|A recent Common Dreams article by David Michael Green proposes that a key part of Lakoffian re-framing is re-naming conservatives, their programs and their ideological positions. But while Lakoff proposes re-framing as a non-confrontational way of showing conservatives the validity of progressive positions and ideas, Green’s re-naming is designed more to reassure and energize progressives and drive fence-sitters over to the progressive cause.
There’s some logic to both tactics, though they’re hard to mix. Before we assess the preferability of one or the other, let’s take a look at some examples of ‘re-naming’. Before we start, let’s recall the classic name game confrontation: the terminology surrounding the abortion rights debate. To progressives, the two sides are ‘pro-choice’ and ‘anti-choice’, the issue is the ‘terminating of a pregnancy’ involving a ‘fetus’, and the imagery is a woman dead from hemorrhage after a back-alley abortion, a coat-hanger beside her covered in blood. To conservatives, the two sides are ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-abortion’, the issue is the ‘killing of an unborn baby’, and the image is a blood-covered, magnified-to-life-size ‘child’ in a garbage can. In the shrill shouting matches on the subject, each side steadfastly sticks to its names, its terminology, its imagery. There is no middle ground, no room for compromise, no point even in debate.
Bush’s neocons have used this same naming technique to establish a conservative frame for each of the issues in its agenda. Progressives have cried foul, ridiculing but not (until now) using alternative names for these agenda items — names that are “just the right stretch from today’s conventional wisdom — distinctive, and far enough to do damage without not so far as to be immediately dismissed for lacking credibility (e,g, fascist)”. Let’s consider what some of those names might be. The ones suggested by Green are in italics:
We also need to take the initiative in naming some programs with similar progressive frames that have no conservative name at all, because they’re not on the conservative agenda. But as Lakoff points out, they might get on the agenda, or at least conservatives might have to acknowledge them, if progressives consistently hammered away at them, as Dennis Kucinich did during last year’s US campaign:
Green wants to use the ‘us progressive — them regressive’ frame for all the relabeling of the conservative agenda, but I’m not sure this would work — he may be too caught up in the progressive frame of thinking to realize that ‘going back to the old days’ is a good thing in the eyes of many conservatives and moderates with selective memories and nostalgia that grows with age. In fact, retro is fashionable. But Green’s heart is in the right place. If we start using the alternative names on the right side until they become common parlance, we could at least establish that the conservative agenda and framing are not the only intrinsically moral ones.
The issue of course is, Who are we trying to impress? If it’s progressives, we’re preaching to the choir, though at least giving them some better words for the hymns. If it’s regressives, we might as well save our breath — all we’ll do is radicalize and inflame them to more extreme positions and more aggressive action to defend them. If it’s moderates, we need to acknowledge that most Americans consider themselves moderates and many of them resent being forced to take sides on issues, and dislike hyperbole from either side. And. like it or not, without hyperbole, confrontation, outrage and spin in political matters, there is often no passion at all, allowing the status quo to continue unabated.
So we should probably acknowledge that these new names are mainly for us. They allow progressives to be active instead of reactive, positive instead of negative, on the offensive instead of the defensive, passionate instead of conceptual.
It’s a start.
February 23, 2005
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