Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Tonight's State of the Union

First of all, I want total credit for not doing some stupid and cliched and hackneyed play on words to describe tonight's speech. If I see one more "State of DisUnion" or "Distaste of the Union" or whatever, I am going to kick the aqua-netted, helmet-haired TV anchor right in the teeth.

So. Onto the business at hand. Tonight's speech. I'm swallowing maalox as we speak in preparation. Wonkette has a great SOU drinking game that you should check out, that calls for drinking each time Freedom is mentioned. I want to propose a more detailed analysis of the speech based on the book "Don't Think of an Elephant!" by George Lakoff.

Lakoff discusses "framing" as a concept, by which all humans process information. He posits that the Republicans have done a fantastic job of framing issues in terms that force Dems to either support or look immoral or stupid. His point is that Dems try to argue facts while 'Pubs argue frames, and whenever facts battle with frames, frames win.

Take a look at these two general examples by the

EXAMPLE #1: "It's not just minority children who suffer from these problems but other children as well."

What's Wrong With This Framing?: You have first conjured up the image of minority children, then you come behind it with the far less vivid notion that it's also about "other" children, an "add on" that cannot compete with the first statement. Remember: once the audience has identified the story you are telling them (it's about minority kids), they stop processing information.

Reframe: (Assuming this is a widespread problem we are addressing, like children's oral health) Many children suffer from these problems: kids in neighborhoods like your own, kids in middle class and poor neighborhoods. Minority children are most likely to suffer from these problems.

EXAMPLE #2: Even though our state ranks 49th in the country, we still have some wonderful progress to share with you on several key indicators of child well-being.

What's Wrong With This Framing?: When you lead with a vivid image like ranking low on a ruler, the emotion evoked is likely to be a sense of hopelessness. You have conveyed "Big Problems" to the listener, and then you come in with "Small Progress."

Reframe: We are making some significant progress on a number of children's issues in this state. And that progress should inspire us to tackle more problems, and to bring solutions to scale in this state. We need to think of our state as the Little Engine that Could, and apply some determination to the problems children face.

Tonight I will be watching the speech with a view to spotting the Rovian Framework going on in every sentence. I guarantee you that the President will not say, "I know things haven't gone great in Iraq, but...." He will start with "democracy is on the march in formerly totalitarian areas...blah blah...; we know there are challenges to be met, difficulties to be faced...blah blah." The 'Pubs have been so good at framing their arguments, that by the time they get around to saying, "...oh, and wmd's weren't actually found" no one is listening; they have already processed the pieces of information that Rove wanted them to process and internalize: "freedom, democracy, spreading liberty...."

Watch for it. Drink every time you identify it. Call work and let them know you'll be sleeping in tomorrow with a raging hangover.

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