July 23, 2006

"Nobody ever went broke overestimating the self-absorption of the Democratic Party."

Writes Tobin Harshaw in the NYT Book Review. I'd prefer to stock up on all those Beatles and Bob Dylan books mentioned in the previous post, but there are also all these new books giving advice to Democrats about what they need to do to stop losing all the time. The reviews today are for David Sirota's "Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government — and How We Take It Back" and George Lakoff's "Whose Freedom? The Battle Over America’s Most Important Idea."

Sirota's a blogger -- here's his blog -- and Harshaw speculates about the general problem of a blogger writing a book:
Perhaps it’s unavoidable when a blogger tries to write at length, but the verbal mannerisms that may seem like an invigorating shot of espresso on a brief daily basis become a bathtub of stale NescafĂ© when stretched out to more than 300 pages. The clichĂ©d revolutionary language (political TV programs offer “a flood of Orwellian messages from the Establishment that deny the existence of our very own beliefs”), the wafer-thin allusions to popular culture (a single paragraph includes references to Rocky Balboa’s trainer, Luke Skywalker’s light saber and Superman’s Fortress of Solitude) and the childish taunts (Tom DeLay is “slime”; Mickey Kantor, who served as Bill Clinton’s trade representative, is a “hack”) quickly become oppressive.
But blogging should be good writing, not something that just looks good because it's short. And I love books where every sentence counts, and you never feel it could have been put more concisely. It might be oppressive to have to read straight through a book that is full of snappy sentences, but I'm not so sure books like Sirota's are meant to be read through. Maybe you are supposed to open them at random and read a bracing passage, and then pick it up again later and do the same. The discipline of the book reviewer is not the casual practice of the reader of popular nonfiction. Actually, when I see these political books laid out on the front tables at Borders, I get the impression they are designed primarily to get people to make a purchase to express their identity. You don't need to read them at all.

Lakoff’s a linguist who got a lot of attention in the last election for telling Democrats to concentrate on language, especially his favorite term "framing."
His suggestions included renaming the national debt the “baby tax,” calling income taxes “membership fees” and referring to trial lawyers as “public-protection attorneys.” Remarkable that John Kerry largely ignored him and still came within one state of the White House.
Ha ha. About his new book:
Lakoff uses a parenting metaphor to explain the worldviews that produce these anathematic ideas of liberty: progressive thought stems from the “nurturant parent family” model (based on “empathy and responsibility”), while the conservative outlook is shaped by the “strict father family” model (in which the “moral authority . . . of the father must not be seriously challenged”).
I guess that's better than saying the mommy party and the daddy party. He's letting men in on the Democratic feeling with that "nuturant parent" business. (Oh, yeah, he's framing.) But doesn't the traditional father model ascribed to Republicans involve more personal responsibility than the mother... I mean nurturer... model? You can frame responsiblity over to the liberal side if you're talking about what government will do for you as opposed to how the party perceives the individual.

Anyway, Harshaw observes that Lakoff seems not to know any actual conservatives.

Reading about Lakoff's book made me want to make sure you were aware of this lovely little book.

48 comments:

AJD said...

Nobody ever went broke overestimating the self-absorption of Ann Althouse, either.

But that's a good thing, right?

Meade said...

And so, my fellow Democrats, ask not what you can do for others; ask what Mommy can do for all of us.

knoxgirl said...

ajd f*ck off and go somewhere else

HaloJonesFan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Seven Machos said...

Here's the difference between Ann Althouse and the Democratic party:

When the Democratic party gets "self-absorbed" (something that is gramatically possible but not really possible but wonderfully true all the same), it means that Democrats lose elections and power. Republicans gain it. So I am happy.

When Ann Althouse is too self-absorbed, of if she is too self-absorbed, then her blog is more about her than it otherwise would be.

What does it say about a person who spends time at Ann Althouse's blog who doesn't really like her? That's a good thing, right?

Simon said...

I actually read the previous George Lakoff book, Moral Politics around the time of the last election, and I really think it's pretty good stuff. And that's from someone who hopes the Dems ignore his advice and is perfectly content for them to keep losing elections, mind you. If for no other reason, Democrats and Conservatives alike should both read it because I think he does a great job of explaining why both sides believe thatthe other holds contradictory views; for example, he explains what many liberals find perplexing, which is why many conservatives can unhypocritically both favor capital punishment and oppose abortion (although there are obviously exceptions - my wife opposes both, and she's not unique in that regard).

Pogo said...

Lakoff the linguist suggests that Democrats can be restored to their rightful place by creating better euphemisms.

That other lefty linguist, Chomsky, also became seriously derailed by writing outside of his expertise. He, too, became enamored of conspiracies wrought by the Evil USA. Ward Churchill, a faux Native American professor of 'ethnic studies', wrote not about ethnicity, his field of study, but about politics and conspiracies within the US government against the Indian peoples. Barrett, some kind of humanities teacher and new UW Madison employee, has caused controversy for espousing idioicies based on topics well outside his field, also in the form of a conspiracy theory.

I am beginning to detect a pattern here.

Freeman Hunt said...

A Jackass Descends

Does Lakoff's metaphor then admit that progressives treat adults like babies? That is not so attractive.

Seven Machos said...

Simon: ridiculous.

"The second item in the liberal creed, after self-righteousness, is unaccountability. Liberals have invented whole college majors--psychology, sociology, women's studies--to prove that nothing is anybody's fault. No one is fond of taking responsibility for his actions, but consider how much you'd have to hate free will to come up with a political platform that advocates killing unborn babies but not convicted murderers. A callous pragmatist might favor abortion and capital punishment. A devout Christian would sanction neither. But it takes years of therapy to arrive at the liberal view." -- P.J. O'Rourke

Ann Althouse said...

HaloJones: When I started blogging, I worried a lot about things like that. I was always thinking I need more links or a certain proportion of linking to text, and I thought it was important to do the link in a way that the thought was completed upon arrival at the linked place. And I also thought it was a problem to be mostly linking to MSM sites. I also thought I should be sending out emails regularly to get people to link to my posts.

But over time, I just got tired of worrying about those things. I've just kept doing things my own way. And basically, I think all a blog is is a format with time-stamped posts in chronological order beginning with the newest one. From there, you do whatever you want. If I had one more rule, it would be that you have to post frequently, preferably not less than once a day. That's it. Really. Do what you want or you won't keep it up.

Jennifer said...

Who would have thought this was a profitable fixation for AJD!

I disagree with Harshaw that cliched revolutionary language, wafer-thin pop culture references and childish taunts are the hallmarks of a blogger. Or a good blogger, anyhow. But agree that would make for a terrible book.

Balfegor said...

That other lefty linguist, Chomsky, also became seriously derailed by writing outside of his expertise. He, too, became enamored of conspiracies wrought by the Evil USA.

Look, Lakoff is left-wing, probably a left-wing extremist. But I've never heard him to go on about conspiracies wrought by the Evil USA. And I've never heard it reported of him, that he knowingly denied true information about conditions under foreign tyrannies, on the grounds that it would make the US look better (Chomsky is supposed to have done this with Cambodia, if I recall aright). Lakoff may be left-wing, but there's no reason to be putting him in the same class as Chomsky.

He's also not really working outside his field. His field is semantics -- he's the one who wrote the (excellent) book Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, after all. And he is making recommendations on the basis of semantics.

The problem that strikes one is that he is oversimplifying his field, and proposing a kind of extreme Sapir-Whorfian approach to the relationship between language and thought, and the mechanism by which conscious or active control of the terms of discourse can actually change peoples' minds. It didn't work for the Victorians, it didn't work for the Soviets, and it doesn't work for major corporations today -- no reason to expect it will work for the Democratic party. War is peace; freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength, etc. People aren't stupid. They can tell when you're trying to BS them with euphemisms.

But that aside, working outside his field would be proposing actual substantive changes in Democratic policy -- he's a linguist, after all, not an economist or a sociologist, and there's no reason to believe he would have especially meaningful contributions to make on that score. So the limitations of his approach are a result of his sticking within his sphere of expertise.

Simon said...

Seven,
What is ridiculous?

Pogo said...

Balfegor, I disagree. The relationship I am pointing out is one of speaking outside of your field, but pretending to still be an 'expert'. Lakoff knows language, but clearly not politics.

Like Chomsky, he mistakes expertise in understanding how language works for insight into what advice to give people in active politics. These are two different things entirely, but appear to be similar, at least on the surface.

And Lakoff has a bit of the conspiracy thing going to, seeming to argue that Republicans have been far more servile to some playbook than they actually are. It makes me question his judgement on language, really.

Seven Machos said...

Simon: ...that it takes some fancy explanation to see why people support the death penalty and oppose abortion.

brylin said...

Balfegor said: "People aren't stupid. They can tell when you're trying to BS them with euphemisms."

The Democrats have 2 problems: (1) their issue positions are unpopular with the voters; and (2) they underestimate the intelligence of the voters.

Lakeoff errs when he thinks euphemisms can be used to mask unpopular issue positions.

Birkel said...

I find it interesting that Lakoff and many other academics can't think of 'truth' writ large and must instead think in terms of framing. They're mainly postmodernists (or some such) who believe that there isn't truth and falsity but rather themes and context.

Real people -- the kind who have jobs and pay attention to politics about 2 months every two years -- hear their nonsense and are not easily fooled. That "Big Lie" stuff doesn't work that well when there are independent sources upon which an educated middle class can reasonably rely.

Thank goodness for the interweb tubes!

Juliet said...

Anyway, Harshaw observes that Lakoff seems not to know any actual conservatives.

There aren't many to know in Berkeley.

Simon said...

Seven Machos said...
"Simon: ...that it takes some fancy explanation to see why people support the death penalty and oppose abortion."

I think the liberal argument goes "if life is sacred, shouldn't life be sacred?" Now, to my mind - and yours too, by the sound of it - there is no cognitive dissonance here (because, for readers wondering, the death penalty punishes the guilty while abortion is punishes the innocent), but surely, seven, you understand: if they took time to think, they wouldn't be liberals, would they?

In any event, I fail to see how there can be a downside to liberals and conservatives understanding each other's worldview better. Even if no one is pursuaded to change sides, merely sharing a greater understanding of the general underlying worldviews that form specific policy opinions is a positive boon in and of itself. At very least, it should be conducive to a more civil political discourse - and at best, the more liberals who stop to think, the less liberals will remain. ;)

joeschmo1of3 said...

One of the major problems with political discourse these days, is that most of what passes as a conversation between the wingnuts and the moonbats is not an exchange of ideas. The "discourse" is a spouting of slogans which help to identify which "side" you are on. This is the practice of identity politics, not practical politics. The problem with identity politics is that it is tribal, but the identities are not tribes based geography, bloodlines, or cultural practices. The identities are based on ideologies.

Ideologies can be complicated things and they color our perceptions of the world around us. One example is using one ideology's perception of another ideology to pass judgment on the values and ideas of that particular ideology. But remember, identity politics is based on group membership, and membership is not just acknowledging who belongs to your group, but also who does not. And establishing non-membership can be an emotional response, not just a rational response.

So, Lakoff's ideas are interesting in looking at the buzzwords of identity politics. Where he does go wrong is offering suggestions to counteract those emotional responses. Calling income tax a membership fee? Come on, when did I join a union? Lakoff needed to admit, at least to himself, which tribe he belonged to, so he could get the other tribe's feelings on these buzzwords. Apparently, he did not do that. Like juliet commented, not many conservatives in Berkeley, where you win elections by being even more left than your lefty opponent.

Icepick said...

[Lakoff’s] suggestions included ... calling income taxes “membership fees”....

So, this means people who don't pay income tax aren't memebers, right? And presumably illegal aliens who DO pay income tax ARE members. I'm not sure that this suggestion would fly that well....

Mary said...

I think the Dems will start winning when they start questioning and challenging every single assumption thrown at them by the right and allies.

There's been too much unchallenged crap out there -- from this weekend's make believe "Telemacchus" story that was almost swallowed, to the idea that Democrats are the Mommy party.

The more often Dems call "bullshit" and question the assumptions and allegiances of the folks who purvey this nonsense, the sooner this country gets back on track.

Oh. What's that? Everything is proceeding nicely, and is already on track? Just everybody relax and go shopping? A few more bombs and we'll have them exactly where we want them? Bull-shit. 7/23/06 :)

Seven Machos said...

Mary: No question. Conservatives are full of bullshit and their criticisms of the left are meaningless semantics. You need to start fighting back. And the way to fight back is to start "framing" issues differently. For example, you could start to say "income taxes" instead of "membership fees."

Mary said...

"I also thought I should be sending out emails regularly to get people to link to my posts.

But over time, I just got tired of worrying about those things. I've just kept doing things my own way."

Ann, can you acknowledge that much of your initial readership came from the InstaBlog after links to your election and national security-related posts?

I am not taking anything away from your "innovation" here, but you didn't exactly pull yourself up by your own bootstraps but were helped by the initial support from those quarters.

Indeed, many of your "controversies" and conservative ad solicitations/acceptances should make you a less credible commentator than the MSM, whom so many of your readers despise.

When your sources/commenters here are unnamed and unchecked, it is worrisome to me when traditional media outlets get lazy and start quoting these characters.

Entertainment, yes. Good source of political inquiry, no. Anyone can boot up a computer and type claims and accusations. I suspect we will continue to see that here, until one party or another really gets burned by it.

joeschmo1of3 said...

Oh, and can someone explain to me how "national debt" is the same as "baby tax?" Are we handing over firstborn, or what?

Simon Kenton said...

Well, Mary, as one of the swing voters here, I think the Dems do call bullshit pretty often. Edwards: with himself and Kerry in the White House, Christopher Reeves would have gotten out of his wheelchair and walked? John Kerry this weekend: none of this in the mideast would have happened with him in the White House? This SOUNDS like bullshit to me. But please, feel free; go ahead and "question the assumptions and allegiances of the folks who purvey this nonsense..." I have been, and it's been getting harder and harder to pull the Dem lever.

Seven Machos said...

I disagree with Mary on the part about "sources/commenters here" being "unnamed and unchecked," so "it is worrisome to me when traditional media outlets get lazy and start quoting these characters."

For me, it all comes down to reputation. I don't know who Sippican Cottage is, but I know the person is thoughtful and intelligent -- certainly as thoughtful and intelligent as, say Maureen Dowd. So I pay attention to what S.C. says. The same goes for people I tend to disagree with, like Balfegor and Ben Wallace.

Of course, this reputational phenomenon goes the other way as well. Take someone like you, Mary. I know most of what you say is not useful, so I tend to gloss over it.

Karl said...

I'd prefer this book for my kids.

Mary said...

"I know most of what you say is not useful, so I tend to gloss over it."

And I think you are an agitator. But my point holds.

Who was that masked man, Telemacchus, and how far would Ann have gone in legitimizing and promoting his viewpoint as "truthiness"?

Who are the "everyday commenters" here that the traditional media has begun relying on to measure "the pulse of the nation" (or the midwest, Wisconsin, at least?)

Seven Machos said...

Mary: Your problem is obvious. I'm sorry I have to spell it out for you. You see your own arguments as substantive and the other side's arguments as "diversion and spin." When you lose, you think it's because you couldn't convince the (blinded) people of the superiority of your program, and that the people fell for diversion and spin.

Not only is this asinine and time-wasting, but you are right now as we speak engaging in the very kind of diversion and spin that you accuse your hated opponents of engaging in.

Do you REALLY believe that Democrats do not themselves spend "like drunken sailors" and that they did not, in fact, spend that way from 1952-ish until 1994? (Did you note that the federal budget deficit was, fleetingly, reversed under a Republican legislature? Do you REALLY believe that only Republicans are "not bidding out contracts and not accounting for the cash"?

Your simpleton worldview of Democrats-good-Republicans-bad and people-fooled-by-evil-spin (of the bad people, who, of course, you oppose) is frighteningly naive and wrong.

Mary said...

"Do you REALLY believe that Republicans are "not bidding out contracts and not accounting for the cash."

Yes. I think this one has been fact-checked too, by traditional media sources.

Don't fear the truth, Machos. Go out there and check it out if you don't believe me. I'm not trying to pull something here.

Just watching you wallow in denial.

Seven Machos said...

Yeah, Mary. That's me: agitator. And the day you out-argue me at Ann Althouse's blog will be the day I pull a Mary, and erase all my comments.

Until then, enjoy ranting here, unnamed and unchecked person.

Seven Machos said...

WOW, Mary! Not only are you frighteningly naive and wrong...

Read it again:

"Do you REALLY believe that only Republicans are 'not bidding out contracts and not accounting for the cash'?"

The "only" changes everything. Are you simply a lazy reader? I find it hard to believe that you typed out what I said when it would be far easier to cut and paste, which means that you took out the word "only," which means that you are a vicious, lying fraud.

Enjoy the egg on your face.

Seven Machos said...

Mary, you need to retire to Democratic Underground. That's a little bit more your level of discourse.

Ann Althouse said...

Mary: "Ann, can you acknowledge that much of your initial readership came from the InstaBlog after links to your election and national security-related posts? I am not taking anything away from your "innovation" here, but you didn't exactly pull yourself up by your own bootstraps but were helped by the initial support from those quarters."

I've never said I don't benefit from links. I only said that I don't use the technique of sending out emails to people to try to get links and that I used to feel bad about not doing it. I wanted the links and the traffic, which is why I did feel bad about not doing more to get them. It turned out to work well enough just to write what I felt like writing, and I perhaps get more links because of this nontechnique that I fell into out of inattention.

Johnny Nucleo said...

"Ann, can you acknowledge that much of your initial readership came from the InstaBlog after links to your election and national security-related posts?"

Mary, you are really kooky. Let's concede what you said. Ann became famous because she wrote about the election in cool and funny way and was for Bush and Bush won and people who were for Bush (and people who were not) who like cool and funny writing stuck around, even though they are not quite sure whether or not Ann is a fellow-traveler or a Diva. What's your point?

I'll tell you your point. Deep down, you believe in conspiracy.

joeschmo1of3 said...

I finally found my answer here.

If George Lakoff had his way, the Kerry campaign would have run a commercial attacking the "baby tax." Dr. Lakoff, a Berkeley linguistics professor and Kerry campaign adviser, wanted to divide the interest on the national debt by the number of Americans born each year. The result, $85,000 per newborn, say, would have been handed to a baby in the form of a bill, and the baby would have started to cry.

Yeesh! Like I said before, Lakoff ran off the rails when he started coming up with his own replacements instead of finding suggestions from interested parties.

Puhleeze, "public protection attorneys" instead of trial lawyers? The Association of Trial Lawyers of America have come up with their own idea. The new name is not very descriptive, but they're trying. What do they call themselves now, justice associates?

Stephen said...

"Who was that masked man, Telemacchus, and how far would Ann have gone in legitimizing and promoting his viewpoint as "truthiness"?"

Mary-what would you have Ann do re: Telemacchus that she isn't already doing right now?

Also, for Republicans and the budget, I'd have more sympathy for Dems on this if we didn't propose a balance budget amendment in the 90s and wind up having it blocked by them. It would be even better if you could propose some cuts - What areas?

I'm sure you can propose a lot of taxes. Before you do, consider the possibility that the reason for this:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/13/AR2006071300983.html

is that we aren't taking that route.

Mary said...

"I wanted the links and the traffic, which is why I did feel bad about not doing more to get them."

My misunderstanding.
I thought you were crediting only yourself and your own hard work for creating your opportunities. I'm glad you acknowledge that you were helped along the way.
-----
"It turned out to work well enough just to write what I felt like writing..."

I have no quarrels with this, only with those who would chastise university officials for not paying greater attention to the commenters on your blog (as Reynolds did this weekend), when really one might ask, who are the commenters and what is their interest in representing views here?

That doesn't make one a paranoid believer in conspiracies, just an honest skeptic who senses more is at stake here than meets the eye.

Mary said...

Mary-what would you have Ann do re: Telemacchus that she isn't already doing right now?

Absolutely nothing, Stephen.
The media who quote commenters: I would ask them to verify their sources.
Other readers: continue reading with skepticism.

Mary said...

"Mary, you need to retire to Democratic Underground. That's a little bit more your level of discourse."

Thanks Seven. :)
I'm going to take it that you're ceding this point to me on the substantive issue, since you can't appear to argue based on FACTS.

-----
"Mary, you are really kooky... I'll tell you your point. Deep down, you believe in conspiracy."

Now simmer down with the conspiracy talk Johnny boy. The hostess is perfectly capable of rationally addressing an issue herself; no unflinching, scorched earth defense needed. :)

Seven Machos said...

Mary -- Is this the part where you become irrational and start calling people names and then erase all of your posts?

Mary said...

Is there a rule about putting up comments for a person to read them,
and then later taking them down?

You play your way, I'll play mine.

Paul Zrimsek said...

The result, $85,000 per newborn, say, would have been handed to a baby in the form of a bill, and the baby would have started to cry.

Someone forgot to tell Baby that the $85,000 is a membership fee.

VW: akcjjhqd, mistaken at first glance for akcjihad. Terrierism?

jult52 said...

Aren't "membership fees" optional?

PatCA said...

"...a concept of ‘freedom’ so alien to progressives that many progressives cannot even understand it, much less defend against it.”

This looks like another Lakoff reframing of dubious merit to the Dems: progressives keep losing elections because they're stupid.

Mary said...
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Mary said...
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