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Old, but not outdated: George Lakoff on Centrism

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BrklynLiberal Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-11-10 11:58 AM
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Old, but not outdated: George Lakoff on Centrism
Edited on Wed Aug-11-10 12:01 PM by BrklynLiberal
from 2007

No Center, No Centrists

"Centrism" is the creation of an inaccurate self-serving metaphor, and it is time to bury it.

There is no left to right linear spectrum in the American political life. There are two systems of values and modes of thought -- call them progressive and conservative (or nurturant and strict, as I have). There are total progressives, who use a progressive mode of thought on all issues. And total conservatives. And there are lots of folks who are what I've called "biconceptuals": progressive on certain issue areas and conservative on others. But they don't form a linear scale. They are all over the place: progressive on domestic policy, conservative on foreign policy; conservative on economic policy, progressive on foreign policy and social issues; conservative on religion, but progressive on social issues and foreign policy; and on and on. No linear scale. No single set of values defining a "center." Indeed many of such folks are not moderate in their views; they can be quite passionate about both their progressive and conservative views.

Barack Obama has it right: Get rid of the very idea of the right and the left and the center. American ideas are fundamentally progressive ideas -- the ideas this country was founded on and that carry forth that spirit. Progressives care about people and the earth, and act with responsibility and strength on that care.

The progressive view of government is simple. Progressive government has two aspects: protection and empowerment. Protection is far more than the military, police, and fire departments. It includes consumer protection, worker protection, environmental protection, public health, food and drug safety; social security, and other safety nets. It also includes protection from the government itself, and hence a balance of powers, openness, fundamental rights, and so on.


The very idea that there is a "center" marginalizes progressives, and sees them as extremists, when they simply share fundamental American values. The term "center" suggests there is a "mainstream" where most people are and that there is a single set of views held by that mainstream. That is false.

The fallacy matters in terms of Democratic electoral strategy. The Democratic base consists of people who are mostly or totally progressive, just as the Republican base consists of people who are mostly or totally conservative. How does the Democratic Party as a whole, and how do Democratic candidates in particular, speak to those who are biconceptual?

I am a cognitive scientist and believe that people's brains play a significant role in elections. From the perspective of brain science, the answer is a no-brainer. (Sorry, I couldn't resist!) You speak to biconceptuals the same way you speak to your base: you discuss progressive values, and if you are talking to folks with both progressive and conservative values, you mainly talk about the issues where they share progressive values. What that does is evoke and strengthen the progressive values already there in the minds of biconceptuals.

And of course, you don't negate or argue against the other on their framing turf -- remember Don't Think of an Elephant!

That was the winning strategy of Sherrod Brown in Ohio. Brown is a thoroughgoing progressive who never moved one inch to the right. He talked about the issues where he agreed with his Ohio audiences -- and legitimately spoke for them.


The losing strategy is to move to the right, to assume with Republicans that American values are mainly conservative and that the Democratic party has to move away from its base and adopt conservative values. When you do that, you help activate conservative values in people's brains (thus helping the other side), you offend your base (thus hurting yourself), and you give the impression that you are expressing no consistent set of values, which is true! Why should the American people trust somebody who does not have clear values, and who may be trying to deceive them about the values he and his party's base hold?


The reason the DLC has been attacking progressives, Smith argues, is that DLC members have major conservative values and are threatened by the progressive base.** Some of those values are financial: Wall Street, the HMOs and drug companies, agribusiness, developers, the oil companies, and international corporations that benefit from trade agreements, outsourcing, cheap labor abroad, and practices that harm indigenous populations but bring profits. A powerful motivation for the party has been that, if they take such positions, they, like the Republicans, can get big money contributions from Wall Street.


It is important to stand up to the DLC, and to the idea that there is a unitary mainstream center, that they are it, and that progressives are extremists and deserve to be marginalized.
the parts I skipped are worth reading..

I remember conservative David Frum saying: "Republicans fear their base and the Democrats hate theirs."

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OHdem10 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-11-10 01:18 PM
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1. It seems they are well on the way to marginalizing Progressives.
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