Since the 60s, conservatives have known how to share their values with people. In 1971, they started forming “Think Tanks.” They have, as we know, a well-oiled communications machine.
If you’re anything like me, you might think this communications machine is sleazy, manipulative, and full of tricks. Sometimes, you’d be right.
But most of the time, you’d be—I was—wrong. Most of the time what the conservatives have that we progressives don’t have is an awareness of what works. They know how to communicate and we progressives don’t.
When I talk about frames, I’m talking about cultural narratives or metaphors that people live by. I’m talking about our morals and our values and how they are shaped by emotion.
When Frank Luntz recommended conservatives use “climate change” rather than “global warming,” he knew what he was doing. He recognizes with precision the importance of framing. And, hear me now, this is not “spin.” This is an awareness that conservatives would object to the notion that there is systemic causality involved in global warming. They would not hear the concept that we must care for our neighbors, empathize with strangers across the world who are already being affected by the rising sea levels. They can’t hear itbecause that sort of empathy-based metaphorical thinking doesn’t exist in their frames of individual responsibility and direct causality metaphorical thinking.
“It’s not *my* pesticide killing the fish”/”It’s not *my* wood fire giving that child asthma”/”It’s not *my* SUV emitting so much poison that gasses are trapped and are screwing with the entire ecosystem” so don’t you try and tell me I can’t do what I want.
We progressives have seen the slimy way conservatives used their intimate knowledge of frames and metaphors to mislead the public with lies like the “Clean Skies Act” that did nothing to clear any skies but actually increase pollution. We associate the use of metaphors, of carefully chosen language with that kind of hucksterism. That’s not what frames are all about. They can be misused like that, where “climate change” appeals to conservatives for it’s obvious lack of power. They can be misused by mistake as we progressives have accepted that frame and taken on the phrase “climate change” as a reasonable descriptive term. We think, it’s not the words that matter, it’s the truth, right?
Well, the truth is always wrapped up in cultural experiences, metaphors, frames. There is no escaping it. For example, it would not be “spin” or tricky or slimy for progressives to begin referring to the “environmental crisis.” Try that on for size. See how it feels different?
As for those of you who believe in the benefits of an adversarial system (I do), when you choose language in discussion socio-political issues, a sure sign you’ve found something based in progressive moral values (“environmental crisis”) is how much of a tizzy the radical right flies into. And they will. They will mock and tease and try to minimize, just like so many progressives do to the Tea Party movement.
Progressives must find our common values, learn to discuss everything important to us in terms of those values—not issues—and speak from within our frames, not the radical right’s.