Framing Democratic Disillusionment

The Republican Party suffered a significant defeat in the November, 2008 elections.  Democrats picked up eight seats in the Senate, twenty-one seats in the House, and of course, won the White House with a 365 to 173 electoral vote margin. This rejection of Republican ideology should have created some type of re-evaluation of the policies that brought us tax cuts that disproportionately benefitted those making over $311,000 per year and those with significant investment earnings; the war in Iraq that was sold to the nation with false information; the transformation of a criminal act into a political War on Terror that opened the door for mistreatment , even torture, of foreign detainees;  new capabilities to spy on American citizens; and economic policy that failed to address the housing bubble, subprime mortgage lending, and the crisis caused by a collateral debt obligation market. This re-evaluation has not taken place and instead the GOP has gone on the attack with psychological and semantic techniques designed to devalue progressive initiatives.

The main technique is called framing. This is the use of language that spins a given phrase in an intended direction. An example of framing is the way that the Bush White House referred to tax relief, which led us to believe that taxes were only an affliction that needed to be relieved instead of a necessary sharing of the costs and benefits of a society. Masters at framing include the GOP’s Grover Norquist and Frank Luntz.

We’ve seen the health care reform proposals get derailed by framing that led many to believe that measures aimed at giving all Americans access to health care when they need it was in reality a socialist technique to control us. A memo surfaced from Frank Luntz regarding healthcare reform.  He suggested that opponents use “one size does not fit all” as a catch-phrase, focus on waste, fraud and abuse in government, and use references to “politicians,” “bureaucrats,” and “Washington” avoiding words like competition and free market. These suggestions had great resonance with some grass roots groups who didn’t understand they were objecting to a characterization created by a consultant rather than the actual situation at hand.

Many believe that there is no consensus among climate scientists that global warming is the result of our carbon emissions even though respected scientific groups and numerous studies support the theory. The argument has been framed as nature’s cycles, as Al Gore’s deception, as a way to pick the consumer’s pockets. The reframing from the left is that it’s a stewardship, children’s future kind of thing. The debate continues.

The current effort to derail the President’s efforts is the portrayal of dissatisfaction among his supporters. Some dissatisfaction certainly exists as the hope was that the President would more actively address important issues like trade, punish those responsible for leading us down the dark path of torture and secret prisons, and to remove American soldiers from harm’s way. But we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be convinced that nothing good has happened or that the President is acting in any way other than as a pragmatic politician.

There is actually a significant record of accomplishment. First and foremost is the economy’s turnaround from a deep recession thanks to the ARRA bill and other measures that left investors confident in the financial system. The drop in employment this past year was less than in 2008. The 4,000 point loss in the Dow index in 2008 was followed by a 2,000 point gain in 2009. The approach to Afghanistan is much more than just a surge, it’s a move toward establishing security for the Afghans in the countryside, accompanied by more money for training and development, a stronger emphasis on coordinating with Pakistan, and the clearly signaled intent to leave Afghanistan to the Afghans within the next few years. On other fronts, mortgage relief and credit card regulation were addressed, the SCHIP program was renewed and expanded, the administration passed a bill to reduce the number of no-bid defense contracts  and cost overruns, acted to improve public lands management with the largest improvement in public lands management in 25 years, and passed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

Policy-wise, there has been a focused effort by Senate and House Republicans to obstruct all progressive legislation. This can be characterized by Senator Jim DeMint’s vow to make healthcare reform “Obama’s Waterloo.” The response to 2008’s political shift was not to return to conservative ideals and values and convince us of their value, but rather to discredit anything done by the Democratic opposition. It’s the American people who lose in this kind of political theater. We elect politicians and not saints, but we need to expect them to follow ideals, respect truth, and serve the nation first.


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