George Lakoff

George Lakoff

I saw this article in the Guardian about George Lakoff, professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Berkeley, who has for years has been pushing the idea that the problems with progressives is they are losing the message war. From the Guardian:

Lakoff is affable and generous. In public meetings he greets every question with: “That is an extremely good question.” But he cannot keep the frustration out of his voice: the left, he argues, is losing the political argument – every year, it cedes more ground to the right, under the mistaken impression that this will bring everything closer to the centre. In fact, there is no centre: the more progressives capitulate, the more boldly the conservatives express their vision, and the further to the right the mainstream moves. The reason is that conservatives speak from an authentic moral position, and appeal to voters’ values. Liberals try to argue against them using evidence; they are embarrassed by emotionality. They think that if you can just demonstrate to voters how their self-interest is served by a socially egalitarian position, that will work, and everyone will vote for them and the debate will be over. In fact, Lakoff asserts, voters don’t vote for bald self-interest; self-interest fails to ignite, it inspires nothing – progressives, of all people, ought to understand this.

My problem with explanations like this for why more progressive legislation isn’t being approved is that I see almost no evidence in the polling that progressives are actually losing the “message war.” On economic issues the public is well to the left of current government policies.

Raising the minimum wage and increasing taxes on high income households are both overwhelmingly popular.

The public wanted way more progressive health care reform than what they received from President Obama. The ideas of Medicare-for-all, lowing Medicare eligibility age, and a public option all had majority support.

Roughly two-thirds of Americans support immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.

As far as I can see the problem is not convincing regular Americans to support progressive economic policies because they already do. The main problem is corruption mixed with some dysfunction. Even when their constituents overwhelmingly support smart progressive policies many of our elected officials vote for the industries which will give them extremely well paid positions after they retire.

Just look at how Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) opposed the public option. It was very popular with people in his state but not with a handful of big companies.

When smart policies that reduce the deficit with 60-70% support are not being adopted the issue isn’t messaging, it is something deeper.

Photo by Pop!Tech under Creative Commons license