Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Picture Frame

It's all about the picture frame. Framing of the issues, that is, when speaking of politics. Or, in the case of the GOP, the frame holds anything but the issues.

The McCain campaign effectively concedes this, as noted by Josh Marshall of TPM, Speak for Yourself:

McCain Campaign Manager Rick Davis: "This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates."
Of course the election cannot be about issues, when the issues all line up against you.

George Lakoff explains in Palin Appeals to Voter Emotions -- Dems Beware:
This election matters because of realities -- the realities of global warming, the economy, the Middle East, nuclear proliferation, civil liberties, species extinction, poverty here and around the world, and on and on. Such realities are what make this election so very crucial, and how to deal with them is the substance of the Democratic platform.
On the issues, the Democrats would win by a landslide. But that's not happening, because the issues are besides the point. As Lakoff explains:
But election campaigns are primarily about the realities of voters' minds, which depend on how the candidates and the external realities are cognitively framed. They can be framed honestly or deceptively, effectively or clumsily. And they are always framed from the perspective of a worldview.

* * * *
But the Palin nomination changes the game. The initial response has been to try to keep the focus on external realities, the "issues," and differences on the issues. But the Palin nomination is not basically about external realities and what Democrats call "issues," but about the symbolic mechanisms of the political mind -- the worldviews, frames, metaphors, cultural narratives, and stereotypes. The Republicans can't win on realities. Her job is to speak the language of conservatism, activate the conservative view of the world, and use the advantages that conservatives have in dominating political discourse.
So, the picture is painted, and put in a pretty frame:
Palin is the mom in the strict father family, upholding conservative values. Palin is tough: she shoots, skins, and eats caribou. She is disciplined: raising five kids with a major career. She lives her values: she has a Downs-syndrome baby that she refused to abort. She has the image of the ideal conservative mom: pretty, perky, feminine, Bible-toting, and fitting into the ideal conservative family. And she fits the stereotype of America as small-town America. It is Reagan's morning-in-America image. Where Obama thought of capturing the West, she is running for Sweetheart of the West.

* * * *

At the same time, Palin is masterful at the Republican game of taking the Democrats' language and reframing it-putting conservative frames to progressive words: Reform, prosperity, peace. She is also masterful at using the progressive narratives: she's from the working class, working her way up from hockey mom and the PTA to Mayor, Governor, and VP candidate. Her husband is a union member. She can say to the conservative populists that she is one of them -- all the things that Obama and Biden have been saying. Bottom-up, not top-down.

Yes, the McCain-Palin ticket is weak on the major realities. But it is strong on the symbolic dimension of politics that Republicans are so good at marketing. Just arguing the realities, the issues, the hard truths should be enough in times this bad, but the political mind and its response to symbolism cannot be ignored. The initial Democratic response to Palin -- the response based on realities alone -- indicates that many Democrats have not learned the lessons of the Reagan and Bush years.

If you focus on the issues, Palin herself is a major disaster in many ways. For example, Dick Polman summarizes, in Tropical storm Sarah, Polin's 7 deadly sins -- but that's only relevant if you're focusing on the issues. That's anathema to Republicans, so the issues are to be avoided at all cost.

Further, despite the professed mantra about the importance of character, as Rick Davis expressed, the fact is that any real probing of character is off limits. To stray into any real discussion of character, is to be chided for being "unfair" and "indecent," as Rudy Giuliani so eloquently said it last night at the GOP Convention. See The Media Is "Unfair" And "Indecent".

Got that? Character is important in the election, not the issues, but don't dare question the portrayal of character that the Republican's put forward. It's a picture frame, hung on the wall. You are just supposed to admire it from a distance.

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