Thursday, September 2, 2010

George Lakoff: Democrats Need Clearly Articulated Moral Vision and Moral Principles

George Lakoff provides a powerful counterpoint to Drew Westen's article about the failure of the Obama administration to develop a coherent narrative centered on principles to ground its approach to governance, about which I blogged yesterday.  As Lakoff notes, politics is always about moral vision, moral principles, and a moral approach to life in community.

And the huge mistake that the Obama administration has made is its choice, from the outset of the administration, to govern by the New Democrat playbook of the 1990s with its eschewal of clearly articulated moral principles and a clear moral vision.  With its eschewal of morality for cool, adaptive pragmatism that invariably tacks right when any moral challenge comes its way from those on the right.

As Lakoff notes, what excited many voters in the last election and caused us to choose Mr. Obama as our candidate was his stress on values rooted in moral vision.  And yet:

We haven't heard that kind of moral leadership since the inauguration. Americans are longing for it. And those moral values really do motivate every kitchen table policy!

It is morality, not just the right policy, that excites voters, that moves them to action -- that creates movements. Legislative action must come from a moral center, with moral language repeated over and over.

As a result, large numbers of voters who were strongly in support of the new administration are demoralized and lacking in energy now.  We feel that our votes have been taken for granted, and we are uncertain of the commitment of this administration to the moral principles that led us to vote it into office.  We are uncertain about the fundamental vision that drives the agenda of the administration and frames its choices.

Lakoff notes that the costly mistake that New Democrats continue to make is the mistake of conceding moral vision and moral principles to those on the right, who are thereby allowed to frame the agenda of the entire nation--even when they represent a minority of citizens.  Here's his concluding advice for the administration and the Democratic party:

Finally, Democrats need a truly effective communication system. They need unified, morally-based framing of issues. They need to train spokespeople all over the country in using such framing and avoiding mistakes. They need to organize those spokespeople. And they need to book them, as conservatives do, on radio, TV, in civic and religious groups, in schools and universities. This is doable, but this late, it will take resolve from the top.

Winning this election will require the right policies and actions, but it will also require moral leadership with honest, morally-based messaging and a communications that will not just blog and knock on doors, but will be there in the districts with the crucial swing-thinkers 24/7 day and night.

The Democrats cannot take their base for granted. Only moral leadership backed by actions and communicated effectively can excite the Obama base once more. Without that excitement, the Democrats will lose big.

People like George Lakoff and Drew Westen have been making these valuable points from the inception of the new administration.  Sadly, it appears no one in the White House is listening.

And as I keep noting, we are all going to pay a very high price for this political stolidity in the coming elections.

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