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Book Data

ISBN: 9781931498715
Year Added to Catalog: 2004
Book Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 5 3/8 x 8 3/8, 144 pages
Book Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
Old ISBN: 1931498717
Release Date: September 1, 2004
Web Product ID: 292

Also By This Author

Don't Think of an Elephant!

Know Your Values and Frame the Debate

by George Lakoff

Associated Articles

Clink links below for articles about Don’t Think of An Elephant

Value Words, A Linguist Advises Democrats
By Blair Anthony Robertson The Sacramento Bee
December 22, 2004

BERKELEY - George Lakoff is running late for a 10 a.m. interview, which he hastily rearranges for 10:30 at another location, where he is late once again.

It's no wonder. His once peaceful life - scholar, writer, teacher, ruminator - has suddenly gone into hyperdrive, thanks to a surprise best seller that some think could reshape the future of left-leaning politics.

When Lakoff, a linguistics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, finally shows up at the designated coffee shop on a recent morning, taking choppy steps down the hillside street, he is apologetic and bleary-eyed.

"I'm sorry. I've only had four hours sleep," he says, shrugging. Then he gets in line for coffee.

It isn't every day a cardigan-wearing professor becomes a mainstream sensation. In the past week, he says, he has made two trips to the East Coast and attended a meeting in Los Angeles. Before that, it was speech after speech to groups large and small.

A Berkeley professor since 1972 and the author of several influential books limited mostly to his relatively obscure field, Lakoff's star has risen on the heels of a presidential election that left many Democrats baffled and dismayed.

Lakoff can blame his scheduling woes on a 124-page paperback titled Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. It is published by Chelsea Green, which has printed 150,000 copies since the launch in September.

The $10 book has been selling so well because many on the left believe Lakoff has the answers - and the language - to help them reconnect with voters.

Well before postelection polls showed Republicans dominated the debate over values and Democrats were not getting through to many "red state" voters, Lakoff was already sounding the alarm.

Writing in his new book, Lakoff states: "Democrats are shocked or puzzled when voters do not vote their self-interest. 'How,' Democrats keep asking me, 'can any poor person vote for Bush when he hurts them so badly?' "

Republicans might dispute the "hurt," but no one is arguing that their party's base stretches well beyond the rich and powerful these days. Lakoff argues that Republicans are succeeding because they have been carefully choosing words to frame issues around values. The strategy has left Democrats on the defensive in many areas.

"Partial-birth abortion." "Tax relief." "Healthy Forests Initiative." "No Child Left Behind." Lakoff says the words are no accident.

What's more, when Democrats argue against the issues and employ the same words and phrases, they are unwittingly reinforcing the conservative frame.

That was the inspiration for the title of Lakoff's book: If you are told not to think of an elephant, you can't help but think of one.

Lakoff says conservatives have been perfecting this strategy for 30 years, investing millions in think tanks and framing issue after issue in conservative terms.

"They had gotten into people's brains. By repetition of language, they have actually changed people's brains and created a new common sense," Lakoff says while sipping on his coffee.

Reclaiming the issues, Lakoff says, will not be easy, but the left can learn from conservatives when it comes to language. People tend to vote their identity and their values, he argues, often at the expense of self-interest.

In his book, Lakoff sees two basic political identities - the strict father for conservatives, the nurturant parent for liberals, though he uses the word "progressives" throughout his book.

The absence of "liberal" is perhaps the best testament to conservative framing success. They have made it a dirty word in many circles, framing it around bloated bureaucracies, ill-advised social programs and an overly tolerant approach to crime.

Asked about the L-word, Lakoff says, "The word 'liberal' needs to be resuscitated - but gradually."

Lakoff argues in the new book that Republicans have masterfully crafted their frames to highlight "strict father" values while Democrats have failed to craft their ideas around the "nurturant parent" model.

"In the 2000 election (Al) Gore kept saying that Bush's tax cuts would go only to the top 1 percent," Lakoff writes, "and he thought that everyone else would follow their self-interest and support him. But poor conservatives still opposed him ... they believed that those who had the most money - the "good" people - deserved to keep it as their reward for being disciplined. The bottom 99 percent of conservatives voted their conservative values, against their self-interest."

Toward the end of "Don't Think of an Elephant," which is essentially a speech and some writings hastily pieced together, Lakoff offers advice on framing. For example, he suggests countering the conservatives' "strong defense" with "stronger America," "free markets" with "broad prosperity," and "smaller government" with "effective government."

"You don't communicate your vision through programs," Lakoff says. "You communicate your values."

During the recent presidential campaign, party insiders asked Lakoff to send memos to Sen. John Kerry's campaign, though Lakoff felt his advice was rarely heeded.

"I try to find things that best express what people already believe," he says. "It's an art in a way, but it also requires a bunch of science."

Some who have worked with Lakoff say his ideas could inspire a comeback for Democrats at a time when many are calling for an overhaul of the party.

"Everyone wants to hear what George has to say," says Don Hazen, executive editor of AlterNet, the San Francisco-based online news and culture magazine. "All of the Democrats and progressives are on the defensive and George has solutions that are accessible."

But there are already indications that Lakoff's "frame" theory is going to get a tough reception from the opposition.

"I can't see how liberals can lie any more than they have," says Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for Children and Families, an organization based in Sacramento. "I don't think their deceptive arguments or wordings work with the average American."

In his book, Lakoff argues it is conservatives who have been deceptive. But nowhere does he suggest it isn't working with the average American.

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Time for Bread and Roses
By John de Graaf AlterNet
December 20, 2004

Lack of free time is an issue that crosses the ideological divide. Once, progressives fought against time poverty; now that it's worse than ever, shouldn't the banner be raised again?

No doubt about it, the next few years will not be easy ones for American progressives. The Republican Party's perceived "mandate" is likely to produce increased international belligerence and militarism, further attacks on the social safety net, increasing inequality and sharply weakened environmental protection. With so many fronts to fight back on, it will be tempting to concentrate on stopping the bleeding.

But while necessary, such reactive "tourniquet" politics are not sufficient to begin turning America around. It's high time that progressives find ways to inspire moderates. This doesn't mean "moving to the center;" it means listening to what matters to Americans and offering new, imaginative solutions – proactive, "strategic initiatives," as George Lakoff calls them in his new, thought-provoking best-seller, Don't Think of an Elephant!

So, where to begin? What kinds of things that matter most to Americans have progressives failed to listen and respond to? In my view, "time poverty" ranks near the top. Back in July, during an appearance on PBS' NOW with Bill Moyers, Republican pollster and strategist Frank Luntz observed that a majority of "swing" voters were working women with young children. Luntz said his focus groups revealed that "lack of free time" is the number one issue with these voters. "The issue of time matters to them more than anything else in life," Luntz declared.

Luntz has identified an issue that could be dynamite. Most Americans, not only mothers, feel increasingly time crunched. The Wall Street Journal confirmed that Americans are working 20% longer today than in 1970, while work-time has declined in other industrial countries. A recent poll released by the Center for a New American Dream found 88% of Americans agreeing that "working too many hours results in not having enough time to spend with families." Half say they're willing to sacrifice some pay for more time.

Another poll commissioned by Hilton Hotels found that only 23 percent of Americans come to work refreshed on Mondays. Our vacations are disappearing – a recent Harris survey found that 37% of women earning less than $40,000 a year (and 28% of all working women) receive no paid vacation at all. On average, Americans work nearly nine weeks (350 hours) more each year than western Europeans.

American public policies protecting our family and personal time fall far short of those in other countries. A study released in last June by the Harvard School of Public Health, covering 168 of the world's nations concluded that "the United States lags dramatically behind all high-income countries, as well as many middle- and low-income countries when it comes to public policies designed to guarantee adequate working conditions for families." The study found that:

  • 163 of 168 countries guarantee paid leave for mothers in connection with childbirth. 45 countries offer such leave to fathers. The U.S. does neither.
  • 139 countries guarantee paid sick leave. The U.S. does not.
  • 96 countries guarantee paid annual (vacation) leave. The U.S. does not.
  • 84 countries have laws that fix a maximum limit on the workweek. The U.S. does not.
  • 37 countries guarantee parents paid time off when children are sick. The U.S. does not.


In a new study [PDF], the National Association of Working Women documents what happens to workers without paid sick days. Many report losing a job when a child breaks an arm, or being forced to serve food while sick with the flu. Half of all American workers and three out of four low-wage workers have no paid sick leave. Only one in six part-timers has any paid sick leave.

Is it any wonder that stress and burnout is rampant in America, and that working women with children feel as Luntz says they do? Time is a family value. Marriage, friendship, children, community involvement, environmental stewardship and civic participation all suffer from our lack of free time. But what can be done about this burning issue? "Right now," Frank Luntz says, "no one has created an agenda, what I would call the Free Time Agenda. So it's up for grabs."

Neither American political party has addressed the issue in any serious way. In campaign speeches, President Bush said he'd "help American families keep more of something they never have enough of – time: time to play with their children; time to go to Little League games or Girl Scout meetings; time to care for elderly parents; time to go to class to improve their lives."

But what Bush has actually proposed – replacing overtime pay with "comp" time – leaves the decision regarding when workers must put in hours to their employers, and is likely to encourage, not discourage, more employer demands for overtime work. On the other hand, until now progressives haven't offered any "Free Time Agenda" at all, thus conceding an essential issue to their opponents.

So what might a real agenda for free time look like? A new "It's About Time" coalition including the organizations Take Back Your Time, Work to Live, and Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights, has proposed a six-point "Time to Care" public policy initiative that would:

  • Guarantee paid childbirth leave for all parents. Today, only 40% of Americans are able to take advantage of the 12 weeks of unpaid leave provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.
  • Guarantee at least one week of paid sick leave for all workers.
  • Guarantee at least three weeks of paid annual vacation leave for all workers.
  • Place a limit on the amount of compulsory overtime work that an employer can impose, with the goal being to give employees the right to accept or refuse overtime work.
  • Make it easier for Americans to choose part-time work by enacting hourly wage parity and protection of promotions and pro-rated benefits for part-time workers.
  • Make Election Day a holiday, with the understanding that Americans need time for civic and political participation.


Each of these legislative points, if adopted, would only bring the US closer to standards already in place in most other industrial countries, and in many poor countries. But they would be a great start in the right direction, the beginning of a true "time to care" agenda.

"Time to Care" is, I believe, a clear example of the kind of proactive "strategic initiative" that George Lakoff suggests is central to revitalizing the progressive movement in America. In Don't Think of an Elephant! Lakoff describes a strategic initiative as "a plan in which a change in one carefully chosen issue area has automatic effects over many, many, many other issue areas."

"Unlike the right," Lakoff writes, "the left does not think strategically. We think issue by issue. We generally do not try to figure out what minimal change we can enact that will have effects across many issues." He suggests initiatives like the "New Apollo" alternative energy plan that would create jobs, improve health, clean up the environment and make the US less dependent on foreign oil.

But while New Apollo is a terrific idea, energy is not nearly as deeply felt a concern for middle-America as time poverty. A bold campaign for "Time to Care" would be:

A family and children's issue: Time is a family value.

A community building and civic participation issue

An environmental issue: Studies show overworked Americans are less likely to recycle, more likely to use throwaways, etc.

A health issue: Lack of time for exercise and proper diets leads to obesity, while workplace stress now costs the economy more than $300 billion a year.

A women's issue: More and more mothers now feel they have to choose between children and career.

A religious and spiritual issue: Fewer of us have time for reflection and spirituality, and, while not explicitly endorsing the "Time to Care Agenda," the Massachusetts Council of Churches has made time a priority concern.

A justice issue: Poor and minority Americans are least likely to have paid leave and other protections on their time.

A quality of life issue: Giving Americans a real chance to choose simpler, less materialistic lifestyles.

A jobs issue: Reducing overwork for many Americans could result in more work for others who need it.

And so on...

This initiative has the power to connect progressives with many Americans – including family values conservatives – to whom they seldom talk. It also has positive implications for the economy. Shortening work time and providing more time for leisure will mean happier, healthier and more efficient workers. Reducing the stress of overwork would also mean lower health care costs for all Americans.

Moreover, the struggle against time poverty would open new discussions of such issues as living wages (for those who must work excessive hours just to meet the most basic needs), and universal health care (many workers are afraid that if they ask for shorter hours they will lose health care benefits, while our current employer-based health system encourages businesses to hire fewer workers and make them work longer hours).

Once, led by organized labor and enlightened church leaders, American progressives were champions for more time. When thousands of women textile workers walked out of the mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts during the great strike of 1912, they carried signs that read: We Want Bread, and Roses Too.

Bread and roses, symbols of the two important sides of life: bread, the money to live, and roses, the time to enjoy life – higher wages and shorter hours. But somewhere along the line, we got "bread and butter" unionism focused solely on wages. The roses were left to wilt.

Yet Americans need roses now more than ever. They are telling us they're tired and want time to live. We should speak boldly, and in clear moral language, for their right to time, for their right to roses. We could live better as Americans by working less, and finding more time for the things that matter most – family, friends, community, and health – instead of being obsessed with material products and economic growth.

It's all a matter of values.

John de Graaf is the editor of Take Back Your Time, and National Coordinator of the Take Back Your Time campaign.

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UC scholar to help Democrats refine message
Party is urged to control policy debate

By Edward Epstein San Francisco Chronicle
December 5, 2004

Washington -- House Democrats, seeking to take the offensive against Republicans in an effort to win back a majority, will talk Tuesday with a Berkeley scholar who says Republicans have succeeded by framing the nation's political debate on their terms.

The scholar, UC Berkeley professor of linguistics and cognitive sciences George Lakoff, is a hot item in liberal circles these days as he argues Democrats must develop a message that resonates more deeply with voters. His latest book, Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate,' is on best-seller lists in Washington and the Bay Area. Before the Nov. 2 election, then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, who heads the House Democratic Policy Committee, distributed hundreds of copies of Lakoff's book to their colleagues and staffs.

"It's all about words and craftsmanship,'' said Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, of Lakoff's advice. "He shows us that we ought to take the Republicans' words and show why they don't work, why they just aren't so.''

Farr points as examples to President Bush's Leave No Child Behind Act, the education law that Democrats say has shortchanged many children, and Bush's calls for "tax reform,'' which the Democrats say is another plan to help the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

Lakoff says that over the past three decades conservatives have built a powerful message machine in Washington and the Democrats are long overdue to match it.

"It's very elaborate, very clever,'' he said of the GOP effort, which helped the Republicans win a majority in the House a decade ago.

Lakoff describes how well-financed think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute churn out ideas and go out of their way to make experts available for print and broadcast reporters, talk show hosts and op-ed pages. Then Republican officeholders and candidates stick to the party's message and effectively use the same words to drive home their message. They talk of moral values, Bush's "compassionate conservatism,'' "protecting the unborn,'' "partial-birth abortion'' and "death tax,'' and drive Democrats to distraction by constantly referring to the "Democrat Party, '' instead of the "Democratic Party.''

The result, Lakoff says, is that Democrats and liberals often find themselves on the periphery of the public policy debate. While they have begun to respond, creating in the past year the Center for American Progress, a think tank, and the liberal talk radio network, Talk America, headlined by Al Franken, the Democrats have barely tapped the need to retool. Lakoff will take this message to House Democrats on Tuesday during a daylong issues forum.

"A long-term commitment is needed," Lakoff said, "but a lot of short-term things can be done.

"The Democrats need to be clear about their messages and to find a common vision, express it well and stick to it,'' said the professor. Lakoff helped create the Rockridge Institute, a Berkeley-based think tank that in its own words seeks to "reframe the terms of political debate to make a progressive moral vision more persuasive and influential.''

During the 2004 campaign, Lakoff suggested that instead of talking about how Bush had run up the national debt, Democrats should label it a "baby tax'' the Republican president had imposed on future generations.

He has suggested that same-sex marriage should be referred to as "the right to marry.'' Trial lawyers like vice presidential nominee John Edwards should instead be called "public protection attorneys,'' and the term environmental protection, which brings to mind big government and reams of regulations, should instead be termed "poison-free communities.''

Although Tuesday will mark the first time Lakoff has appeared before Democrats as a group, on Capitol Hill, he has already found a receptive audience. Among them is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco. In the 2004 campaign, her first as party leader, Pelosi stressed the need for a unified party message. She created the New Partnership for America's Future, a platform organized around six ''core values'' that all factions of the party could rally around. Still, the Democrats lost seats in House races last month as well as in the Senate, and Bush won re-election.

"The recent election caused Democrats to rethink how they communicate to voters. It's useful to hear his insights,'' said one Democratic House aide who asked not to be identified. "The Republicans are so good at sticking to their talking points and not getting into minutiae, while Democrats always want to have a detailed debate.''

But outside analysts say the Democrats, facing a Republican in the White House and GOP majorities in both houses of Congress, will have a hard time finding an audience even with an improved message.

"Being in the minority means you don't control the agenda,'' said Amy Walter, who follows the House for the Cook Political Report, a Washington political publication. "Part of the problem of being in the minority is you have to play defense a lot.''

She said the Democrats' best strategy, one that Pelosi already seems to have adopted, is to capitalize on GOP missteps as they head into the 2006 midterm elections. "The Democrats have to take advantage of the opportunities the Republicans give them,'' said Walter, "and they have to remember it takes a while for this stuff to permeate'' the consciousness of voters.

After Lakoff's presentation, the House Democrats are scheduled Tuesday to hear from Jessica Tuchman Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment on International Peace, about national security issues. Rep. Robert Matsui of Sacramento and Rep. Charles Rangel of New York will talk about Bush's upcoming proposal to partially privatize Social Security. Democrats generally scorn such an idea.

Lakoff says Republicans -- through their elaborate think tanks that train them to influence the media -- have learned how to speak to voters in simple terms.

"You can't speak simply if people don't already have the issues you want to raise in mind,'' he said.

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US Democrats try to avoid elephant trap
By Holly Yeager Financial Times
December 5, 2004

As Democrats continue their post-election soul-searching, a new guru is emerging. He isn't an internet whizz-kid or a campaign strategist, but a bearded Berkeley linguist who says he knows why Republicans keep winning.

George Lakoff says it all comes down to “frames” the mental structures people use when they think about words. Conservatives are masters of framing, using expressions such as “tax relief” to shape the debate to their advantage, he says. If Democrats could do the same, they would perform much better at the polls.

Mr Lakoff's latest book, Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, has become a surprise bestseller in liberal enclaves from New England to Northern California. Nancy Pelosi, minority leader in the House of Representatives, has invited him to lecture on Tuesday, when Democrats gather for a strategy session.

The quick embrace of Mr Lakoff is a sign of willingness among Democrats to think outside the traditional sphere as they try to improve their party's fortunes. But the sudden cult status of the 124-page book and its author is also prompting some concern.

“I have a deep fear that if liberals are taking this stuff too seriously we could be about to drive ourselves off a cliff,” wrote Kevin Drum, a liberal commentator, on his blog, Political Animal. Mr Lakoff specialises in cognitive linguistics, the study of the nature of thought and its expression in language. His current research is on heavy-duty topics such as “the nature of human conceptual systems, especially metaphor systems for concepts such as time, events, causation, emotions, morality, the self, politics, etc.”

He applied his ideas to the political realm in a little-noticed 1996 book, Moral Politics. The current paperback is a bit easier to grasp and is clearly reaching a wider audience. In it, Mr Lakoff describes an exercise he gives his students at the start of Cognitive Science 101: “Don't think of an elephant!” It is impossible, he says. “Every word evokes a frame, which can be an image or other kinds of knowledge. Elephants are large, have floppy ears and a trunk, are associated with circuses, and so on. When we negate a frame, we evoke the frame.”

Republicans, such as Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House and architect of the Contract with America, and Frank Luntz, pollster and message expert, have used language to great effect for years. A clear recent example came four years ago, as President George W. Bush entered his first term and started talking about “tax relief”.

“For there to be relief there must be an affliction, an afflicted party, and a reliever who removes the affliction and is therefore a hero,” Mr Lakoff writes. “And if people try to stop the hero, those people are villains for trying to prevent relief.” That frame explains the trouble Democrats had when speaking against Mr Bush's plans. “The conservatives had set a trap: the words draw you into their world view.”

Mr Bush scored similar points when he said in his State of the Union address in January 2004 that the US did not need to ask for a “permission slip” before invading Iraq, evoking what Mr Lakoff calls “the adult-child metaphor for other nations”.

On tax Mr Lakoff suggests finding a frame that would help people think of taxation in new ways, either as an investment or “paying your dues, paying your membership fee in America”.

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Frame Wars
By Michael Erard, Texas Observer
Posted on AlterNet, November 18, 2004

The conventional view of politics says that people are swayed by words, images, or facts. But that's false, according to Frank Luntz and George Lakoff, two of the most successful practitioners of political reality construction. They believe that increasingly political forces will clash less over reality than over how it's shaped.

At first glance, both men appear well equipped to deal with a complex world. They have PhDs (Luntz in political science and Lakoff in linguistics) and run consulting operations (the Luntz Research Companies and the Rockridge Institute, a think tank), and they're gurus to opposing political parties – the GOP and the Dems – to whom they push, as they've done for years, what is essentially the same idea about language in politics. The idea? That the basic building blocks of political communication are "frames" (as Lakoff calls them) or "context" (to use Luntz's word).

The most important resource that politicians have, they both argue, is the ways in which people understand the world. Their values. Their worldviews. (Lakoff adds to this: their brains.) If you tap into those values, inform them, tweak them, focus and reflect those values back at an electorate – that's the way to win power.

In this struggle to control political reality through language, you don't dispute specific words or rebut the facts; you don't even attack your opponents' frames. What you do is assert your side's frame, making it so big, so omnipresent, so unavoidable that it's as natural as talking about the roundness of the Earth. Disputing such a fact seems counterintuitive. Even heretical.

Lakoff says that we engage frames in the simplest acts of thinking or talking. "Framing is the most ordinary everyday thing," he says. "Every word we use comes with a frame, and the conventional frames are there in your brain." Take a more political example: the word "war." In the same way that the size of an SUV resonates safety, the word "war" evokes not only battles, but also sacrifice, martial glory, and an ultimate victory. It's not simply a figurative or a poetic connection – it attaches to the way people see reality and determines how they act. Every use of the word "war" ratifies this frame.

This is why the phrase "war on terror" has been so devastatingly effective. It's so engrained that it gathers conservatives and so effective at explaining the world that people who aren't conservatives find it appealing. The phrase can be strangely soothing. Clarity oozes from it. It subtly encodes a frame in which an intangible, terror, can be targeted and conquered, partly by recycling a Cold War frame in which we waged war on another intangible, Communism. And we won! The phrase offers the promise that we can win this one, too, because it invokes a history of military victories and strength. America, after all, wins its wars.

Of course, America doesn't win all of its wars. The conservative frame depends on the martial fantasy of inevitable victory, and that is why John Kerry's criticism of the Vietnam War angered Republicans. It also depends on the rush that absolute moral victory provides, which explains why the administration was able to both attack Kerry and shore up the common sense behind the "war on terror" frame when it criticized the senator for stating that the nation's goal should be to make terrorism a nuisance.

Kerry and his team could have done a better job of asserting their own frames, but fortunately for them, Bush let the conservative one slip. Frank Luntz says that invoking the "war on terror" set up the conditions for an electoral win by Bush. "If the public sees what the president's doing as a war on terror, he wins. If they see it as a war on Iraq, Kerry wins. What is the context of what the president is doing? Define it one way, you have one outcome; define it another way, you have a different outcome."

In the frame wars, the people who do the frame work are themselves framed, shaped, buffed, and branded. Lakoff is the "professor," an instant credibility that can work to his advantage, though it's also damaging – people immediately assume that what comes out of his mouth is too hard to understand, divorced from reality, impractical. (An interview in a recent Believer magazine labeled him a "mandarin.") In person, Lakoff is actually down to earth and will answer nearly any question clearly and succinctly. His political analysis is keen, his sentences brief. ("Deep but simple," observed Glenn Smith, a Democratic political consultant who was instrumental in bringing Lakoff to Texas in 2001).

How Lakoff got into politics is an odd story that properly starts with a rainstorm in 1978. One day in class, a young female student interrupted Lakoff, who was starting to discuss the assigned reading.

"I can't do this today," she said, "I've got a metaphor problem with my boyfriend." She'd come into class late, weeping and drenched from the rain. (The rain is salient, Lakoff says, because at first they tried to pretend that her tears were raindrops.) As everyone listened, she related how her boyfriend had told her that their relationship had "hit a dead end." Puzzled, she asked her classmates for help interpreting the comment.

So professor and students listed expressions in which love is conceived as a journey. We're spinning our wheels. It's been a long bumpy road. We can't continue this way. In each case, lovers are travellers; the relationship is a vehicle; the common life goals are destinations, and the difficulties are obstacles. At the newly discovered generalization, Lakoff was ecstatic. They'd discovered a widely shared cultural conception about love.

"I don't care about your generalization," the woman said. "My boyfriend is breaking up with me. He's thinking in terms of these metaphors."

Happily, the weeping student is married now, the chair of a linguistics department somewhere in the West. Lakoff won't name her, yet everything he's written since 1978 is an attempt to make sense of her comment. How can you "think in terms of a metaphor," especially when the entire tradition of Western philosophy says you can't? According to the classical conception, a metaphor works by imagination, not logic, and it's simply a renaming when, for instance, you call an argument a "war of words." For Lakoff, metaphors are deeper. They underpin all language, all culture, and all thought, and in his books he's argued, to paraphrase William James, that it's metaphors all the way down. The statement, "argument is war," isn't just a more colorful renaming; we treat as real its consequences, for instance, that arguments have winners and losers, that shouting is tolerated, that defections, betrayals, and subterfuge are expected. And while some metaphorical underpinnings are common across cultures – for instance, the conception of the future as physically in front of us – others are culturally specific. Only in Dyirbal, an Australian aboriginal language, is there a category containing words that have something to do with women, fire, and dangerous things (the title, by the way, of Lakoff's most popular linguistics book).

As a result, the theory goes, you can uproot a group's metaphors in order to understand the conceptual framework with which they order the world. In 1994, Lakoff looked at the GOP's Contract with America and wondered if conservatives had any sort of coherent worldview. What did discouraging teen pregnancy and keeping U.S. troops from serving under U.N. command have to do with each other? Come to think of it, Lakoff thought, I can't articulate my morality clearly, and most conservatives and liberals can't either.

After looking for an underlying metaphor that would unify political positions that seemed contradictory, Lakoff hit on the metaphor of the nation as a family, a metaphor that structures the politics of conservatives and liberals, as he shows in his 1996 book, Moral Politics. Lakoff applied his theory of language and mind to political beliefs; the result is a useful pocket guide to conservative and liberal worldviews. Conservatives, he argues, believe in a family led by a strict father who protects moral dependents, punishes moral inferiors, and aims to raise independent children to fend for themselves in a dangerous world. Liberals believe in the family led by nurturing parents (or parent) who encourage children's inherent goodness so they will treat others with fairness and equality. All policies and positions shake out from these models and help predict what each side will do, according to Lakoff.

For instance, it suggests why supporting the death penalty but criticizing abortion rights aren't contradictory conservative viewpoints (a mistake that liberals often make), because the Strict Father punishes moral inferiors and protects moral dependents. And it's why there are relatively few liberal think tanks and scholarships for college students – liberals spend their money compassionately, not strategically.

It also explains Bush's accusations in the first presidential debate that Kerry sent "mixed messages" about Iraq are akin to calling him a poor father. In the strict-father mentality, a father lays down the law unwaveringly and never reflects on his authority. (It's a line that social conservatives in the sexual-abstinence movement also use to bash the pro-condom sex educators: Saying "Don't have sex, but if you're going to, use a condom" is a mixed message.) And after Bush's victory, Republicans will also continue to push the language of the "ownership society." It's a phrase that resonates with people's desire to have equity, even if they'll never own much property. It trades on the promise that government makes to citizens through social programs like Social Security, and it replaces that promise with what's more culturally desirable: the ability to work hard and be rewarded.

How can progressives respond? They have to figure out what they believe and then put words to it. "When you think you just lack words, what you really lack are ideas," Lakoff writes in Don't Think of an Elephant. "Ideas come in the form of frames. When the frames are there, the words come readily."

The frames for progressives to use to counter the "ownership society" will probably reflect how they value fairness, accountability, and opportunity. What words and images they use won't mention those values explicitly; they'll evoke them, and make them seem like the only values worth having.

One of the more thorough critiques of Lakoff that combines conservative thought with language expertise comes from Justin Busch, a computational linguist who lives in San Diego and blogs about politics at . Busch says that "Lakoff's problem, and this is one area where Frank Luntz just by virtue of his job has a real advantage, is that he doesn't see enough ordinary people and discuss these things."

To Busch, Lakoff simplifies the world the wrong way, citing the linguist's assertion that environmental progressives see the Earth as the goddess. "This is straight out of cloud cuckoo land," Busch says. "You and I know that unless he's dressing up in druid robes and going out to Stonehenge, that he doesn't really think that. The Earth is goddess is just something that he tossed off as poetic and imaginative, but it's also freaking disastrous." As Busch sees it, Lakoff doesn't offer hard evidence for his claims about what conservatives or liberals think, and he relies too much on his own stereotypes and experiences in his simplification of conservatives. Lakoff counters by saying that his books are empirically based and that more evidence for the models is on the way. If you can systematically collect and analyze the conceptual models people use to organize their experience, Lakoff argues, you also know the metaphorical resources they possess, some of which might be ignored and untapped, and which you can use to articulate ideas more effectively.

On these principles, one of Lakoff's former students, Joe Grady, and a colleague, Axel Aubrun, operate a consulting firm called Cultural Logic based in Providence, Rhode Island. In one project, they interviewed flea collar shoppers at PetSmart, asking them to explain why they put strips of toxic chemicals on their beloved pets and let them walk around inside the house. Usually people focus on the size of their pets relative to themselves and conclude that the toxic danger, like the dog, is small. But when Aubrun and Grady reframed the question, to focus on the shared environment, the shoppers‚ reasoning broke down. That difference, Aubrun and Grady figure, may help predict which pro-environment messages are likely to fail and which will succeed. Normal pollsters are interested in surface phenomena, Aubrun says. "They're interested in the weather. We're interested in the climate."

In the same way, the key to victory in the frame war is the way the ideas about frames are themselves accepted and disseminated. When Lakoff‚s ideas are framed as ways to win elections or persuade swing voters, they can be dismissed as slick marketing with an intellectual sheen. But his ideas seem most attractive – and more useful to liberals in the long run – when they're framed as a method for improving public discourse by accurately representing what most people value. What makes liberals open to Lakoff's ideas is that they believe in openness. But the same profile, drawn in terms of the family metaphor, exposes a few other liabilities about liberals. For one thing, liberals are invested in an intellectual egalitarianism that can be crippling. (Conservatives may be more content with a division of labor in which some people do the thinking and others do the shouting.) "A lot of liberals don't want to admit that they don't have all the ideas," Lakoff says. "It's a major problem. A lot of liberals think, 'Well, I don't have the words, but I have all the ideas.' The fact is, they dont."

A glance at the liberal blog Dailykos gives you some idea of the readiness of the troops that Lakoff is sending into battle. In late September, the site's main blogger, a Berkeley, California, lawyer named Markos Moulitsas posted a short review of Don't Think of an Elephant, calling it "the best book this cycle." In the thread of responses that followed, the liberal stereotypes were on parade. The moralist: "I hate pr/marketing/spinning." The feminist: "Ummm... wonder what he's got against women?" The post-feminist: "I don't want to be known as the Mommy party. We‚re the party of Solomon." The literal: "I'm not the child of the government."

As long as liberals and progressives insist that having the facts on their side is all that matters, they are doomed to impotence. The next move for the left in the frame war is to accept that it's okay to cherry-pick reality as long as it conforms to a frame that's morally acceptable. According to Lakoff, we already do it every day.

Writer Michael Erard is currently writing a book about verbal blundering

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Publishers See Bounty in Voters' Divisions
By Edward Wyatt

New York Times
November 6, 2004

Whether or not they liked the result of the presidential election, many publishers were pleased this week to see that the country remained as divided as ever.

Partisan wrangling, after all, sent liberals and conservatives to bookstores in droves over the last year, seeking out volumes that largely confirmed their views of the other side. From Unfit for Command, the antipathetic account of Senator John Kerry's service in Vietnam, to Against All Enemies, an insider's critical look at the Bush administration's buildup to war in Iraq, partisan political books led the best-seller lists for much of the year.

Books bashing Mr. Kerry are likely to disappear now, and those attacking President Bush might similarly fade away, at least for a while, as Democrats regroup. But publishing executives say they expect that books emphasizing the differences between Republicans and Democrats will remain popular for a long time.

"Good or bad, the split in America right now creates a publishing opportunity on both sides of the fence," Jack Romanos, president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster, said. "To publish for the middle of the road right now would be suicide."

In the short term, Democrats are likely to search for explanations of what went wrong in the election, and the probability is high that at least one or two Kerry campaign officials will offer an insider's view of the campaign. Bush administration officials who do not return for a second term could set off aggressive bidding wars for the right to publish their memoirs. The most coveted of those prizes would probably be Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who has not said whether he will depart.

Already, a book by George J. Tenet, former director of central intelligence, has been shopped around by Robert B. Barnett, the Washington lawyer who negotiated the publishing deal for former President Bill Clinton. Twelve publishers are expected to bid on the Tenet book beginning next week, and executives said Mr. Tenet could receive an advance of several million dollars for a book to be published in late 2005 or 2006.

In the longer term, Republicans are likely to try to promote some forward-looking books, as factions of the party vie for control of the agenda. Marji Ross, president and publisher of Regnery Publishing, is planning to put a big effort behind Winning the Future, by Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, which will lay out "a new Contract With America," Ms. Ross said. In January, Regnery will publish Men in Black by Mark Levin, an assessment of judicial activism and its effect on the courts.

Ms. Ross said that old-fashioned attack books would not disappear, however. "Any book needs to have a sense of vitality and energy," she said. "We don't want to be publishing boring policy books. We want people to feel their blood pressure rise when they read our books."

Brad Miner, executive editor of American Compass, a conservative book club that is part of Bookspan, the company that includes the Book-of-the-Month Club, said he sent an e-mail message to several publishers on Wednesday recommending that they consider books that delve into "moral issues." According to polls, a plurality of voters said Tuesday that those issues had the biggest effect on their choice for president.

Even with Mr. Bush having won a majority of the votes, however, conservatives are unlikely to think they are controlling the agenda, Mr. Miner said. "Most conservatives still will feel that the momentum of the culture is against them," he said. That is likely to mean continued demand for authors like Ann Coulter and others who seem easily to engender outrage at perceptions of liberal excess.

Liberals, meanwhile, are likely to try to figure out what happened. Already, three books that seek to explain how conservatives have secured so much real estate on the electoral map have surged in sales.

What's the Matter With Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, by Thomas Frank, ranked as high as No. 2 on the best-seller list in the days after the election. The book, published in June by Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt & Company, takes a polemical look at what Mr. Frank calls the Great Backlash, the popular revolt against what conservatives see as a liberal establishment.

Also shooting up the best-seller lists was Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, by George Lakoff, a linguist who argues that Republicans have succeeded in part by controlling the language of the debate on social issues in a way that portrays their views most favorably. The book was published in mid-September by Chelsea Green Publishing.

And gaining renewed attention was The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, published in May by Penguin Press. The book, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, United States-based journalists for The Economist magazine, analyzes the history and sociology of the conservative movement.

John Sterling, the president and publisher of Henry Holt, said the company made plans several weeks ago to have Mr. Frank of What's the Matter With Kansas? available for interviews if the Democrats lost, a factor he cited for at least some of the book's renewed popularity. Mr. Sterling also made sure there were plenty of books on hand. After shipping more than 100,000 since publication in June, Mr. Sterling said he expected 15,000 more to go out the door in the week after the election.

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Liberals Need to Start Singing from Same Page
By Allan Lummus, Special to Viewpoint
November 7, 2004

WHAT NOW FOR progressives, liberals and all those in the ABB (Anything But Bush) camp?

How do we respond to an electoral map that is red from West Virginia and Florida to Nevada and Montana?


We pinched our collective noses and voted for a B-grade version of Bill Clinton in hopes of unseating the present administration. And we lost.

What now?

It's time we do what the conservatives did after the 1964 Barry Goldwater debacle. They reassessed their message and rearticulated their policies in relation to an overarching moral vision of family.

George Lakoff, in his book Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, called it the strict family model. Everything from market theory and family policy to foreign relations and social policy is conceptualized within a single moral vision.

They did not compromise their agenda for corporate rule and social hierarchy of all kinds. They recast their agenda as a part of an appealing message of populism and democracy. Markets are democratic and governments are anti-democratic.

The rich should be rewarded for bringing wealth to the nation and the poor should be punished for dragging the nation down. The strict father will protect the family in a dangerous world.

After constructing their message, they created the infrastructure. First was the Heritage Institute, then more than 30 other conservative think tanks were formed to preach the gospel of democratic markets and totalitarian government.

They met privately with leaders from across the conservative spectrum to find ways to work together and get their various agendas promoted.

They encouraged a mass movement of people committed to ideas such as anti-abortion (recast as pro-life), gun rights (freedom to own), anti- gay rights (marriage protection) and many more.

Conservatives have been successful not because they have convinced the majority that this or that issue is "correct." They won because of a clear moral vision.

So we need to do the same: Articulate a moral vision and develop the infrastructure to make it real. We need to take our issues and rearticulate them within a common moral vision.

Our issues of women's rights, gay rights, worker rights, international peace, ethnic and religious equality are all still important and should not be compromised. But we need to communicate them within a common moral framework. Lakoff's suggestion is to use the nurturing family model.

We are strong when we take care of all our workers, our environment and our international relationships. We protect our communities from destructive corporations that undermine our environment or our economic viability. We protect the weak. We bring everyone under the tent.

The issues, the policies and the content are still there, but the common language allows them to be heard as one message. Our past successes in the civil rights movement, the women's movement, gay rights and labor activism all happened when we developed a conceptual framework that communicated a moral vision with which people could identify.

In addition to a moral vision, our past successes were built upon an infrastructure known as the movement. We have seen a reawakening of grass-roots activism.

What is needed at this time is a longer-range view (past the next election cycle) to focus on the long-term struggle. We need to remind ourselves of the old song that says "the impossible will take a little while."

Patience, movement building and moral vision are what we need right now.

Our past practices have focused on the issues because we assume the values are implicitly there and agreed upon. The problem is that people do not vote on issues. They vote their values.

So when progressives/liberals incessantly harp on this issue or that issue, many people nod and say that is nice. But all they hear is noise.

Every issue has its own conceptual language: environmentalists, feminists, child welfare advocates, peace activists, workers. All have their own conceptual frames that when they speak at once, they only produce noise to the listener.

It is like a choir that allows every section to write its own song. What may sound beautiful individually is only noise when sung all at once.

Our moral vision is the music and our issues are the lyrics. By choosing a single musical setting, we can create a powerful transformative mood that will bring the majority of the population back to our agenda.

We can all go off and add our own verses to reflect our uncompromised interests (religious and ethnic tolerance, peace, environment, women, gays, socialist).

But by accepting a common public conceptual language, by clearly projecting a progressive moral vision for a more just America, then we will have the majority of Americans singing along with us.

Copyright 2004, - Memphis, TN. All Rights Reserved.

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Sales Up for Books on U.S. Electorate
By Hillel Italie
AP National Writer
November 5, 2004

NEW YORK — President Bush's re-election disappointed many in the publishing industry, a blue-state business where liberals have long predominated, but it has boosted sales for a few anti-Bush books, notably Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas?

Published in June by Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt, Frank's analysis of why Democrats have lost their appeal in the heartland jumped high on the best seller list soon after John Kerry conceded Wednesday. By Friday night, the book had reached No. 2.

"It did occur to us that if George Bush won the presidency a lot of Democrats might be asking why it happened," said Holt publisher John Sterling. "We made sure we had plenty of stock in our warehouses the first thing after the election."

Frank's book, which now has 135,000 copies in print, notes that Kansas is a solidly Republican state despite great economic hardship in recent years and contends that people there are more worried about morality than finances and resent liberals more than they do big business. Exit polls from the 2004 race supported his theory, showing that Bush supporters cared more about moral issues than economic ones.

Other books selling well since the election include George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant, a guide for progressives that includes an introduction by former presidential candidate Howard Dean, and Lakoff's Moral Politics, a 2002 publication that also offers suggestions for how liberals can retake power.

"I think people are looking for something deeper than the strictly partisan book, whether by Al Franken on the left or Ann Coulter on the right," Sterling says. "They're looking for underlying causes. There's some serious soul-searching going on and writers who can help with that could well get a lot of attention."


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Chelsea Green Scores with Instant Book
By Judith Rosen
Publisher's Weekly, October 25, 2004

For a book that wasn't even a glint in the author's eye until mid-July, Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate (Sept. 13) by George Lakoff has turned into one big bundle of joy for Chelsea Green. The 125-page, $10 guide to the language of politics, which went from manuscript to finished trade paperback in five weeks, has become all-time fastest-selling book for the Vermont independent publisher.

The book takes its name from a favorite assignment that Lakoff, a linguist at the University of California, Berkeley, and senior fellow at the Rockridge Institute think tank, gives his students to explain how politicians frame public debate. Although many of the ideas espoused in Don't Think of an Elephant have appeared previously in Lakoff's essays and his much longer Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2002), this is his shortest, most readable, book.

Because Chelsea Green distributes its own books, it was able to alert booksellers to the crash publication and to ship orders almost immediately. "If you're nimble and have good instincts and feelers out there, it's an advantage to be small," said president and publisher Margo Baldwin.

Don't Think of an Elephant will soon have 50,000 copies in print, after three trips to press. Baldwin credits an endorsement from the political Web site the Daily Kos ( for pushing the book to #8 on Amazon just a week after its release date. E-mail blasts from the Sierra Club and left-leaning news site also helped to move books. But Baldwin said it was MoveOn's e-mail blast that encouraged progressives to download 12,000 copies of the first chapter of the book from the Web site. Of course, it didn't hurt that Lakoff mentioned the book during an appearance onPBS's Now with Bill Moyers. In recent weeks, Lakoff has appeared on Good Morning America, CNN and Fox News.

For Chelsea Green, Don't Think of an Elephant, which debuted the first week of October at #29 on the NEBA extended bestseller list and has risen to #19 on the BookSense paperback list, marks the culmination of a two-year soul-searching that involved changes in staffing, warehousing (twice) and revitalizing the list. Through September, Baldwin said, "sales were running 47% ahead of last year." The number of new titles is also up from five last year, during the company's makeover, to 15.

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