over to the nanny state.
The first step is admitting that Lakoff was right. The next step is to steal his idea and make it better.