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June 3, 2014

My followers saw in Part I that even though we progressives are right on the issues and that a large number of conservatives agree with us on an issue-to-issue level, we nevertheless lose elections because many of such conservatives vote against what they themselves believe. Working men and women, for instance, whose rights (right to work laws), wages and pensions (opposition to minimum wage increases) have been openly and continuously savaged by Republicans nonetheless troop to the polls and vote for Republican candidates whose primary (and clear) allegiance is to Wall Street and corporate America and not to the benefit of the vast swath of working Americans who do (and do not) vote for them. How do they pull this off? What magic potion has the Republican leadership invented to win elections with votes from people who don’t believe their party’s substantive positions on the issues? How do they get voters who are opposed to corporate tax breaks, bank bailouts and a Wall Street run amok to vote for corporate tax breaks, bank bailouts and a Wall Street run amok? How?
George Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and brain circuitry, may have the answer – and it is this: Republicans have very skillfully seized the public issue agenda by framing the issues in such a way that we Democrats are playing by their rules of debate, rules that dictate that whatever position Democrats take amounts to a “heads we lose, tails we lose” outcome. He goes to considerable length to point out that we are playing by the rules of the Old Enlightenment (the ones passed on to us by our Founding Fathers) and that such rules (where we hand out facts and figures and assume that, as then, rational voters would vote rationally based upon an objective look at such facts) would carry the day in elections. He then notes that a New Enlightenment is now if effect; that it is not the truth of a position on issues but rather how the issues are framed that entice voter support.
The brain stores metaphors and other such devices, giving rise to what he calls bi-conceptualism, and it is this that explains how conservatives can agree with liberals on the issues and then vote against their own interests. Such voters are able to visualize both approaches to the issues as substantive (when they are not) and vote accordingly. Daily slander of Democrats, incessantly repeated (though false), establishes the grounds for storage in the brains of such bi-conceptual conservatives, and Lakoff tells us precisely what sections of the human brain are involved in such storage. Republicans have very successfully framed the issues to where it is not the issues such conservatives think they are voting for; they are rather voting for a Republican-framed approach to the issue. Republicans are wrong on issues but skillful in covering their approach via framing such issues where the real issues up for determination take a back seat to their framing. As the old saying goes, they are selling the sizzle, not the steak. There is no steak in their substantive positions on the issues – only sizzle – sizzle that would put Dr. Goebbels to shame, who noted that if you repeat a lie long and often enough, people will believe it to be true.
Our task as progressive Democrats is to point out to the electorate that you cannot eat sizzle. It has no substance. Government should be more than brain tricks; it should in its role as protector be involved in protection beyond an army, police and fire department. Government should also protect its citizenry by providing social security, disease control and public health, safe food, disaster relief, health care, consumer and worker and environmental protection. These are steak and not sizzle and brain tricks – and a majority agrees. Part III will probe deeper into this “voting against interest” anomaly. GERALD E


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