Darrell Issa, Rand Paul, Pat Robertson (AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Reed Saxon/Gene J. Puskar/photo montage by Salon)

This is why conservatives win: George Lakoff explains the importance of framing -- and what Democrats need to learn

Messaging matters, George Lakoff tells Salon, but the key to politics is combining message with a moral grounding


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Paul Rosenberg
November 22, 2014 5:59PM (UTC)

In 1996, cognitive linguist George Lakoff released "Moral Politics," a book that should have utterly transformed our understanding of politics. And for many who read it, it certainly did.

In his 1980 book "Metaphors We Live By," Lakoff introduced the concept of conceptual metaphors—metaphors that play a systemic structural role in shaping how we think, rather than merely an episodic, decorative role in making our language more interesting and amusing. In "Moral Politics," he showed how two contrasting conceptual metaphors, based on sharply different family models—the patriarchal “strict father” and the egalitarian “nurturant parent”—serve to structure the moral visions of American liberals and conservatives.

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In 2004, Lakoff released "Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate," a more popular guide, drawing on a wider range of work in the cognitive sciences, which has sold over 300,000 copies but still hasn’t achieved Lakoff’s goal of educating the progressive community to stop shooting itself in the foot and start living up to its full potential. Ever the optimist—as well as a tireless educator—Lakoff  has just published a new tenth-anniversary edition, which expands its aim to make sense of how progressives have failed to capitalize on the advantage they seemed to have gained in the 2006 and 2008 elections.

But—as with his more massive, weighty tomes, such as "Philosophy in the Flesh" or "Women, Fire and Dangerous Things"—Lakoff’s real goal is not correcting a few years of mistakes, but rather a few centuries, or millennia. If that sounds like an ambitious goal, well, of course, it is. But science thrives on challenging received beliefs. Despite the easy, conversational style of this book, and the abundance of bite-sized goodies it contains, this is neither a minor work nor an opportunistic repackaging of an older one. As the following interview should make clear, there are major thematic concepts that are readily accessible in an “Aha!” sort of spirit, yet which also hold the promise of rewarding repeated reflection, not just in tranquility, but in light of much more effective action they can lead to as well.

Last, but not least, Lakoff’s own willingness to examine and learn from his own past mistakes and misunderstandings is a refreshing reminder of why Western science works so much better than our politics does—which is yet another reason to take heart in his efforts to help illuminate and guide the latter with the former.

The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

I wanted to start off with an obvious question: Why a new edition of a book that is 10 years old? Are there some ideas  you wanted to repeat, or some that people—particularly a new generation—haven't really even been exposed to before? There are also some ideas that are new, either because you newly discovered them or they become newly important, or for some other reason.

That's exactly right. Let's start with the mistakes. In 2004, hardly anybody knew what framing was. When I first spoke to a Senate retreat, they asked me—they'd heard this word “frame. What is it? What does it mean? What is Frank Luntz doing to them? What do they do about it?” And they said, "Oh, tell us in 20 minutes."

[laughs]

I actually managed to do that. In 20 minutes. I worked my butt off and found a way to do it. And a few people kind of got it. Hillary Clinton kind of got it, Tom Daschle kind of got it. Teddy Kennedy did--but not too many. And it was sort of sad. I talked to a lot of people in Washington during those years, and the people who didn't get it, including a lot of the communications people, and staff, and people in any administration and so on, didn't get it for a couple of reasons. It's important to know what those reasons were.

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The biggest reason is reason. As I point out, if you're a conservative, you go to college, it's very likely that you're going to study business and economics at some point. If you do that, in your curriculum you look at marketing--and marketing professors study cognitive science, brain science. They study how people think. So it is common for conservative communications people to use marketing techniques. And that's all the stuff that is been shown in cognitive science and the brain sciences.

But, if you're a Democrat and you go to college and are interested in politics, you’re going to study political science and some law, public policy, economics. And in those fields, there is no cognitive science study by the faculty or anybody else. They learn what is called "Enlightenment reason"--that is, Descartes 1650: all thought is supposed to be conscious,when it's 98 percent unconscious; it's literal, so there’s no metaphor, therefore, in rational thought, which is ludicrous; that there is no such thing as framing; that statements fit the world or they don't; that language is neutral, it fits the world, and so on. They learn that you want to use the most popular language. That what makes us people is we’re all rational animals, and therefore we have the same reason, because we’re all human beings. So it follows from that: If you tell people the facts, that will lead them to the right conclusion. And, it doesn't work.

The facts mean nothing until you put them in a moral context. And that's really important, because they don't realize that all politics are moral. Somebody says, “Do as I say—here's my policy,” the assumption is because it's right, not because it's wrong or doesn't matter. Different people have different policies because they have different notions of what's right, and our job is to find what those notions are, and to understand what we actually believe. So if you're going to be honest and tell the truth and frame things from the point of view that you believe, then you have to understand how people really think. That's important.

People thought that when I was talking about framing that I was talking about words. This is what Frank Luntz keeps saying, "Words that Work." The reason he can do that is that on the right, the think tanks figured out the frames before he came along. All he had to do was supply the words for the frames, whereas we have to think out the whole thing. Moreover, the assumption was that there was no difference between framing and spin, which is utterly ridiculous. You do framing every time you talk, every time you think, because frames are what you use in thinking—they’re neural structures.

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So people never got that idea. They thought I was talking about language, about messaging. They thought that there were magic words, that if I gave the right words, immediately everybody would get it and be persuaded. They didn't understand how any of this works. And I, coming into this, didn't understand what the problem was. It took me a while to figure it out.

Then there's the second problem. The second problem is the people who are in public office got there because they have what is called "the team." That is, they had a PR firm, campaign strategist and PR people, and messaging people, and pollsters—and that they put them together, and these guys make money on ad buys. That's how they make their living. The last thing they want to do is change. So if you got there, then you want your strategist to do the same thing and ad people to do the same thing. If you lose, you're not there and there's no motivation for anybody to change.

The third part was that when you start talking about the communications system that the right wing has set up, people think, “Well, we’re Democrats and progressives, we don't do that. We don't set up a real communications system; that would be underhanded, that would be propaganda.” There's a difference between saying what you believe in, getting your ideas out there, and propaganda to say what you believe. You tell the truth, that's not propaganda.

Right, except maybe in the original sense that the Catholic Church intended it to be, in service of the propagation of the true faith.

Yes, if you're of the faith.

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Yes, they're propagating what they regard as true understanding.

Except for one thing. On the progressive side there's a respect for science and for the facts.

But there is sort of an irony there. You take it back to the Enlightenment: That’s when we learned something was wrong with what went before, but we weren't reflecting it back on ourselves.

I think that's exactly right—we weren't reflecting it back on ourselves. And there's a further part of this that’s in the current book that I didn't have before, that I learned from George Soros, who has written extensively about the concept of reflexivity. It has to do with the fact that thought is part of the world. That when you're thinking, it’s not separate from reality, it’s part of reality. And if your understanding of the world is reflected in what you do, then that thought comes into the world through your actions. And then through your actions, if many people have the same ideas, those ideas are going to spread, and they're going to come back and reinforce themselves, because they will change the world. His analysis of the economic failures of 2008 are exactly that: that the economic world had gotten a lot of stuff wrong; that he had seen what it was; that he didn't lose any money because he got out before the crash, and because he understood what was happening. That's a powerful point. But he sees it about economics, I see it about everything.

I was curious, regarding reflexivity. I believe you had some sense of it before, but hadn’t highlighted it so explicitly. In your book on mathematics ["Where Mathematics Come From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics Into Being"] it struck me that you approached mathematics as a human creation in a similar manner.

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That's right, mathematics is a good example of that. If you think it's a human creation, then you're going to try and come up with some form of mathematics that makes it [that way]. If you think it's not a human creation, you're going to develop a kind of mathematics that looks Platonic, and that's exactly what happened in the foundations of mathematics movement.

But seeing it laid out like that made it possible for others to go beyond that approach. You also talked about hypocognition [described below], too, which I didn’t recall being so prominent before. Could you talk about both concepts and the kind of role they play?

They were in the original book, and they're very important ideas. First, I did have the idea of reflexivity before, that I didn't name. When I first met Soros, he invited me to dinner and wanted to talk about the philosophy. So that's been around awhile, but I didn’t make a big deal of it. But I realize now that I should have.

Hypocognition is a very big deal. There is an assumption that we have all the concepts we need. We can express anything we want, and this is there, officially, in a lot of Anglo-American philosophy—it 's called the principle of expressability. It says that we have all the concepts we need, because concepts are assumed to come right out of the world, in an Aristotelian fashion: The world gives us our concepts, we have all the concepts we need, and therefore we can express anything in natural language using those concepts, because words just express concepts.

All of that's false. Words don't express concepts that way, concepts aren't like that, etc., and the principle of expressability isn't true. What's important here is that we don't have all the ideas we need, and reflexivity is one of them. Hypocognition itself is an idea that we need.

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I learned about it from anthropologists, that there was a study in Tahiti where an anthropologist who had studied clinical psych[ology] went there to do a dissertation, and decided to try to find out why there were so many suicides in Tahiti. What he discovered was that there was no concept of grief and no way to deal with grief virtually in any way. Instead, when people experienced grief, when a loved one died, or something horrible happened, people assumed that devils were after them, or they had an incurable disease, and they committed suicide. So this is important, that we have an understanding of who we are, and what our mental life is like, and our emotional life is like, and so on—and how to deal with it. That's extremely important right now. We need a better idea of what our political life is like, and how to deal with it.

So that better idea would include the sorts of things that you're talking about—the fact that politics is fundamentally moral, and so on.

Right, and what those moral systems are. And also the concept of bi-conceptualism. Although I mentioned it early on, that it was there, I didn't make a big deal of it, and at the time there were no real studies of it. Since 2004, we’ve begun to have empirical studies about strict father/ nurturant parent moralities and bi-conceptualism. One of my students, Elizabeth Wehring, has done a dissertation with folks in social psychology, doing empirical types of studies, survey studies, experimental studies, and so on, which establish very clearly that the strict father/nurturant parent stuff is real, and, in addition, that bi-conceptualism is real—that there are some cases where people will have their family models line up with their political views, but their family models, they’ll have both family models applying to different cases. And you can actually see them in the data. This now being written up for a major journal. There are other studies out there confirming it, but not as dramatically.

Bi-conceptualism is really important for changing of ideas. If you have those systems, you can strengthen one and weaken the other and it works by ordinary neural mechanisms. That is, once you realize that these are neural systems, that they are mutually inhibitory, that each inhibits the other, that strengthening one therefore weakens the other, you can then say something very important. If you're talking to somebody who is not a progressive, not a Democrat, who might be a moderate Republican--somebody who is a moderate, who is mostly conservative, but partly progressive, in certain ways--what you want to do is strengthen those progressive views. The reason is this: When you strengthen one progressive view—or one conservative view, either way—what you do is strengthen the moral system.

The reason for that is that in the brain, there's a hierarchy of frames, which is there in neural circuitry. When you strengthen something lower in the hierarchy that implies strengthening things up higher in the hierarchy, which is the way that neural system works. So that is why conservatism has come as far as it has in the last 30 years. The conservatives have been using their language, getting it out there on all the issues, and progresses have done the opposite.

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The reason for this is really interesting, because progressives think that they have to speak to the other guy in the other guy's language. You’ve got to speak their language for them to understand it. It's exactly the wrong way. Because as soon as you use conservative language, it activates conservative frames, which activates the conservative moral system, which strengthens it, and weakens your own. That is four steps of causation, and that is one of the reasons why I start talking about systemic causation, because the brain is a neural system, just as an ecological system and financial systems are systems.

Systemic causation was another key concept I wanted to ask you about. What’s it about and why does it matter so much in your view of things?

I've long studied systems. From the time I was in college, I studied systems theory. I worked on neural systems, and so on during the '80s. But I never really thought very seriously about the way it worked in global warming, about the way it worked in the financial world, or the political world, or, seriously, in the brain.

Then in 2005 I had a very striking experience. I gone to a meeting at the Aspen Institute on global warming, and there was very distinguished scientist giving evidence for global warming there. One of the reporters asked him if Hurricane Katrina was caused by global warming, and the scientist who knew all the facts got it wrong. He said, “Oh no, we can't say that any particular hurricane is caused by global warming, we can't say that all.”

Wrong answer. Why? Because he was using the notion of direct causation. In direct causation, you apply force here, it has an immediate effect you can see, here and now--that is, clearly and obviously and not probabilistic. It's right there. Now why should he be using that notion of causation, when that's not the kind of causation that works in the environment?

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Well, he's using it for a reason that I know as a linguist, because it's been studied. Around the world, people study the grammar of languages, and every grammar has a way that expresses causation, direct causation only, or slightly indirect causation, where there might be one intermediate cause, or something, but every language expresses direct causation. No language has in its grammar to express systemic causation.

The reason for that is clear. When you’re a child, you learn direct causation. There is no way that, as a child, you're going to learn systemic causation. And once you learn, the structure of the world that you acquire as a child has everything to do with your conceptual system, and the kinds of concepts expressed in the grammars of the world. So what happens is you have to actually learn what systemic causation is.

So I sat down and started looking through the cases of systemic causation in global warming. For example, why should it be that you get a big snowstorm in Washington, bigger than they ever had before, when there's global warming? Conservatives would say, “Well, you know, there can't be global warming because we had this big snowstorm. If there's global warming, why is it we get this snowstorm? There's the worst cold wave in the Midwest that they've had in ages. How could you do this with global warming?

The answer is straightforward, if you actually knew the science. And the scientists will tell you exactly why. One kind of causation involved is network causation; that is, we have heating of the ocean in the Pacific Ocean. Heat means more molecules are moving with more energy. That means more evaporation; that means more the moisture in the areas moving with more energy; that means the winds blow with more energy. Where are the winds going to blow? Towards the northeast; that is, towards the poles. Over the pole, you’re going to have melting of the ice. The more the ice melts, the hotter things get, the more the ice melts because you have a feedback loop—so feedback loops are part of this, too—and as a result you're going to get certain changes over the pole which will change the way the winds blow and you'll get cold winds blowing south as a result of some of these. That will give you cold in the Midwest and cold over Washington, D.C., and will give you systemic causation. Moreover, all of these things are probabilistic; that is, there is a distribution of them over time that can be charted, that has been charted and you can see that there are probabilities that will occur, and they do. They’re probabilistic and that's part of systemic causation. That's really important to understand if you're going to understand global warming denial. Because the deniers are just going to use direct causation.

Direct causation comes out of a lot of conservatism. This is spelled out in my book "Whose Freedom?," where it turns out that conservatives tend to think in terms of, in a strict father situation, the kid does something wrong, immediately their job is to spank them or hit them or do something painful to make him regret it and try to avoid doing that thing—it's direct causation. Similarly you have Republican policies about immediately sending troops and having shock and awe right away, and so on, in all military situations. That is a case of direct causation, and many other conservative proposals involve direct rather than systemic causation, and require not thinking about what the system really requires. That's happening right now in the ISIS situation, which we can see.

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I had wanted to ask you about that, because it seemed that very unwillingly Barack Obama has nonetheless found himself echoing the "pure evil," "war against evildoers" kind of language that George Bush used.

That's right.

He wants to be nuanced, but he ends up with that language anyway, and I take it that part of your explanation would go back to hypocognition.

That's right, and this is a very big deal, and also goes along with Obama not understanding how communication actually works. This is kind of a sad thing, about the most articulate president we've had in a long time, who is incredibly smart. Intelligence has nothing to do with this. When Obama gave his first talk, his major talk about ISIS, he used the expression to "degrade and destroy." The next day his press secretary used "degrade and destroy" about a dozen times. Then they stopped, and they went to war, because of the right wing calling it war, and then the media picked up war.

Now war is a well-understood concept; "degrade and destroy" is not. "Degrade and destroy" is actually kind of interesting; it is worth looking at it from the point of view of linguistics for a minute. There's a "de-" in degrade and destroy, the de-'s have to do with going away from where you are and going down, that is to take it down—a perfectly reasonable concept. Secondly, degrade says that it's going on a slope, it's not just all at once, and that's a very important thing. Destroy says it's going to not exist at the end, very important. The "and" in there says that it's complicated; there's more than one thing to consider. It's not so simple.

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So with "degrade and destroy," you have something with meaning that characterizes what the actual policy is, in a way that the word "war" does not. And if you look at the frame semantics of "war," you have exactly what the policy is not. For example, war occurs between states, the argument is the Islamic state's neither Islamic nor a state—and notice he negated both of those, reinforcing that it's both Islamic and a state. But the main point is, as soon as it’s a war, then it is a state, implicitly, that's an important thing as soon as you say war is not merely a terrorist organization, and there's a metaphor--the war on terror--which he has not repeated, thank goodness, which was a terrible metaphor, but the point is he still got war, you're still trying to say it’s a terrorist organization, but he's dropped "degrade and destroy," which is a mistake.

Secondly, when you accept war, then in there, you have troops, in the mental imagery of war. You don't just have planes flying over, you do have what they call troops on the ground, where there are actually troops going out and fighting and killing and being captured, and of course being beheaded, being crucified by ISIS, or shot in the head. So the point is, you have lots of these things that are part of war that don't really fit. War also has rules, there are international norms, what counts as war, there are war crimes etc. which don't apply to this situation at all.

In short, the frame of war is not appropriate except for one big thing. When you have war, and you have a commander-in-chief, then the country has to support the commander-in-chief, the commander-in-chief gets extraordinary powers in war, and what this does to say he's commander-in-chief you should have extraordinary powers, and people will support that. It also says your country is really in danger, and there is a danger that may not be immediate, but Obama correctly recognizes the danger here, and there is one. So that is why the part of "war" kind of works, whereas "degrade and destroy" has positive things to it.  He can also keep using "degrade and destroy" in this case, whenever you talk about it, even if you're invoking war powers.

I see this story starting back when Obama began by trying to reach out to the Muslim world and to build bridges, and then any outreach to Muslims got demonized and Obama’s team got into this defensive crouch where they didn't publicize their outreach much. That created greater difficulties in the Mideast, which of course conservatives are completely blind to, and it struck me as an example of what you're talking about in terms of systemic causation, because the world system we’re part of made alternatives to war much more difficult. Also reflexivity--an example of how conservatives were shaping the world in their image and making it more difficult for Obama to do the same thing in his image.

Exactly, and there is also no criticism seriously of how the Bush administration screwed up Iraq. But you're right about systemic causation. Issues in the Middle East are unbelievably complicated. There is the Sunni/Shiite split that goes back 1,400 years. It's hard to imagine 1,400 years of strife of that kind. The competition even among the Sunnis is very strong. The issue of should there be kings versus should there be elections of some sort or other is a big deal. Should a country try to not have a religious orientation or have a religious orientation? That is a major issue all over the Middle East. You see it coming up obviously in Egypt, also obviously in Turkey. A major, major issue everywhere there—also, obviously, in Iran, though with less force, but below the surface.

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These are issues all over the Middle East, and their tribal nastiness is going on for a long time; you don't know what you're stepping into there, and Obama knows this. There hasn't been any public appreciation of what is involved. There are, in fact, things in the media that militate against it. For example, it's not well known that Hamas hates ISIS, and conversely. It's not well known. It's an important fact, important for the kind of rapprochement that is now being developed through the UN for the reconstruction of Gaza, under the control of Abbas, not Hamas. These subtleties are very important.

Another topic you address—more prominently than I recall in the past—is the moral foundations explanation for the way that conservatives have organized themselves so successfully over the past several decades while progressives have not.

Actually, that was there as early as "Moral Politics," back in the mid-'90s. It's way back there in chapter 9—but, it's hidden in chapter 9, it’s not on page 1. It's something that I needed to say more prominently. In the strict father family--and by the way you see the strict father family in the Adrian Peterson case, right now, it's so obvious, that even the district attorney that indicted him says in Texas, every family has a right to discipline their child any way they want, but there are limits that the community imposes. It's right there, straightforward in that case. There in the strict father family, the highest principle is the unquestioned authority of the father; we see it with Ray Rice, you know. It's right there. Unquestioned authority of the father.

What does that translate into, when you map it onto conservative politics? It's the unquestioned authority of conservatism itself. That is, the system can't be questioned, just as the family system can’t be questioned, and the authority in it, so the authority in the system itself can't be questioned.

What that means is that if conservatives come up with some idea that might be useful to everybody, or at least better than other things that they've had, and Obama comes out and says “Okay, let’s go with that idea,” they will vote against it, and they will have to vote against it for moral reasons. And the moral reason is exactly that moral reason—namely,  to help Obama is to hurt conservatism. They can't do that, so they’ll vote against it.

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Right. And then the logic Obama is working under?

Obama is assuming he can bring people together, or he just has to use whatever authority he has—which is probably true. He should've known better than to think that he could convince strong conservatives to abandon that fundamental principle of conservatism. What was happening before was that he had more moderates to work with.

What is a moderate? A moderate is… a moderate Republican is somebody with partly progressive views on certain issues, and up until the Gingrich revolution you have lots of moderates. Starting with Gingrich, you had his idea to get rid of the moderates through elections and primaries, to have more conservative people out there, getting rid of moderates, and that has happened. They did it. And the result of that has been a disaster.

Now there's another major idea that is in this book, that wasn’t in there in 2004, that has to do with the fact that you not only have two moral systems, but there is a test that shows that one moral system fits what's true about the world and the other does not. And that's a big deal. I hadn’t really thought that through back in 2004, but one of the things that Obama particularly has said and that all progressives intuitively know, even if they don't say it, is that there's a difference in the view of democracy between conservatives and progressives.

Progressives see democracies as having citizens caring about each other, acting through their government, to provide public resources for everybody. Those public resources allow businesses to function; you can’t function without sewers and roads, these days without computer scientists supported by the NSF, or satellite communications supported by the government and so on, all of these public resources that are out there, are absolutely necessary for business to function. And presumably, to have decent lives you need health care, you need clean air, you need water safe water, safe food, all these things. That's what public resources are.

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And the person who has best expressed that is Elizabeth Warren. Now when Obama tried to express it right after Elizabeth Warren was successful at it, he messed it up. He said, if you build a business you didn't do it—"You didn't build that"—and that was a mistake. He just didn't have a script. He just went off by himself, and he could have come back the next day and set it right, but he didn't. He didn't say it right; he abandoned the whole idea. What a terrible, terrible mistake that was. Because that idea is true and obvious and needs to be repeated all the time. And almost nobody aside from Elizabeth Warren ever says it. But it's out there, it's behind all the issues, and the point of it is that those public resources permit freedom, they allow you to be free to start a business, they allow you to be free to be healthy and have health care—health care allows freedom; you have cancer and you don't have health care you're not free. Having safe food allows you to be free to eat, not worry constantly about whether you're going to be poisoned.

This is crucial in our society and it's absolutely central, it needs to be said every day and that's the next mistake. The Democrats think they only have to worry about messaging during an election. Messaging is constant. Why? Because it’s what changes people's brains. It is what gets those ideas out there. And it will only get out there if the right moral system is already in the brain. With bi-conceptualism, you strengthen something that’s already there in your brain. And not only that, it has to be something that is true, that you can see. That's the point of this. If you say these things, there's an obvious truth, right out there, that can be seen if they’re said over and over.  If they're obviously false, that people can't see, then they won't be accepted.

I wanted to ask about the role of freedom in women's issues. I had written several pieces contrasting the NRA's concept of freedom versus Planned Parenthood, around the 2012 campaign, for example. So your discussion struck a real chord with me.

Well yes, first, I want to say something about Planned Parenthood. Cecile Richards finally did something she should've done 10 years ago, which is get rid of the term "pro-choice." This is something that was pointed out long time ago, that pro-life is a moral concept, pro-choice is a shopping concept. “Oh I'm going to go out and I'm going to make a choice.” That's not a moral concept, that's shopping, and morality beats shopping. She should've stopped it long ago.

This was pointed out the very first time I was at a retreat in the Senate, this was in 2003, and the outcry from most of the feminists in the room was huge. “What do you mean we shouldn't be saying pro-choice?” And they couldn't see it. They couldn't even get their minds around the idea that there were deeper thoughts behind it, that there were deeper moral issues behind these terms. So Cecile Richards finally got it, which is important. But she’s still not saying that this is a freedom issue, which it is. This is a question of the freedom to control your own body. How many words is that? What does it take three seconds to say? “The freedom to control your own body.” And it's not said. This is something that's absolutely crucial.

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The Democrats have major freedom issues on their side. They have a view of democracy that has to do with freedom on their side, and they're letting the conservatives use the words "freedom" and "liberty" all the time without challenging it at all. That's ridiculous. It's an abomination against our politics. Our politics are about freedom, and the Democratic Party cannot just give that up; it should not give that up. Not only that, freedom issues apply to almost every issue they take up. These are all freedom issues; almost everything they talk about is a freedom issue.

Inequality of wealth, when you have massive wealth, and most people are getting poorer, not richer, and there’s massive inequality, what does that mean? It means people who are really wealthy are free to do all kinds of things that other people are not. The freedom to get a really good education, the freedom to go to college. The idea in California that the University of California is letting fewer Californians in who are middle-class, and instead inviting very wealthy folks from out of state and out of the country to take the place of middle-class people. That's a terrible thing. It goes against the very idea of a state university.

These issues have to do with freedom, and they're all over the place, whether you're talking about education, health care, women's issues--and they're not women's issues, they’re people issues; gay issues are not gay issues, they’re freedom issues. They all have to do the same basic idea.

There’s a wealth of fascinating details in your book, but I’d like to pull back and ask you a final big-picture question: What do you want people to take away from this book?

I want to leave them with the idea that all language has to do with how people think, that this is about how brains work, and that we have two moral systems going on here; that politics is about that, that language affects it in that way, and that it also has to do with a communication system. You can't do without a system of communication getting those ideas out there all the time, not just at election time. Part of that is the idea that progressives have a lot to say about freedom, and not only a lot to say, but essential things to say about our democracy and about what freedom is, and they can appeal to people in ways that they're not doing now.


Paul Rosenberg

Paul Rosenberg is a California-based writer/activist, senior editor for Random Lengths News, and a columnist for Al Jazeera English. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulHRosenberg.

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