Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision

Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision


The front page of the New York Times website
Two years ago George Lakoff published the bestselling Don’t Think of an Elephant! Its account of the conservative monopoly on effective framing touched off a national discussion about political language. It also gave rise to a chorus of pleas for more:* What is the progressive vision of America; * Why progressive values are America’s values; * How frames are necessary to serve the truth; * Why sloganeering alone doesn’t work; * How progressives trap themselves and how they can escape those tr…

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The front page of the New York Times website(r/SandersForPresident)

Eckkkkk. If you’ve done any research on framing (see various books by George Lakoff, for example), you can see how carefully constructed this whole article is. Make no mistake that they chose every word carefully to give the reader a particular impression of Sen. Sanders: that he was a radical, unreliable crazy person, and now a bumbling old fool, and has no chance of winning, but that his heart is in the right place (you don’t want to make him seem TOO crazy or else Hillary will look bad in associating with him.)

I wouldn’t be surprised if the following themes were written down either by or for the author with the intention of scooping out every quote, every phrasing that could be twisted to support them. Play “Where’s Waldo” and see if you can spot them in other articles and news stories by pro-Hillary corporate media.

Theme: Bernie Sanders is a radical/confrontational/polarizing.

  • “help plan the upending of the old social order”
  • “the belief that the United States was starkly divided into two groups”
  • “a revolutionary”
  • “an alternative, authority-challenging newspaper”
  • “an apocalyptically alarmist account of the unbearable horror of having an office job”
  • “is meant to be satirically provocative but comes across as crassly sexist”
  • “[his] underlying point, expressed less feverishly further down”
  • “[he] ‘kind of berated me’ “
  • “it kind of escalated”
  • “he interviewed a ‘labor agitator’ “
  • “he declared that the United States was virtually going to hell in a handcart” – and the list of topics he covered, including selected quotes to make him sound especially radical
  • a newsletter was “focused on the issues that were consuming him”

Theme: Bernie Sanders is bad with money, unreliable, and a deadbeat.

  • “he wrote for The Vermont Freeman, […] published for a few years back then”
  • “Chalk some of this up to being young and unemployed.”
  • “Short on money but long on ideas, he found employment where he could, supporting himself through odd jobs like carpentry work.”
  • ““Freelance journalist” has always been on the list of things he did [… b]ut the description is a bit of a stretch.”
  • “his journalistic output, such as it was”
  • “his small apartment […] ‘was subsistence living.’ “
  • “[an acquaintance] had spent a year in prison on a marijuana charge.”
  • “ ‘We were broke, they were broke, everybody was broke.’ “
  • ” ‘If we had a little money, we’d try to pay something.’ “
  • “[he] contributed pieces only sporadically”
  • “selling [videos he made] door-to-door to schools”
  • “They worked on a shoestring out of Mr. Sanders’s house”
  • “an occasional newsletter”

Theme: Bernie Sanders is a laughable fool and people don’t take him seriously.

  • “[he] wrote, in all apparent seriousness”
  • “they believed that change was coming and that they had found the right place for a revolution” (the implication being that it wasn’t and they hadn’t)
  • “Another essay mocked what [he] felt to be the soul-destroying nature of conventional education.”
  • “a kitchen-table fulminator, not […] a writer”
  • “the paper […] had humble production values”
  • “a place for like-minded leftists to opine in outraged tones”
  • ” ‘Pay? You gotta be kidding — I don’t recall ever getting paid’ “
  • he “put together the whole [newsletter] himself”

Theme: Bernie Sanders is sexist.

  • “is meant to be satirically provocative but comes across as crassly sexist”
  • ” ‘Sexual adjustment seemed to be very poor in those with cancer of the cervix,’ he wrote”

Theme: Bernie Sanders is anti-science.

  • “he cited studies claiming that cancer could be caused by psychological factors such as unresolved hostility toward one’s mother, a tendency to bury aggression beneath a ‘facade of pleasantness’ and having too few orgasms.”
  • “quoting a study in a journal called Psychosomatic Medicine”

Theme: Bernie Sanders cannot win/doesn’t care about winning.

  • “before he began running for statewide office, futilely”
  • his hero was a “labor organizer who ran unsuccessfully for president five times”
  • he “had run, and lost, various statewide races”
  • “he lost both races by very wide margins”
  • “we were thinking that the important thing in politics was to educate people […] rather than to get elected”

Theme: His heart/message is in the right place, though.

  • “long evolution from outraged outsider to mainstream man in a suit”
  • “true to his original message: sympathy for the downtrodden, the impoverished and the disenfranchised in the face of the rich and the powerful”
  • “he was unimportant and it was all about the movement”
  • “everything was about ideas to make the world better, both in real life and in The Movement”

The only way to refute ideas like this, btw, is to refuse to confront them directly. If you argue, “No, he’s not radical!”, it reinforces the negative frame in people’s minds. Instead focus on reframing and restating the issue according to your own frames:

  1. Bernie Sanders represents the feelings of the majority of the American people. (He also garners incredible bipartisan support.)

  2. Bernie Sanders has a long record of being consistent, honest, and trustworthy.

  3. Bernie Sanders has excellent debate skills and tells the truth, not political bullshit.

  4. Bernie Sanders has the best track record for women’s rights.

  5. Bernie Sanders is the only politician speaking out against global warming.

  6. Bernie Sanders is in it to win it, and he’s shocked people time and again with his incredible popular support.

  7. And, yeah…his heart is definitely in the right place.

For more on framing!! I guarantee you Hillary’s people have read every one of these, and I don’t begrudge them that. She is a fellow liberal, after all. But we can read them too, and do even better!


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George Lakoff

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision

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The front page of the New York Times website

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