The Post-Katrina Era
By George Lakoff
The Huffington Post
September 8, 2005
It is impossible for me, as it is for most Americans, to watch the horror and suffering from Hurricane Katrina and not feel physically sore, pained, bereft, empty, heart-broken. And angry.
Katrina will not go away soon, and she has the power to change America.
The cause was political through and through – a matter of values and principles. The progressive-liberal values are America’s values, and we need to go back to them.
The heart of progressive-liberal values is simple: empathy (caring about and for people) and responsibility (acting responsibly on that empathy). These values translate into a simple principle: Use the common wealth for the common good to better all our lives. In short, promoting the common good is the central role of government.
The right-wing conservatives now in power have the opposite values and principles. Their main value is Rely on individual discipline and initiative. The central principle: Government has no useful role. The only common good is the sum of individual goods.
It’s the difference between We’re-all-in-this-together and You’re-on-your-own-buddy.
It’s the difference between Every citizen is entitled to protection and You’re only entitled to what you can afford.
It’s the difference between connection and separation.
It is this difference in moral and political philosophy that lies behind the tragedy of Katrina.
It is a truth that needs to be told starting now – over and over. There can be no delay. The Bush administration is busy framing it in it’s own way: bad things just happen, it’s no one’s fault; the federal government did the best it could – the problem was at the state and local level; we’ll rebuild and everything will be okay; the people being shipped out will have better lives elsewhere, and jobs in WalMart! Unless the real truth is told starting now, the American people will accept it for lack of an alternative.
The Democratic response so far is playing right into Bush’s framing. By delaying a response for fear it will be called “partisan,” the Democratic leadership is allowing Bush to frame the tragedy. And once it is framed, it is hard to reframe! It is time to start now.
Democrats In Disarray
By E. J. Dionne Jr.
The Washington Post
September 27, 2005
Democrats and liberals are ecstatic that President Bush has finally faced his moment of accountability. The travails of Hurricane Katrina followed a bad summer for the president and have called into question his leadership style, competence and intense partisanship.
But Democrats are less ecstatic about . . . Democrats. Over the past several weeks, it was impossible not to run into Bush critics who would shake their heads and complain: “Yes, but where are the Democrats? Who are our leaders?
What do they have to say?”
But the party’s problems are structural and can be explained by three numbers: 21, 34 and 45. According to the network exit polls, 21 percent of the voters who cast ballots in 2004 called themselves liberal, 34 percent said they were conservative and 45 percent called themselves moderate.
Those numbers mean that liberal-leaning Democrats are far more dependent than conservatively inclined Republicans on alliances with the political center. Democrats second-guess themselves because they have to.
Consider that in 2004 Democrat John Kerry won 85 percent of the liberal vote and defeated Bush by a healthy 54 percent to 45 percent among moderates. But Bush prevailed because he won 84 percent of a conservative vote that constitutes more than a third of the electorate.
The core difficulty for Democrats is that they must solve two problems simultaneously — and solving one problem can get in the way of solving the other. Over time Democrats need to reduce the conservative advantage over liberals in the electorate, which means the party needs to take clear stands that could detach voters from their allegiance to conservatism. For some in the party this means becoming more moderate on cultural issues such as abortion. For others it means full-throated populism to attract lower-income social conservatives. Some favor a combination of the two, while still others worry that too much populism would drive away moderate voters in the upper middle class. The debate often leads to intellectual gridlock.
Comment: Politics! Well, as far as health care reform is concerned, politics have certainly resulted in intellectual gridlock (plural is deliberate).
George Lakoff is both right and wrong. Allowing the conservatives to frame the debate on health care reform has prevented the liberals from communicating the efficiency and effectiveness of national health insurance.
On the other hand, framing the debate as “promoting the common good” versus “relying on individual discipline and initiative,” will only further solidify the liberal/conservative political polarization over health care reform. This approach to the debate can only enhance the position of the conservatives because it strengthens gridlock, ensuring a perpetual impasse on reform.
The debate does need to be reframed, but in a highly credible, non-partisan manner. We need to address the leading health care concerns of most Americans, including affordability, access, higher quality, choice, reliable coverage, and simple fairness in funding health care. Although there are many models of reform, only national health insurance can guarantee all of these. (The very few other models that might come close lose out on affordability.) These are not partisan issues. All Americans agree on them.
This reframing of the debate is not a concession to moderates. Liberals will still be promoting the common good, but they can do that better by publicly supporting these issues, rather than by shoving “Health Care is a Right!” placards into the faces of the conservatives.
There is evidence that this approach is already having a positive effect. A survey by The Pew Research Center demonstrated that 65% of Americans “favor a government guarantee of health insurance for all Americans, even if it means raising taxes.” This includes 59% of Republicans who are social conservatives and 63% of Republicans who are pro-government conservatives. Only Republican enterprisers remain opposed.
We need to reframe, but not as a Red versus Blue debate. Let’s have an all Purple debate, and we can do that without any compromise in the principles of the Blue, albeit without the support of a minority sector of the Red. That sector is hopeless anyway.
The Pew Research Center report, “Beyond Red vs. Blue”: