Lakoff: Sarah Palin Is a Master at Framing

George Lakoff weighs in with an assessment of what Sarah Palin can do for the McCain candidacy:

The initial response has been to try to keep the focus on external realities, the "issues," and differences on the issues. But the Palin nomination is not basically about external realities and what Democrats call "issues," but about the symbolic mechanisms of the political mind -- the worldviews, frames, metaphors, cultural narratives, and stereotypes. The Republicans can't win on realities. Her job is to speak the language of conservatism, activate the conservative view of the world, and use the advantages that conservatives have in dominating political discourse....

...Palin is the mom in the strict father family, upholding conservative values. Palin is tough: she shoots, skins, and eats caribou. She is disciplined: raising five kids with a major career. She lives her values: she has a Downs-syndrome baby that she refused to abort. She has the image of the ideal conservative mom: pretty, perky, feminine, Bible-toting, and fitting into the ideal conservative family. And she fits the stereotype of America as small-town America. It is Reagan's morning-in-America image. Where Obama thought of capturing the West, she is running for Sweetheart of the West.

And Palin, a member of Feminism for Life, is at the heart of the conservative feminist movement, which Ronee Schreiber has written about in her recent book, Righting Feminism. It is a powerful and growing movement that Democrats have barely paid attention to.

At the same time, Palin is masterful at the Republican game of taking the Democrats' language and reframing it -- putting conservative frames to progressive words: Reform, prosperity, peace. She is also masterful at using the progressive narratives: she's from the working class, working her way up from hockey mom and the PTA to mayor, governor, and VP candidate. Her husband is a union member. She can say to the conservative populists that she is one of them -- all the things that Obama and Biden have been saying. Bottom-up, not top-down.


I tend to agree with Lakoff's conclusion but with one caveat: If let alone by the media, Palin would be free to cast her rhetorical spell on working class Americans. But as David Gergen observed over the weekend, the way she was chosen by McCain along with the media frenzy over her experience has suddenly made this election about Palin and McCain's judgment rather than about Obama's "celebrity" and his readiness to lead.

If and when the media tsunami over Palin subsides--which could start to happen if she puts in a strong performance this evening--then look for Palin to start to work her message magic on the Republican base and working class swing voters.

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