Monday, July 07, 2008

Self flattery on the left

Folks on the American left really like George Lakoff, a linguist at Berkely who has created a franchise for himself in arguing that liberals don't have to change to win national elections. They just need to talk differently. This has been a theme among self-styled progressives since Reagan beat Carter. To put it as Lakoff might if he didn't believe it to be true, this view minimizes cognitive dissonance and validates those who hold it.

Not surprisingly, Lakoff joins the growing crowd on the left who are unhappy with Obama's move to the right. He has a theory that "progressive" and "conservative" modes of thinking and discourse "inhibit" or crowd each other out. Thus, moving to the center is bad because it makes people less likely to accept solutions from the left. The point, he thinks, is not to change what you say about policy, but to say it in a way that comports with values people like.

The problem with all of this is that he sees it in a way that is distorted by his own policy preferences. Here is how he describes conservatives who he think can be lured to the left:

Interestingly, many people who call themselves "conservatives" actually think like progressives on a range of issue areas. For example, many "conservatives" love the land as much as any environmentalist; want to live in communities where people care about each other, that is, have social not just individual responsibility; live progressive business principles of honesty, care for their employees, and care for the public; and have progressive religious values: helping the poor, caring for the sick, being good stewards of the God's creation, turning the other cheek.

I have some news for Lakoff. I can tell him precisely how many conservatives think this way.

Every one. All of them.

It is precisely because they think this way that they reject "progressive" policies. They don't think that they accomplish these things.

Of course, conservatives and liberals place different weight on certain values and may define them a bit differently, but the idea that we can dismiss the views of those we disagree with as stupid or immoral is lazy and wrong.

No comments: