(Editor’s Note: This is a fascinating column in that it shows the radical libertarian right is rattled that progressives are finally beginning to grasp the importance of linguistic framing. They are rattled because they have been using it for 40 years to devastating effect. There is an emotional difference between “regulation” and “protection”. The first is propaganda and the second, in the terms of the impact on daily life, is the truth. – Mark L. Taylor)
By Ronald Bailey
“Trump signs order at the EPA to dismantle environmental protections,” declares a March 28 headline in The Washington Post. An April 27 article in the Post described an “effort to remove environmental protections.” Two days later, another Post article stated that Trump’s term in office has “already seen multiple rollbacks of environmental protections.”
The Post isn’t the only publication pushing such language. Here’s The New York Times: “President Trump’s unfortunate and misguided rollback of environmental protections has led to a depressing and widespread belief that the United States can no longer meet its commitment under the Paris climate change agreement.” Here’s The Huffington Post: “Environmental Protections Save Lives, Create Jobs And Strengthen The Economy.” Here’s The New Yorker: “It’s clear that we’re about to witness the steady demolition, or attempted demolition, of the environmental protections that have been put in place over the past five decades.”
Aristotle defined rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” And one of the chief paths of persuasion, he argued, comes “when the speech stirs their emotions.”
In each of those instances, the words “environmental protections” could easily have been replaced by “environmental regulations.” I’m speaking anecdotally here, but in recent months both mainstream and activist media have seemed to use “environmental protections” more often and “environmental regulations” less.
As I puzzled over this apparent shift in terminology, my mind naturally turned to the retired Berkeley linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff. Lakoff has spent years thinking about how political progressives could become more persuasive with the public. To achieve that, he wants progressives to engage in what he calls “honest reframing.” “Reframing is telling the truth as we see it—telling it forcefully, straightforwardly, articulately, with moral conviction and without hesitation,” he writes.
Lakoff believes that conservatives have been masterful at rhetoric, ah, framing. He cites the phrase “tax relief,” which implies that taxes are an affliction and the politicians who favor it are heroes. People on the left, he argues, need to reframe progressive taxation as requiring “those who benefit most should pay their fair share.”
So I was not surprised to discover that in January Lakoff wrote a short essay titled “The Public’s Viewpoint: Regulations Are Protections.” …
Here’s Some Real Success!
By George Lakoff
Normally I would never post a link to a story in Reason, a right-wing magazine. But I consider this particular story a tribute to the power of your voices and your actions.
The writer of this piece is upset that we are reframing regulations as protections. He’s upset because he even sees regulations being framed as protections in the pages of the newspapers.
He attributes this to the work we have done to raise awareness among journalists, elected officials, and our fellow citizens that, from the Public viewpoint, regulations are protections. And most regulations come into existence to protect the public from harm by irresponsible or unscrupulous corporations.
Specifically, the author references an essay I posted in January — aptly titled “Regulations Are Protections.” He does a great job of repeating all of our arguments in an effort to negate them. In other words, he’s saying: Don’t think of protections!
Please read the piece, then come back and leave a comment on Facebook or Twitter. I want to know what other ideas you think need reframing from the Public viewpoint. We have lots of important work to do!
Thank you for reading.
The American Majority got 2.8 million more votes in the 2016 election than the Loser President. That puts the majority in a position to change American political discourse and how Americans understand and think about politics. As a start, what is needed is a change of viewpoint.
Here is a typical example. Minority President Trump has said that he intends to get rid of 75% of government regulations. What is a “regulation”?
The term “regulation” is framed from the viewpoint of corporations and other businesses. From their viewpoint, “regulations” are limitations on their freedom to do whatever they want no matter who it harms. But from the public’s viewpoint, a regulation is a protection against harm done by unscrupulous corporations seeking to maximize profit at the cost of harm to the public.
Imagine reporters finding out and reporting all over America exactly what protections would be removed. Imagine Republican officials, and media in their districts (including social media) swamped with calls, letters, emails, and tweets from voters protesting the removal of such protections, day after day.
Imagine our minority President saying out loud that he intends to get rid of 75% of public protections. Imagine the press reporting that. Imagine the NY Times, or even the USA Today headline: Trump to Eliminate 75% of Public Protections. Imagine the media listing, day after day, the protections to be eliminated and the harms to be faced by the public.
Congressional Republicans called for immediate elimination of regulations from the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Security and Exchange Commission. What would be eliminated? Protections against cancerous poisons in foods, drugs untested for their safety, unsafe drinking water, air pollutants that get into your lungs and can’t get out, fraudulent stack sales, unscrupulous mortgages. That is what our president and Congress are proposing, hiding it behind the word “regulations.” Words have meanings with real effects.
Imagine reporters finding out and reporting all over America exactly what protections would be removed. Imagine Republican officials, and media in their districts (including social media) swamped with calls, letters, emails, and tweets from voters protesting the removal of such protections, day after day. That is only one example of shifting the frame — the word and the meaning of the word — to a public viewpoint.
When you hear Regulations are Protections for the Public, think of the details and the consequences. Go beyond the words. Act positively.
A technique for learning how to think and what to say is taking the Public’s Viewpoint on every issue. Practice. What would increase the public’s wellbeing?
- Take the Public’s viewpoint instead of the corporate viewpoint.
- Shift the frame: always say “protections” instead of “regulations.” “Protections” is a more simple and accurate description.
- Remember that “regulations” represent the corporate viewpoint. It is not a neutral term, and it does not represent the public viewpoint.
For More Guidance On Effective Political Framing & Communication Subscribe To George Lakoff’s Blog HERE.
Locally, Check Out Scott Wittkopf at Frame for The Future, HERE.