The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic, by George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling (Free Press, $11)
George Lakoff, Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at U.C. Berkeley — and highly regarded Democratic tactician — has just released his playbook for the 2012 election. Titled The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic, it purports to be the ultimate insiders’ guide to liberal messaging and left-wing ideology.
Before you even open the book, its sly self-referential gamesmanship leaps off the cover: the very title itself is a wink-wink-nudge-nudge ironic-but-not-really reference to Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book, the kind of hidden-meaning secret message that progressives like to call a “dog whistle,” although they insist that only conservatives resort to such underhanded gambits.
Lakoff is also the brightest star in an impressive constellation of East Bay Liberati, most of whom (including Robert Reich and many others) happily lined up to blurb his new book. A small sampling from the press release:
Because everybody knows that the best way to convince undecided and conservative voters is to dazzle them with compliments you got from Van Jones and George Soros.
But Lakoff is not just any intellectual celebrity: he is deemed one of the most important contemporary philosophers of progressive thought. You know how whenever Democrats lose an election, they invariably blame their “poor messaging” and never ever the content of their policies? Lakoff came up with that. Liberals find it very reassuring: We don’t need to rethink our ideas — we just need to express ourselves more clearly.
As a linguist, Lakoff focuses on the notions of “cognitive frames” and “conceptual metaphors,” which refer to the overarching filters through which each person perceives the world. This academic field in and of itself is politically neutral. But on the other hand, Lakoff is also a hardcore leftist, so he decided long ago to overtly combine his academic interest with his personal politics, to use the study of cognitive frames to promote leftist ideology. This is what makes him such a hero to liberals. The Little Blue Book is Lakoff’s attempt to transform his high-minded theories into nuts-and-bolts instructions for how all Democrats — from the White House to the drum circle and everything in between — should speak to conservatives, undecideds and the media.
The “Strict Father” Theory
Lakoff has been coasting for decades on his “brilliant” “insight” that conservatives are psychological infants who crave a “strict father” social system to emulate the sadistic and loveless upbringing they experienced at the hands of their own strict conservative fathers. Liberals, conversely, strive to create a “nurturing mother” society as a cultural expression of the way they were lovingly raised by their altruistic and forgiving leftist moms.
He spells this out explicitly on page 17 of The Little Blue Book; in this passage, Lakoff explains to us the difference between progressive families and conservative families — and this difference is crucial to contemporary politics, because our moral values as adults are a direct result of how we were raised:
According to this analysis, conservatives are conservatives because their minds and morals have been twisted by cruel parenting, and they seek to reconstruct this pathological family unit on a grand society-wide scale; whereas progressives naturally were raised by wonderful, caring co-parents to become wonderful, caring adults who seek to replicate this loving family environment for all mankind.
Of course, Lakoff doesn’t actually believe this is true. He just enjoys the chortling sense of smug superiority he gets from belittling conservatives as curious anthropological specimens that he can analyze as if they were unevolved Neanderthals. He shares this joyous mockery and sneering dismissal with his fellow academic liberals in a sort of unending Group Smug that conservatives are presumably too thick-skulled to notice.
And yet his new Little Blue Book is supposed to be an instruction manual on how to convert wavering conservatives and undecideds to the liberal worldview — even though insults and mockery are an integral component of that worldview. To summarize Lakoff’s presentation in one sentence, he essentially says, “Hey, you ignorant yet diabolical rubes, shut the hell up and submit to an incessant barrage of our vacuous euphemistic leftist slogans, because you’re too stupid and evil for an honest debate.”
The eternally vexatious problem which drives Lakoff to distraction and which inspired him to write (along with one of his researchers) The Little Blue Book is that despite their psychological pathologies and awful moral structure, conservatives somehow still manage to occasionally win elections. Lakoff has come to the conclusion that this is due not to the superiority of conservative philosophy, but to superiority in conservative messaging.
I’ve designed a little chart to clearly illustrate what I call Lakoff’s Paradox: Why is it that conservatives still manage to sometimes win public opinion and elections despite being so vastly inferior? Behold:
Everything is going liberals’ way until that last step, where they fumble the ball at the goal line: messaging. Conservatives on the other hand are a miserable lot, but somehow manage to uncork a convincing moral frame to hide their distasteful politics. The Little Blue Book really would have benefitted from having such an illustration; but better late than never.