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October 18, 2017


A Brazilian Archbishop before his death famously observed that “When I give the poor food they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” So who are “they” who give GoebbelSpeak responses to such questions rather than answers on the merits of the issue as stated?

“They” are the usual suspects, of course, those who are status quo exponents and don’t want to upset the current applecart that favors the rich and corporate class and their moneychangers on Wall Street, but why the differing response to the archbishop’s two-pronged observation which raises the issue of the archbishop’s political preference? What does that have to do with anything? It is a deliberate attempt to change the subject and raise an ancillary issue not a part of the conversation with a further design to negatively affect the bishop’s question of why the poor have no food.

It’s called framing, and may be practiced directly (Have you quit beating your wife?) or indirectly (It’s nice that you give the poor food and thus protect us from revolution as we continue to pile up profits, but there is no good reason to philosophize as to why the poor do not have food since that can be a destabilizing force for the creation of civil commotion and interferes with our profit-taking, so therefore you are a communist.)

George Lakoff, retired professor emeritus of cognitive brain science at the University of California, Berkeley, has written extensively on the use of framing to limit or end debate on the issue ostensibly under consideration. Trump is good at framing as well he should be in view of his very limited knowledge of the issues up for debate, and his negative framing can and does inject new matter into debate that has no place there but which can confuse the issue under consideration with the addition of variables that are immaterial to solution of the issue up for discussion.

Thus “Have you quit beating your wife? cannot be answered yes, no or maybe. The issue is decided with the question. However, and as Lakoff advises, one can counter-frame by pointing out that the question assumes the truth of the question but without evidence and ask the framer why he or she wants to bring up such extraneous matter other than to avoid debate of the issue under consideration, and perhaps further suggesting that the framer’s position on the issue is so poor that he or she felt compelled to resort to such underhanded tactics. Thus there is framing and counter-framing.

The issue of higher or lower taxes for the rich and corporate class, for instance, should not be decided because the debaters are urban or rural, white or black, male or female, or even whether they are Democrats or Republicans. The issue should be resolved by what its effect will be on matters of employment, the debt, our horrendous trade deficit, whether such cuts would in fact engender economic growth or recession as the economic pie shrinks for the rest of us, its possible inflationary effects and a host of other potentially negative effects on budgeting for the environment and other important federal initiatives such as research and development, infrastructure and the like. It is no place for game-playing via framing and raising ancillary matter into an already perhaps complicated debate either in committee or on the floor. It is a time for sober and realistic consideration of the effects of such proposed legislation based upon the best available and objective evidence leading to a yea or nay vote.

So is framing a luxury we cannot afford if as good citizens we are acting on behalf of the common good? Does framing add anything to the debate or does it obscure and confuse honest solution of the issues up for consideration? Did the archbishop counter-frame the forces of greed effectively in the example cited here?

You be the judge, but when listening to politicians on policy issues be aware of attempts by one party or the other who are employing this tactic in order to avoid coming to grips with the substance of the issues up for debate, an approach that can be telling on the ultimate and substantive issues up for resolution, or in words of the street, “If they don’t want to talk about it, why not? What are they covering up? Why are they manufacturing phony and irrelevant issues? Let’s get to the point.”     GERALD       E


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