Words are strong. Especially in today’s advanced information technology era, they are stronger than ever. That being said, derogatory terms and also perceptively derogatory terms are capable of inflicting defensive reactions on the part of the recipients. For example, the word ignorant essentially means not being aware of but the latter seems much weaker and more acceptable than the former in western cultures. So choose your words wisely when trying to convey a message! In the world of politics, as well as in social science, the choice of words to describe a person, a group of people, an idea, or an object is referred to as framing.
George Lakoff wrote a fantastic article on Foreign Policy magazine on one particular framing: the low-informed voters (LIV), used by Liberals to describe low-income Conservatives who vote for the Republican Party, which, Liberals claim, advocates for policies that hurt low-income people regardless of their political or philosophical background but because they are “low-informed” they would keep voting for the wrong party for the right reasons.
According to George Lakoff, this kind of framing hurts Liberals in their efforts of making their point to the low-income Conservatives on the grounds that it insults Conservatives, instead of aiming at educating them.
His answer to addressing the issue of insulting “LIVs” can be found in one sentence in that article: “All political parties should aim to communicate facts, but to do so successfully they have to take into account voters’ moral systems that constrain party values.”
By and large, political parties’ messages tend to resemble commercials. For example, a Coca-Cola commercial would not discuss why Pepsi drinkers prefer Pepsi and vice versa – a Pepsi commercial would not discuss why Coca-Cola drinkers prefer Coca-Cola.
Likewise – a Liberal defines abortion as the right of the woman to choose (the framing pro-choice), while a Conservative defines it as the right of the fetus to develop, get born and given the chance to live as a human being (the framing pro-life). Both ideologues disregard the other side’s claims or agree to disagree at best. Such approach instills divisiveness and defensiveness between Conservatives and Liberals because they view the other side’s argument as one that has negative connotations on them.
Take another example: taxes, the economy and the government’s role in our life. Conservatives frame progressive taxation and most regulations as “punishment of success,” while Liberals frame no progressive taxation and more deregulation as “the 1 percent against the 99 percent,” among others. As in the abortion example, while both sides of the argument have merits, neither side addresses the other side’s concerns or aims at attaining the other side’s values.
American Enterprise Institute (AEI) President and CEO Arthur Brooks’ latest book – “The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise” – is to a certain extent aimed at addressing Liberals’ concerns. The book is somewhat persuasive, especially Mr. Brooks’ discussion of the role of the government, how to reform Medicare and Medicaid and how to help the poor. I have also noticed that AEI’s articles are noticeably more appealing to Liberals than, say, listening to Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Mark Levine, or other conservative talk radio hosts.
The bottom line is: In an effort to convey your message, being aggressive is not necessarily the best option. Get acquainted with the other side’s arguments and if they are right, explain why your arguments are better. Just because they are right does not make them better than your arguments. Or if some of the other side’s arguments are better than your arguments, make them part of your message. Otherwise, you appear to be no different than another partisan politician with predictable rhetoric.