By Scott Wittkopf
On Friday [2/2], Paul Ryan made a huuuge mistake in messaging and framing – a rarity. While he’s been called out on it so much that #crumbs trended on twitter, this gaffe opens the door for progressives and Democrats to make it stick. In doing so, people’s perception (frame) of the economy could change significantly – and help win elections in November.
Most people have seen the story that went viral over the weekend. Paul Ryan tweeted the following, in support of the recently passed GOP tax scam:
“A secretary at a public high school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, said she was pleasantly surprised her pay went up $1.50 a week … she said will more than cover her Costco membership for the year.”
After blowback on twitter, Ryan deleted the tweet and replaced it with this:
@PRyan “I have heard time and again that the middle class is getting crumbs, but I’ll take it!” https://twitter.com/APBusiness/status/959132156617547776 …
In less than 24 hours, political framing and messaging expert George Lakoff tweeted this:
George Lakoff@GeorgeLakoff Paul Ryan made a MASSIVE framing mistake by accepting the frame of “crumbs.” Crumbs = powerful metaphor with many possibilities. Marie Antoinette said “Let them eat cake.” Paul Ryan and GOP say: “Let them eat crumbs.”
I’ll have more to say on this. Good job, @NancyPelosi! https://twitter.com/PRyan/status/959519794138509312 …
Here are some ideas to communicate the idea effectively, which accomplish two very important goals:
Reinforce a positive, progressive vision for a better future for everyone.
Undermine conservatively-framed ideas on economics, long supported by Ryan – thereby undermining Ryan himself.
Start by evoking the progressive core value of empathy about our government and democracy:
Our nation was founded on the idea that “we the people” are the government. In order for government “of, by, and for the people” to flourish, “we the people” must act through our government to care for others. This is inherent in the preamble of our Constitution: “We the people…in order to form a more perfect union establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…”
Empathy for each other is the key
The revolutionary idea behind our form of government was to empower all people through democracy and a system which cares for everyone, because everyone is functionally the government. Democracy and our government cannot flourish if people act only on their own self-interest through greed and personal power. Democracy and our system flourish when people act on their empathy to care for each other through our government.
Next, use metaphors to tell an easily understood story to point out the immorality of the “crumbs” frame. First, lay out the story in a way that is morally fair:
Think of our nation as a great, big family picnic. Everyone contributes something to the picnic – some bring food, others bring beverages, some bring games for the kids, some bring music, and some people bring napkins, plates, and other necessities. In order for the picnic to be a success and enjoyed by everyone, everyone partakes in everything at the picnic. Even though everyone contributed what they could, everyone enjoys themselves and its a huge success because people share and partake fairly.
Then, point out using progressive values how the “crumbs” frame is immoral:
The problem with Paul Ryan and the GOP’s picnic in this metaphor is that everyone in the family still contributes what is necessary to make the picnic a success. But in our family of 100 people, one man (since this is the conservative frame) is the only person with a seat at the table (the 1%). He gets to eat everything he wants (even gets to take home leftovers) and enjoy himself while everyone else in the family sits in the dirt waiting for him to toss off some crumbs. And he expects people to just be thankful for those crumbs (“let them eat cake”). That’s greedy, unfair, and not what one would expect from a family where people care for each other.
This is a powerful metaphor, and stories like it will keep the unfairness and un-American view of the Ryan/GOP economy ingrained in people’s minds – while getting them to focus on a better economy for everyone.
That’s how progressives make it stick, and how Paul Ryan loses.
(Commoner Call cartoon by Mark L. Taylor, 2018. Open source and free to use with link to www.thecommonercall.org )