« Will GOP Moderates Look Left? | Main | ISO White Catholics »

'Frames,' 'Messaging' Overhyped?

An article in the May issue of Atlantic Monthly, "It Isn't the Message, Stupid" by Joshua Green takes a sobering look at the popularity of the 'frames' buzz in Democratic circles. Subtitled "A new kind of guru is convincing Democrats that they don't need new ideas after all—a snazzy new sales pitch will revive their fortunes," Green's article cautions Democrats from making George Lakoff's book, "Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate" the last word in formulating political strategy. Says Green:

Cognitive linguistics may not rate with Iraq, terrorism, and health care in surveys of voters' concerns (it doesn't rate at all, actually), but it has achieved that status among a surprising number of Democratic leaders. Lakoff has twice addressed the caucus on how to frame its policies, and his book is a surprise best seller in Washington; it has become as much a partisan totem as the lapel-pin flags worn by Republicans. Lakoff and a handful of other self-appointed gurus have raised tactical phrasing to something approaching a religion.

Green points out that Lakoff's champions include DNC chairman Howard Dean and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. But he warns that Lakoff and other 'messaging' gurus may be leading Dems down a dead end road. "Buzzwords are not going to rescue a failing party," says Green.

Green's sour take on Lakoff's 'frames' seems a little overdone. Lakoff's book does provide a useful guide to understanding how GOP strategists manipulate language to achieve political goals, and he has encouraged Democrats to frame their arguments more thoughtfully. But Green's point that language is no substitute for substance is well made.