The All New Don't Think of An Elephant!

The All New Don't Think of An Elephant!

Know your Values and Frame the Debate

Book - 2014
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10th anniversary ed. Since it became an international bestseller in 2004, Don't Think of an Elephant! has been the definitive handbook for progressives who want to articulate their goals and values to voters, understand how conservatives think and why people often vote against their best interests, and frame the political debate.Completely revised and updated to tackle today's issues, this edition not only explains what framing is and how it works but also reveals why, after a brief stint of winning the framing wars in the 2008 elections, the Democrats have gone back to losing them, and what can be done about it. Lakoff delves into the issues that will dominate the midterm elections in 2014, the coming presidential elections, and beyond. He explores why some issues have been difficult to frame, guides readers on how to frame complex issues without losing important context, and drives home the important differences between framing and spin. Do you think facts alone can win a debate? Do you think you know what makes a Tea Party follower tick? Do you think you understand how to communicate on key issues that can improve peoples' lives? Whether you answer yes or no, the insights in Don't Think of an Elephant! will not only surprise you, but also give you the tools you need to develop frames that work, and eradicate frames that backfire.
Publisher: White River Junction, VT : Chelsea Green, 2014
Edition: 10th anniversary ed
ISBN: 9781603585941
Characteristics: xv, 168 p. ; 22 cm
Alternative Title: Don't think of an elephant


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May 31, 2018

I read the first edition of this book shortly after it came out in 2004. I don't know if I forgot or didn't notice then what a partisan shill Lakoff is. It's also possible that this aspect of him only came to the fore in the revised edition.

In any case, I am without a doubt a "progressive" by Lakoff's criteria (pp. 12-13) and I suppose that's why I find so much of what he says so objectionable. For example, the implicit suggestion that Bill Clinton was a progressive on "welfare reform" (p. 19) is absurd. Moreover, Clinton help greatly expand America's prison population while making it easier to execute convicts and strip them of their habeas corpus rights. Then there's NAFTA, which Clinton spearheaded. I could go on but I won't.

Lakoff's metaphor (p. 23) favorably comparing taxes to country club dues is nothing short of absurd. It would only be apt if we were assigned at birth to compulsory country club membership that most of us would never be able to afford to buy our way out of. And if you did have the means to bribe your way out of the country club then you'd be required to join another one structured on the same compulsory principles. If all the country clubs claimed to have the right appropriate its members' wealth at the point of a gun, if necessary, then sure it would be an apt metaphor.

And Lakoff's fairy tale of American history at the beginning of chap. 6 would be greeted derisively by progressives if it came from a conservative and deservedly so. As a progressive, I would like to add that Lakoff's pernicious, unsupportable stereotypes of conservatives are counterproductive and only feed the lamentable political polarization that characterizes the current political and cultural moment.

Finally, I will say on a positive note that the basic concepts of framing and reflexivity discussed in the book are valid and useful. However, that work did not originate with Lakoff. Readers would be advised to seek better sources than Lakoff.


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