As a "student" of George Lakoff's writings I was astonished by an e-mail from the Rockridge Institute today. It said:
Today from a prominent blogger at Pensito Review: The Secret of Obama's Success and Why He'll Keep Winning-He Listens to George Lakoff.
There you have it folks. Now that the secret is out, what will happen next? Oh, and for those of us whose candidates are out of the running now, it is surely related to their failure to follow Lakoff as closely as Obama. Come look below the fold and jet us explore this further.
She says it like this:
Had my guy, John Edwards, followed their advice and like Obama, gone lighter on the policies and heavier on the values, he might be where Obama is today. Dennis Kucinich would have won a primary or two. John Kerry might be president now. Al Gore would not have needed the Supreme Court in 2000.
In an earlier diaryAre we really dumb?...with an update I suggested that there is a relationship between Susan Jacoby's analysis of anti-intelectualism in our country and Lakoff's ideas about framing issues. This blogger, Trish, seems to be on the same wavelength. She says:
Are Lakoff and Rockridge saying that personality matters more than positions? Pretty much. Because if you don’t have the right kind of the former, you will never get to act on the latter.
Issues are secondary—not irrelevant or unimportant, but secondary. A position on issues should follow from one’s values, and the choice of issues and policies should symbolize those values.
One misunderstanding, common among progressive circles, is that the Reagan and George W. Bush elections were about "personality" rather than anything substantive. Nothing is more substantive than a candidate’s moral worldview—and whether he or she authentically abides by it.
The magic word worldview appears and rightly so. My previous diaries on worldviews link people's attitudes towards science, religion, and politics to the way they deal with causal entailment in their world. I expand on Lakoff's distinction between "direct cause" and "systemic cause" in the context of a deeper study of causality by Robert Rosen. In a nutshell, it is a matter of how you choose to explain events in the world. Direct cause is a model that links every happening to a single causal agent. Reductionist science, religion, and a lot of political rhetoric fit into a worldview that relies on direct cause to explain what we observe happening. The other extreme, what Lakoff calls systemic cause and I have elaborated as "complex cause", deals with a worldview that recognizes that the "one size fits all" model using direct cause is a construct that has no realization in complex reality. Instead, causality is a system of interrelated events and more often than not, these causal networks involve closed loops of causality.
After having had you read that, it is not hard to for me to make a case that the direct causal surrogate is going to be more popular. Who cares if it gives a somewhat false picture? Yet, judging from the responses to the polls I included in those worldview diaries, progressives often are more comfortable with complex models and incomplete information. The issue Lakoff addresses is the simple fact that these complex ideas turn voters off. Why? Susan Jacoby explains it by focusing on a lack of knowledge and further, an actual pride in that lack. I don't know about you, but for me this really is a disquieting idea at best. If we are going to win elections by promoting a view of the world that wipes away its complexity, how will we ever solve the problem of the core anti-intellectual nature of our population? How can we hope to lead our nation towards a respect for learning and thinking with an approach that reduces everything to sound bites? Isn't this just a fancy way of saying what Senators Clinton and McCain are using to criticise obama? The blogger says:
Those calling for more steak and less sizzle from Obama should give it up. The senator’s instincts are perfect, and there’s only one thing better than perfection: hope.
Well, maybe so, but once the bed is made one has to sleep in it. Why do I get a creepy feeling when I see anyone suggest that Bush has done it the correct way? Maybe it is merely a reason why academics should stay away from the nitty-gritty aspects of politics. My world view is one in which complex problems are everywhere and for those complex problems to be dealt with rationally and effectively, sound bite strategies are going to fail big time. I'll leave it for you to judge whether or not Obama's success rests on his ability to follow Lakoff's advice. I really hope there is more to it than that.