Reframing the Republican lie about wealth in America

In America, the Republicans are seen as the party of money and wealth. This perception is certainly accurate in one sense – the GOP is the favored party of the wealthy elite. Unfortunately, the party is also supported in large numbers by those who have no wealth, and thanks to the policies of the Republican party, no hope of ever attaining any. But they continue to support the party for reasons that seem irrational to us. Why?

In a nutshell, I want to argue here that they do so because the GOP has, through a long-term and exceptionally effective messaging campaign, drawn around itself the ideology of hope. Forgive a brief over-generalization, but they’re the party that preaches wealth and that tells people they can join the club (never mind that the message is a lie, given our current economic policy structure). In the popular frame, the Republicans are often seen as being about getting and having money while the Democrats are about taking your hard-earned money and giving it to people who didn’t earn it. The GOP would have you believe that they are dedicated to creating wealth while their opponents are committed to redistributing wealth. This is a powerful message in a nation framed by the Puritan work ethic.

The Democratic party does not at present have an effective counter-message that offers hope in ample measure. Their policies and promises paint a picture of a comparatively flat economic landscape. In essence, the party seems to say “if you want to have enough, we can help you.” This is a viable and valid message for a rational population, but in America’s media-saturated, hyper-consumerist culture “enough” is a glass ceiling message that doesn’t parse as “you can have X” – instead, it parses as “you can only have X.” People want to be well-off and if nothing else in the world is clear to us, it should be that hope trumps rationality every time. Successful political action must appeal to the public’s aspirations, because psychologically Americans are unwilling and unable to let go of the American Dream they’ve been fed since they were toddlers.

This must change. Now. If other constituencies are to have access to genuine power and opportunity, the GOP wealth lie must be exposed for what it is and the parties that legitimately favor the creation of wealth instead of the hoarding of wealth must begin crafting messaging that fosters truth and policies that engender a new economic reality for the 99% of Americans on the outside looking in. In a pragmatic sense, this task falls most immediately to the Democrats. However, all parties are implicated in the mission, as are all independents, because the Republican economic disenfranchisement project is aimed at the entirety of the culture. In a very real sense this isn’t about Republicans vs. Democrats, it’s Republicans vs. America.

Messaging: Framing wealth and opportunity

If all the people who would like to be rich vote for you, you’ll win every election by a landslide. The trick is capture the hearts, minds and imaginations of this key demographic.

The first step along this path is to internalize a core assumption: “it is not the GOP, but those who oppose them, who stand for wealth in America.” And that word “wealth” is key – we should never be ashamed to use it, because it speaks directly to the aspirations of those we’re addressing. Wealth is not bad – you can do bad things with it, of course, as legions of Republicans have demonstrated. But you can also do tremendously good things with it, like assure the health and welfare of your family and community.

When thinking, talking and writing about economic subjects, keep the following things in mind:

  • GOP policies favor the hoarding of wealth by an elect few. Those who oppose them promote the creation of wealth by providing opportunity for the many.
  • The GOP promotes a rigged game where wealth is inherited and business is done via secret deals; those who oppose them insist on a level playing field where wealth is achieved via a fair process.
  • The old frame of haves vs. have-nots is counter-productive, since people tend to identify with aspirations and identification with “have-not” is defeatist. Even as we may hate them, we also want to be them (or at least, we want to have the freedom and possibility that attends having what they have). Instead, the message of hope that will end GOP ownership of the wealth frame revolves around the haves and the will-haves. Although it’s less catchy rolling off the tongue, another way to frame the haves is to emphasize that they’re the “keeps” or “keep-aways,” which focuses on their greed and selfishness.
  • When possible, we should point to the idea that at its core we’re seeing a struggle between old money and new horizons. They’re inbred and rule by downward pressure, while we leverage the inherent creativity bound up in America’s birthright of diversity.
  • GOP policies build walls between people and the opportunity to attain wealth through their innovation and hard work. Those who oppose the Republicans are building bridges to the American Dream.
  • The GOP-dominated establishment is a system of exclusion that prevents people from earning their way up the ladder of success. Our system is one of inclusion where people are free to achieve their destiny.
  • Conservative-dominated businesses are obsessed with cutting costs, which is a code-word for “people.” Those who oppose the GOP are committed to investing in the value of human ingenuity. While they seek to offshore opportunity, we promote policies that onboard American talent.
  • They work to preserve a small, clutching aristocracy. We believe in promoting a meritocracy where the only limits on human achievement are the abilities of the individuals or teams involved.
  • Despite the cynical language they use to talk about “entitlements,” no class of people in the history of the world act as entitled as those who were born to privilege. The fat and happy feel entitled to power and money. Those of us who are lean and hungry seek nothing more than the chance to earn it through our abilities.
  • Existing, pro-GOP policies are a lock on the gate of opportunity. We promote policies that are a key to universal opportunity.
  • When you look hard at the GOP-enabled lobbying culture that has taken over Washington, it becomes painfully clear that they’re about special interests. We’re about the public interest.
  • The GOP acts like a gang. We promote policies that bring talented individuals together as teams.
  • The GOP talks a lot about free markets, where people excel by working in their own self-interest. However, as their policies suck the chance for real profit out of the market they foster stagnation. As we replace their policies with those that truly do allow people to reap the rewards of their work, we promote a new golden age of innovation.
  • The GOP divides us against each other, knowing that artificial notions of red vs. blue distract us from the real issues. We unite all Americans in the pursuit of prosperity for all.
  • In GOP Land people succeed depending on how well they’re plugged into the old-boy network. Those of us who oppose them believe in creating productivity networks.
  • GOP policies are patently and exclusively self-serving. Our vision replaces self-serving with self-sufficient.
  • It’s ironic that those who scream the loudest about taxes because they allow others to leech off your hard work are the ones who profit massively off of the work of others. The truth is that it’s the GOP hoarding class that leeches off of those who actually produce.
  • The GOP favors a world where decisions are made in a smoke-filled back room. We believe democracy and free markets work best when conducted in an open forum.
  • One of the most important ways that the GOP has gamed the system is through a long war to transform our schools into institutions of indoctrination. We’re not afraid of ideas – good ones can be adopted and bad ones defeated by smart minds. We understand that universal wealth flows from an open system of education that encourages every person to be as brilliant as possible. Ignorance serves the GOP. Genius serves us all.

I suspect these linguistic tools are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, but they should serve to get us started in our mission to create a new vocabulary around wealth. If we win the battle over over the vocabulary, we will win the war. Here’s a more complete list of paired opposites for you to consider and integrate into your own vocabulary.

GOP America
inherit achieve
hoarding creating
stale vibrant
haves will-haves
special interest public interest
old-boy network productivity networks
old money new horizons
rigged game level playing field
walls bridges
inbred diversified
establishment destiny
oppress progress
cost value
money people
exploitation stewardship
spin truth
stagnate innovate
gang team
pressure leverage
dependent independent
aristocracy meritocracy
entitled earned
fat & happy lean & hungry
leech produce
collude compete
closed open
selfish generous
privilege justice
lock key
hold down boost up
me us
expedient ethical
self-serving self-sufficient
monolith distributed network
lecture discuss
few many
exclude include
discriminate accept
reckless responsibility
gratuitous accountable
abuse enable
secret deal fair process
backroom open forum
fixed fair
discrimination equality
indoctrination education
stigmatize empower
shelter invest
lay off hire
offshore onboard
cut costs create value
corporate cooperative
false promises real hope
ideology vision
pander promote
divide unite
fiscally lavish fiscally responsible
faith science
belief proof
anecdotes data
born rich aspire to be rich
corporate welfare fair corporations

(I don’t see this list as comprehensive or complete; I fully expect this list to grow and evolve over time, so feel free to add your own ideas.)

Policies to support the promise

It’s obviously important that we deliver on this bold new promise. At every turn, the policies proposed by Democrats, Libertarians, Greens and Independents must ask a simple question: “in what way are we creating wealth?” I don’t have the time or expertise to address all possible policy ideas here, but I will toss out what I think is an important starting point.

For starters, we have to make sure that people can afford the education they need to fuel their innovative and productive capabilities. As it is now, the GOP is conducting an appalling War on Education that, among other things, makes sure that only the rich can get a college degree without going into hock until retirement age. This system does not promote education as a way of climbing to the mountaintop. It promotes education as a way of digging a very deep hole. This is counterproductive in every way imaginable. Instead of a system of financial aid that promotes permanent debt, we need a system that assures universal education.

But that’s expensive. No, talking about its expense is a manifestation of doomed cost-based thinking. Instead, we have to understand that education is an investment not only in the future of the student, but in all our futures. When that student becomes a brilliant entrepreneur, he creates hundreds, even thousands of jobs. When she becomes the next Nobel-winning researcher, she innovates a solution to our burgeoning energy problems and ushers in a new age of prosperity for the whole world. When she becomes a doctor, she finds new and better ways of improving our quality of life. When he becomes a teacher he inspires a new generation to greater heights than they could have dreamed of. And so on. Every dollar spent on education is an investment that generates tens to hundreds to thousands of dollars in returns – something a business-savvy conservative ought to know, but oddly seems not to.

Talk the talk, walk the walk

It has always been true that good thinking leads to good writing and speaking. However, it is also true that effective language drives better thinking – language is a tool by which the mind engages and changes the reality around it. This is why we have to begin reframing the language around wealth – when we look at it closely, it’s not hard to see how a cynical, corrupt Republican vocabulary has led a lot of people to believe and act on ideas that are pure silliness. To the extent that we can capture the linguistic terrain on which these important wars of ideas are fought, we assure that from here on out the language the public uses to think and decide about economic matters will be dictated by truth and productive, pro-social goals.

As always, I welcome comments on how we can improve these ideas.

72 replies »

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  2. Wow.

    It’s pretty easy for a progressive to understand the linguistic nuances, here, I imagine. But for party Democrats and Republicans, this would be like … damn, I can’t even imagine what it would be like.

    People discuss Iraq as a failed nation. How long will it take before that same discussion — if nothing in American politics changes — pertains to us?

  3. Now if someone like Soros would get behind a “news” organization to rival Faux News so that we could get this language into the public discussion, we’d be getting somewhere….

    What a wonderful explication, not just of the political issues involved, but of the power of language – both in its liberating and in its “prison house” uses….

    Great stuff, Sam…

  4. Thanks. It was some of the conversations we’ve had here – where you played a big role yourself – that got me started. Ultimately this all cascaded out of our Edwards discussions. That got me to thinking about some class issues, as you noticed, and then I got to pondering why his poverty message hasn’t really caught on. It sort of evolved from there.

    I love Edwards, but if you read what I write here it’s obvious that I think he’s framed it wrong. Yeah, you want to deal with poverty, but you can’t TALK about poverty. You have to use the language of wealth – this is America, and we’re bummed out by the hard stuff.

    The thing is, I think he CAN address poverty with the language of wealth, and I’d love to see him turn that way. May be too late, though.

  5. The post begins with the bit about a GOP conspiracy to hoard wealth and dupe the masses with false hope, and then you skip to the wordplay and spin tricks. What about some examples of this devious GOP trickery? Or is that already understood as fact by the audience of this blog? Is there a point of policy or political philosophy that defines the GOP wickedness and your purity?

    I’m new to s&r – followed a link into here the other day from somewhere…I don’t know the personalities of the authors yet. I’m an independent. My first impression was favorable, but this post just reminded me of all the other crap political blogs out there. I’m more interested in intelligent discussion without all the partisan rhetoric and hyperbole.

  6. I believe the reason why the GOP was so effective in getting those with few resources to vote with them is simpler — the have been very effective in pitting people against each other.

    I was in a cigar store once and heard another customer say, “I wouldn’t vote for those democrats — they just want to take your money away and give it to people on welfare”.

    By promoting this message, the GOP has been able to pit the people against each other and split off a significant base for itself.

    The same idea is behind gay marriage — they set people against each other in order to demonize their opponents and get people to vote their way.

    This is why the Environment and global warming should be a powerful issue for the Dems (and why the repubs mock and fear it) — it’s the ultimate non-divisive issue. It pulls us together since, in the end, we all share the same planet, the same air, and the same food supply.


  7. “Unfortunately, the party is also supported in large numbers by those who have no wealth, and thanks to the policies of the Republican party, no hope of ever attaining any.”

    Um. You do realize that this is an unprovable and somewhat silly assertion right? Guessing it was for rhetorical emphasis and not because you actually believe it’s true.

  8. Sam,

    Astounding piece of work and absolutely worth the wait. I used to be skeptical of how language framing really affected political and social decisions, but work like this demonstrates that the *choice of words* matters as much as *what you are talking about.*

    I think the reason why the GOP is losing its hold on the general populace is that Bush’s incompetence has been exposing the raw vulnerability of the middle class to economic upheaval. People aren’t thinking “taxes = welfare” anymore on a macro level, they’re thinking “I have no health care at my job, my student loans are through the roof, and I haven’t taken a vacation in years.” This is the kind of desperation the GOP has wrought, and this is what the Democrats need to seize on to truly paint themselves as the party of progress and hope.

    They could do a lot worse than take your manifesto (and Brian’s) and use them as the Gospel.

  9. I think the timing is really ripe. As you note, there are plenty of folks out there who are dealing with some realities that don’t mesh with the rhetoric they’ve been fed. That makes for fertile terrain….

  10. Well, then.

    Not sure how to proceed here. I come from the advertising profession, and now teach at a university. I warn my students against using cliches’ in their creative work because they are unsupportable and people don’t pay them any attention. Unfortunately, I see a lot of cliches’ here.

    I also see a local discussion taken to a national level. It ain’t a matter of national wealth and opportunity. Those points are local issues. It comes down to how a city responds to opportunity. Consider the idea of living in Detroit. Now, consider the idea of living in Austin, TX. One place is offers massively more more opportunity than the other. Whether you’re a republican or democrat.

    Wealth and opportunity are local issues. You cannot make a national argument out of it.

    Sam, I’m thinking that if I look at just two things, I’m forced into further rejecting your argument. The Northwest, and myself.

    The Northwest culture is loaded with people who have come up from a place of dreams and built businesses there and all over the damned map. This did not arise out of old money. This was new thinking, new opportunity made and literally capitalized on. It was not a matter of republicans and democrats. It was crude capitalism.

    If you look at Richard Florida’s work on the development of cities’ attraction and wealth in the “The Rise of the Creative Class,” you’ll find it’s not a matter of politics in the end. The people have shoved politics under the rug and built wealth and city attraction on creative talent.

    Creative talent ain’t republican or democrat. And while you might go for the old notion that republicans stomp on creative talent because they kill off hope, you’ve just fallen for another cliche that is completely stomped on by the reality of the Northwest.

    Myself. I’ve generally gotten what I’ve reached for, no matter who’s been in power. I’m intent on reaching for more soon, and fully expect to hit a rather nice level of return, no matter who is in power.

    While all people ain’t me, I figure my personal drive and talent, and the fact of the Northwest, pretty well quash the cliche’-ridden republican/democratic argument about opportunity. (Frankly, I firmly believe that both parties are in it to keep people in their place … republican by denial of assistance, demos by denial of opportunity for the exceptional.)

    What matters in the end, Sam, is vision. Does your city have the vision to look at the hard realities that Florida’s theory (well-supported by himself and other follow-ups) suggests a city must recognize and make investments toward?

    The Northwest shows us an old truth remains real, though it has become a cliche’.

    All politics, and opportunity, is local.

  11. Okay, Greg, let’s test your theory. All politics is local. Iraq? Federal student loan policy? Energy crisis and the environment?

    I would certain agree with you that there are examples where people and locales have overcome the dynamics I describe, but I’d also ask you to consider that you don’t make good policy on the 1% exception, you make it on the 99% rule.

  12. 6. Kevin – we all share the same air and eat food, but the word “environment” has very successfully been demonized by the GOP leadership over the years. At this point I don’t generally talk “environmentalism” any more – it’s too vague to be easily understood and pictured (just like “infrastructure”). Instead I talk about public health, water that doesn’t have lead and mercury in it, and air that doesn’t cause your asthmatic kid to have his or her lungs seize up.

    People get “unspoiled wildernesses” when you say the word “environment,” but that’s about it. It’s a word everyone can attach their own personal meaning to, so using it as a tool to draw out specific political policies and actions isn’t very effective. Better to use specific language so people don’t have the opportunity to think something other than exactly what you want them to.

  13. My parents, Ken and Dorothy, were working-class poor — and they were Republicans. This article helps me understand why my parents consistently voted against their own self-interest.

    It must have comforted them to have such a simple explanation — a liberal bogeyman — to blame for missing out on the American dream.

  14. 10 – Greg, from what I’ve experienced in the Northwest (my sister lives in Seattle, so I have a little experience), they dynamic your describing works for the major population centers along the coast, but not necessarily for all of the Northwest (a term I’m using to describe northern CA, Oregon, and Washington). Just as everywhere else in the country, when I’ve visited my sister, I see a radical difference between self-made city dwellers who tend to vote Democratic and less well-off rural populations who tend to vote Republican – even though it doesn’t make economic sense for them to do so. Seattle and Portland vs. rural Washington and Oregon are very much like Denver vs. the rest of Colorado.

    I’m not saying that you’re wrong as such, but that there might be more rural/urban dynamic to what you’re expressing than you’ve considered.

  15. Sometimes, timing is everything. The country can be ripe for change but Democrats could be ahead of the curve just enough in November 2008 for Hillary Clinton (the presumed winner at this point) to be the next Hubert Hoover and blamed for an ensuing economic disaster.

  16. Sam and Brian, I need to respond to a couple points you all have made. First, Sam, the percentages I’m talking about are not 1% v. 99% (I’m not sure exactly what you were referring to). The percentage breakout we really do need to be concerned with in this discussion is the urban/rural breakout in this country: 79/21 percent respectively.

    What one can do for or through the urban experience would affect that majority you indicate policy should be written for. Certainly both urban and rural depend on the other, but with a continuing movement of our population toward the urban experience, making opportunity occur in the urban environment is exactly where we need to place our greater emphasis.

    And what I’m saying is that that opportunity is not determined by national republicanism or democratic policy. Nor even is it the result of local classic party political distinction.

    I repeat – please take a look at Richard Florida’s, The Rise of the Creative Class (or take a look at the article cited immediately after). He makes an absolutely compelling argument that the issue is not political, rather (from his article defending his book, The Revenge of the Squelchers, p.2, available at:, “With the national culture wars escalating on all fronts, it’s not surprising that most of the controversy [about his book] revolves around the idea that cities with thriving arts and cultural climate and an openness to diversity of all sorts also enjoy higher rates of innovation and high-wage economic growth.”

    Florida provides data, tables of stats, and other hard information rather than just opinion to back up his position. I’ve recently run across research which shows his theoretical effect to be even greater than he himself had considered. I believe we really should become familiar with his argument and the convincing research he brings to the party to support his theory. Otherwise, we’re just speculating and tossing numbers around (e.g. Sam’s 1% v. 99% deliberate exaggeration) that have no real base in fact.

    After looking over the information, I have come to believe that his theory holds a boatload of water, that strong job markets are not a matter of party policy, that opportunity is a matter local design and not national policy, and that cities will continue to hold the majority of our population and grow as the greater percentage-points, and should therefore be our focal point of concern.

    And Sam, I know that you know that “all politics is local” is not my theory, as you say. As we know, it comes from a now-quite-dead congressman named Tip O’Niel who was making the point that even issues such as Iraq and the others you mentioned are eventually determined at the grassroots level by the pressures constituents put on their representatives. I was using the term in a slightly different way in that all politics is local as a way of thinking about how cities differ, how Austin is qualitatively and quantitatively different from Detroit in terms of opportunity, and why you would choose one over the other. And that national policy does not make the difference.

    Think of it this way. All cities operate under the same national policy. They have for at least a century. But all cities are different; not moderately, but there is a massive range of differences between cities. If national policy were really a determinant, all cities should be rather similar in opportunity and identity. They aren’t. All politics, all city opportunity-creation, is a matter of local determination, not national policy. To believe the Democrat/Republican debate has anything to do with that is false on its face.

    As an aside, hating the political scene as much as I do, I’m wondering if John Edwards’ push for the poor is any different in meaningful ways from Lyndon Johnson’s failed Great Society, with all its training and work plans it put in place. I’ve stayed out of that loop and was just wondering …

  17. Let me see if I can double back and explain why I don’t think we really disagree as much as you think we do. First, while I accept that we have various local experiences within the same national context, it’s hardly plausible to suggest that something like a Federal financial aid program isn’t part of the context. X program produces Y amount of talent, etc.

    Now, your very valid point about the locales has to do with their ability to attract that talent. However, this point alone acknowledges that talent is to some degree a scarce commodity – if it weren’t Seattle and Denver and Boston would have hardly anything up on Shreveport, Peoria and Harrisburg.

    I believe my argument is that macro forces dictate the level of scarcity, which in turn dictates what a particular locale has to do to elevate itself as a cultural and tech center.

    Further, look at the things that serve as differentiators. Culture, arts, diversity, etc. I’d argue that these qualities correlate strongly with the sort of values that my “progressive capitalism” reframe seeks to cultivate. This is why I say you’re privileging the exception over the rule, and your own argument makes clear that what you’re talking IS the exception. Is it 99% or is it 82%? Hardly matters, because I think you’re ultimately looking at a local-focused way of winning a war for your market. My thinking I guess aims to make it easier for all markets to succeed without the battle having to be quite so zero-sum.

    Maybe I’m missing some nuance in your argument, but I really don’t know that I see your arguments, informed as they are, as really dismissing what I’m talking about.

  18. I love this place, the discussions are as interesting as the original postings. And Sam, I think you’re right about the framing thing on this issue. I love that John Edwards is talking about poverty, but yea, he needs to reframe it into something more hopeful and broadbased. More middle-class perhaps. But he seems to have the vision thing, and he has the passion thang. I just hope he can translate it into a movement. And you left out the perfect meme, the shreiking “Death tax!” Uuuugghhh I hate that one.

    And Greg and Brian, look also into the “Memphis Manifesto” it’s along the same lines of the creative class.

  19. Thanks for the kind words. Actually, I think Brian was messing with the “death tax.” He’s calling it the “Paris Hilton tax.” I think. Brian?

  20. The basics of all republican thought can be understood by this simple concept as verbalized by Rush Limbaugh ” the poor have too much and the rich don’t have enough” + deep inside every republican is a fascist screaming to get out.

  21. Yep, that’s right. I had help from Martin on that one, but the Paris Hilton Tax works pretty well. Given how well Paris epitomizes many of the words and phrases in the GOP column above, I think it’s a pretty effective reframe.

  22. Much of the list of opposites works – at least to explain the Republican appeal to its true believers, and to show how the terms of that appeal might be inverted. As the discussion of Florida shows, it could turn out that both the Republican propaganda nexus and its inversion aren’t importantly true – but still the Republican nexus needs to be ripped apart.

    That said, there’s one point on which this attempt at inversion is dangerously wrong. “Old money” zipcodes donated far more to Kerry than Bush. The modern Republican support comes from new money, from whose zip codes Bush received the greater support. So the real truth about the modern Republicans is that they’re new money, not old. And if you slime old money, you’re sliming an important Democratic constituency.

    What’s wrong with the Republicans is what’s stereotypically wrong with new money – and Bush, although he’s old money, doesn’t just act like new money. Bush actually thinks like new money – without much reading or culture, without nuance, subtlety or depth.

    Old money is much more concerned with preserving the heritage of America; new money has little use for heritage. Old money is generous with its wealth; new money is spoiled by it. Part of the public loves Paris Hilton because like Bush she is the exception that proves the rule: old money that acts as crass as new money, but with youth that most new money is too old to exploit that way.

    FDR was old money; JFK was old money (even if not by so many generations). And so were Washington and Jefferson. The Democratic Party is not, and has never been, the party of proletarian revolution. There are many among the rich who favor us, particularly because their education doesn’t square with the Republican rejections of culture and science.

    And very few of Florida’s heroes in the culturally-diverse cities favor the Republicans – for similar reason. “Creative economy!” is also the rallying cry in rural northern New England these last few years. That’s hand-in-hand with New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation going Democratic for the first time in a long time (if not ever), and Vermont sending a Socialist to the Senate.

  23. Whit: Hmmm. Okay, this makes some sense. There was something about the old money stuff that – I don’t know – didn’t feel exactly right as I put it together. But I couldn’t peg why, and so I figured I’d toss it out there and let people look it over. Thanks for such a thoughtful revision of my thinking.

    I’m not sure I’ve seen you posting here before. With luck, we’ll see you again….

  24. Interesting article. Although I disagree with all of your perceptions of the GOP, I understand your desire to make America a better place. I’m a thrifty, die-hard, conservative Republican who also wants to make America a better place….we’re not the Devil’s spawn.



  25. Joe Bageant writes a lot about why poor rednecks vote Republican. He also scratches his head quite abit too.

    And this GOP is certainly different than the GOP of the 60s and 70s. This version since Reagan is more reptilian, and doesn’t even hold the values of small government and fiscal responsibility and a strong military.

    This version of the GOP is why the US is fighting the Civil War again with the South winning up to 2007. (Wage) slaves. Indentured servants. Racism. Nixon run amok and winning this time.

    Which is why the “old money” Republicans like the Roosevelts (TR), the Eisenhowers, and the Goldwaters have begun to abandon this GOP for either the Dems or Bloomberg if he runs.

    Most of us understand the nuances of the words listed. But if you’re going to win the war, then it’ll have to be dumbed down to get the rednecks living paycheck-to-paycheck.

  26. Hi, Jeff. As we’ve discussed before. I feel like the party has become something very alien to what it once was – back when I was a Republican myself for a good number of years. I don’t feel like the party responds to the will of the majority of its members, who I imagine are a lot like you are.

    After all, most Republicans aren’t rich and the poll numbers I see suggest that they’re coming to some uneasy realizations themselves about those they’ve charged with leadership.

    I don’t wish an end to the GOP. But if a framing debate like the one I suggest here can perhaps spark some introspection over on your side of the aisle as well, I think that would be a wonderful thing for us all.

  27. This is the sort of thing that college sophomores write, relying on the oversimplified beliefs that are passed around in place of historical knowledge.Of course, most of these innocents choose their political alliances based on fashion and perceived social group membership, facts be damned.

    Of course, the wealthiest presidents we even had- by several orders of magnitude- were Democrats, and today, while the party faithful make noise about social justice, the real backbone of the party are wealthy trial lawyers, whose contributions insure that we’ll never see any sort of reasonable tort reform in this country, and the kind of reasonable rules seen in so many of the European countries held up as models by the fashionable (but uninformed) left.

    Most politicians of any strip are opportunists looking for personal power, whether Democrat, Republican, or Green. The great tragedy is that ill-informed acolytes, like the writer of sad missive above, will assume that politicians who tell them what they want to hear are actually their friends.

  28. Today’s GOP can be described like this:

    Corrupt, selfish little bastards.

    That said, Dems aren’t ready for prime time. They’re wasting a lot of time instead of acting.

  29. Hey Sam,

    We’re having much inner debate in our party about the course of our direction. We’re not really happy with the neo-cons, Evangelicals, and others who seem to be setting much of the agenda these days. I’m sure that the DNC isn’t really happy with some of the elements that have gravitated towards their party since 1989, either.

    I remain steadfast in my optimism about the future of this country. Democrat or Republican…we’re Americans, and all want what is the best for the country. My immigrant friends (I have many of these) all agree that the USA is the best place on the planet. They do have the dream, and the backbone for hard work.

    As for my self, I selfishly vote for my pocketbook. However, much to the chagrin of my Republican buddies, I did support a liberal Democrat that was a candidate for sheriff in a neighboring county. My support wasn’t about politics, he is a personal friend, and clearly was the better candidate. Sadly, he lost.

    As a sidebar: I regularly get mail from my kid’s alma mater, Phillips Exeter Academy for their fund raising. I was suprised to find out that a majority of the students that attend Exeter receive financial aid. So much for the elitism of one of America’s finest prep schools. We never applied for any aid, and sucked up the tuition, just like we’ll do for his next four years of college. It will all be worth it.

    The irony of my son’s great education hasn’t been lost on us. He has turned quite liberal in his outlook (he prefers the label progressive). Oh well, we’ll pray for him.



  30. I just stumbled on this site and I’m gobsmacked that there is someone else out there who sees the need to re-frame this discourse.

    There’s another, personal aspect to this discussion that I’ve detected over the years, so please bear with me while I try and lay it out.

    I was at a friend’s home recently and we were discussing that travesty known as the bankruptcy bill. He was of the mind that far too many people had been irresponsible with their spending and that it was good that they had made it more difficult and onerous to file for bankruptcy. I pointed out that the banks were doing stupendously well before the new law; it didn’t matter to him. I pointed out that the banks had also extended credit to a lot of folks who probably shouldn’t have credit, like students, young people, and the like; didn’t matter to him. I pointed out that the majority of bankruptcy filings in this country are due to catastrophic medical occurrences; still he was unmoved.

    Something was eating at me as I left that rather glamorous, Hollywood Hills home that day, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It took me a few days before I realized what that “something” was, and it was in the totality of my friend’s story. First, let me say that my bud has always been a hard worker and he’s always done well.

    But there’s more to it than that. He comes from an affluent, upper class, NYC family. He went to very exclusive private schools growing up and has a very expensive degree from a very fine private university (from which he graduated owing nothing.) He inherited a bit of money over the years as well, which, with savings, enabled him to buy a very small dump during the doldrums of the LA real estate market. His partner was diagnosed with AIDS many years ago and was able to leave work with the help of a longterm disability policy with full benefits, and he has worked parttime on the side.

    But here’s the clinker. That little dump was damaged in the ’93 earthquake, rendering it uninhabitable. During that time, my friend’s insurance company paid the rent for a large house for my friend to live in, and also enabled a repair job that went far beyond repair of damages into a complete renovation, rendering my bud’s house into a very desirable little piece of property. Escalating LA real estate values did the rest.

    Today, my friend makes enough money renting the former dump out to take a good part of the sting out of his million dollar mortgage on his residence in town. He also makes a good salary doing something he loathes. That is how he got to where he is now.

    But like so many other people in his position, he has conveniently forgotten the role that fortune played. The initial affluence. The fine Education. The social connections. The ability to start his adult life debt-free. The stupidity of his insurance company (there are stories like this all over the city.)

    He imagines he did this all by himself, and that’s the crux of the matter. He’s smug. Most affluent Americans are. Ronald Reagan got that ball rolling and it’s rolled on and over most Americans for the past 30 years.

    Ann Richards said of Bush “He was born on third and thinks he hit a triple.” There are a lot of Americans walking around thinking the same thing, and a lot more wondering why they’re running themselves ragged and they can’t even get to first.

  31. Existential heroics

    The Bush family got powerful because they’re sitting on top of all the oil, and their misogynist friends they want to sell millions of dollars of warplanes to, the Arabs, are sitting on it also.

    You need the oil to run the globalist machine. If you want your hairdryer for your wife at $10, or your basketball for your little boy at $30, instead of hairdryer for $30 and basketball for $55, which is more like what they would cost if all these elements of what the commies called “bourgeois life” were Made in America – not to mention all the cars – then you all democrats would have to figure out where your stand on globalism exactly is.

    If you don’t, then even though that pipsqueak son of Herbert Walker may go down in the next election, another clone of him will be right back in ’12. And if those mujahadeen manage to hit us again in the meantime, everything that’s happened before will look like a picnic.

  32. The cry for tort reform “like the kind they have in Europe” in those decadent Social Democracies, ignores the fact that if one is horribly injured in Europe, one need not worry about keeping a roof over one’s head or eating or getting the proper medical care. So one does not need a gazillion-dollar settlement.

    Unfortunately, here in America if we are are sick or are injured, we are forced to turn to the legal system. Dog food doesn’t grow on trees…

  33. What a crock of shit. Like the fucking Democrats in power care about the little people (the have nots in your neologistic platform) any more than the stupid Republicans.

    Why don’t you come up with an entirely new platform that doesn’t include Democrats or Republicans? Because, ya know, they’re collectively the imbeciles that brought us to the current class culture in the US.

    This is not about parties. It’s about people.

  34. The task is simple for the Democrats to take control of this issue. They must clearly state what “rich” or “wealthy” is. They need to talk figures.

    I have republican friends who say that the “Democrats want to tax rich people; and that means you and me!” I ask my friends then to define “rich.” $100,000 per year? $200,000, $500,000? I tell them that the most liberal definition of “rich” I have heard, is about $200,000. Unless you make more than $200,000 per year, then you ain’t rich! The republicans have convinced you that you are rich or you will be, no matter what you make. However, it is not in your own self interest to vote republican if you make under $200,000 per year.

    So the Democrats need to stop being vague and define the word “rich” with a specific figure and let people know that it is not in their best interest to vote republican if they don’t make that figure. That figure of course, whatever it is, is way more than the average American makes or will ever make.

    So yes, Democrats, lets tax rich people and give the poor and middle classes a break. Lets define what that is so people will know that it is NOT them, and again, overwhelmingly vote for the party of “the people!”

  35. Don’t be a fool.

    Income Tax keeps working people working.

    Soros, Kerry and Edwards support Income Tax because they basically don’t pay it – we do. See, they’re already rich and don’t earn much taxable income as a % of their wealth. But if you work 60 hours a week, they want to charge you a higher Income Tax, making it almost totally impossible for you to ever get ahead! Progressive Income Tax means you will always be a slave.

    If they really cared about ‘fairness’ they would support a Wealth Tax. But the big BS artists that are already rich would never support that, only more Income Tax.

    Wake up!

    And Faux News is controled by Rupert Murdoch, a major fund raiser for Hillary Clinton!

    It’s the WWF of politics, it’s all scripted.

  36. Thank you. I’ve been waiting for a long time for someone to articulate this concept in such a precise manner. I’ve Republican acquaintances who live in this reality you’ve described. I’m going to link to this post in my blog: and tell my wife’s (republican) best friend to read this article.

  37. Wilt Blauvelt is correct. However, his history lesson doesn’t go far enough. After Lyndon Johnson, the Democratic Party became much more radical because, following passage of massive Great Society legislation, conservative Democrats bolted the party. This realignment of the electorate played quite well into the hands of Republicans – who, since the mid-19th century War Between the States, have portrayed Democrats as the “party of treason.” “Soft on _____” is simply the latest version of that line of attack.

    Were I Republican strategist, I would suggest conservatives fund the most radical elements of the Democratic Party. At the same time, I would make sure to take every advantage possible in 527 loopholes to paint these extremists as typical Democrats. Because the Democratic consists of so many divergent groups that have little in common with each other, other than an aversion to the Republican Party, it is difficult to hold together. Since mainstream media is never issue-oriented and loves a good fight, funding radicals also becomes an easy way to divide the party against itself.

  38. That was an awesome read. And I think the reason the people being oppressed by these policies follow religously the party doing it is down to exactly that. Religion. I have a friend with an autistic son who is losing programs that benefit him thanks to policies over the ladt several years. She voted Republican because “They’re against gay marriage”. I wanted to slap her, because she followed that by complaining about the program losses.

  39. abraham #34: You need to read more closely. I note that this falls to the Dems as a matter of practical reality (I don’t see more than two dogs that are really in the fight right now and those two parties have the system rigged to make it just about impossible for anybody else to get in).

    However, if you actually read what I say closely, you’ll notice that I don’t make it about the Democrats hardly at all. It’s about all those who oppose the way the GOP has things working at present, and that can be, as I say explicitly, a Dem, a Green, a Libertarian, an Independent, etc.

  40. wailin #39: As your comment makes clear, what I’ve done here is at best a partial solution. The public’s views on religion and morality are a massive obstacle that we have to overcome. I have no doubt that we will in time, although that might not be in my lifetime. Still, every little bit of evidence helps, I think. A lot of people who voted against gay marriage in 2004 are responsible for Bush and Voldemort’s Cheney’s frighteningly low ratings right now, and since the whole gay marriage front hasn’t changed a lot I think it’s safe to conclude that some realize they were played.

    People don’t like being played, and they tend to remember it next time they go to the polls.

  41. Reclaiming the language of the debate is vital. At the same time, progressives must put forward their own ideas that provide a way forward on a different path than the GOP-dominated path we’ve been following for the last 6+ years. The proposal for a progressive agenda was posted here several weeks ago is an attempt to provide this vital parallel path to reclaiming the debate.

    Reclaiming the debate is part of the process of changing our nation’s future. Providing a unifying agenda is another. And specific platform issues such as decarbonizing the carbon economy and Education F1rst, et al is yet a third.

  42. Absolutely, Brian. Your platform is a vital way forward that I think helps us around some of the partisan roadblocking that we’re all suffering from. I encourage everybody who hasn’t already seen it to give it a look.

  43. re: the proposal. Noble values. Can’t fault you for that.
    I’m a free trader. Always have been. But, when Americans don’t even want to eat what’s grown locally, it’s gone too far in one direction.

    Short of disaster, the Democrats are going to win the next election. Junior has just screwed it all up too badly. Poor old Hunter used to say “the only freedom that matters is freedom from dumbness”. I’m inclined to agree.

    But what kind of win is it going to be? Hot Pants Clinton sent more troops overseas than any other president since FDR, do you want his wife to do the same? How come no one’s asking her about this? I would make an objection to “hire more troops” as you noted in the proposal – where are those going to come from? The Army can’t meet its recruitment goals even now.

    We can’t go on exporting our men and importing our goods. We have to let the Germans and the Japanese and even the Indians become regional players again, militarily, and stop taxing the hell out of all of us to pay for everything. That’s the only way we’ll free up enough revenue to cover all of these “progressive” visions. Scary? That’s better than the Wahhabis or Russia taking the lead, which they will, as soon as Putin removes the rest of his opposition.

    Real peace is what’s needed. Read my book. Not idealists like Bush Jr., who think they can stamp out all the evil in the world. But thinking you’re going to stamp the rich in return just adds fuel to the fire.

  44. I can see the point. True, the Republicans do try to set an example around “the land of opportunity” and the Dems focus on selling band-aid remedies for those at the bottom in the form of the taxpayer-dreaded “program.” And yeah, Frank Luntz proved the effect of language on the masses.

    But I think the biggest factor working against the Dems is that they’ve lost their moral compass. Dealing with only language without addressing core principles is like putting lipstick on a pig.

    There was a time when Democrats were the advocates of the working class. Any resemblance to that party today is purely accidental. Pelosi and Wrangel et al couldn’t wait to get yet another lopsided trade bill approved to export jobs. And, whether you agree or not, undocumented workers are viewed to threaten wages and benefits. The bankruptcy bill passed with significant Democratic support, hand-written by the usurers. Unions have been systematically dismantled since Reagan, and Democrats have fled to corporations to replace their funding. Our Presidential front-runner is a former Wal*Mart board member.

    If people viewed voting for a Democrat as having a significant enough affect on their lives to make it worth doing, they would. Most don’t even bother going to the polls. And yes, some who do bother are duped by language used by right-wing propaganda outlets that have dominated the dialogue since Reagan rescinded the Fairness Doctrine, so it’s definitely an issue — but first things first.

    The DLC must be dismantled, the Congressional delegation needs a good solid ass-kicking to make them tow the line, and we better get more imaginative to turn around the momentum gathering against the middle class instead of figuring out ways of pandering to CEOs.

  45. I think we agree on a LOT of points, Ghost. And this is why I’m not so hot on Hillary. I mean, the GOP doesn’t have anything I’d even consider voting for instead of her, but it wouldn’t be a vote I’d feel great about.

    You may have noticed that I seem to like Edwards, and I’m not the only one around here. Not sure I think he has much of a shot, but in terms of policy, platform and electability I think he’s the best they have right now.

    Gore jumps in – maybe the equation changes. But for now…

  46. I congratulate you on this important piece. I would add that we need to redefine what wealth means. In my new book, The Real Wealth of Nations, I propose that the contributions of people and nature are the real wealth of a nation. We therefore need policies that give visibility and value to the work of caring for people and nature. I am working on a Real Wealth of America Act modeled on the envrionmental impact act that would requre all bills, contracts with federal agencies, etc. to show their impace on matters such as America’sl health, families, etc. — in other words, the real wealth of our nation. I invite you to consider this idea as part of the Democratic agenda. This is also a way of shifting the conversation from the regressive “family values’ conversation to “valuing famlies.”

  47. I’m not sure there’s anything new here, Jeff. I’ve been pretty clear on a few points. First, while I have no real concern about people’s religious beliefs – I’m a firm believer of the 1st Amendment – I also have no time at all for those who want to impose THEIR religious beliefs on others. Because I believe in the 1st Amendment. But we both know that a lot of folks do want to do that, and I feel certain you’re uneasy about those elements on “your side of the aisle.”

    Second, this is an area that my dissertation research touched on fairly significantly. This isn’t the first time in history we’ve seen a dynamic like this one, and I wrote about this here not long ago (

    What history suggests is that the reactionary elements and the morality police are reacting to the dramatic changes in our culture, and that over time we will see this reaction overcome by the natural course of progress.

    It’s not about me or anybody else running the show. It’s just about our part in a complex historical dynamic.

  48. Just found this thread, and it seems the Republican v. Democrat generalizations could be explained by socio-biology. The republican traits such as greed, social inertia, etc could be explained by traits useful in surviving in family groups when everyday was literally a fight for physical existence-lions, drought, other people and so on.
    The democratic traits-cooperation, sharing, altruism in general-were more useful when people started living together in larger-than-family units and the health of the group had more effect on the health of the individual
    So to paint in very broad strokes-
    It would seem that the republican personality is a more primitive version of the mind, very good at getting and keeping the individual and his family (gene receptors) functional, but not so good at keeping a larger group, or society in good health.
    The democratic personality is more group oriented and wants to do what is best for everyone, to maximize the total good and is not so concentrated on individual wealth accumulation.
    Somehow it seems that the most high visibility Democrats have ended up doing quite well for themselves, which would indicate that either they or their ancestors had some republican traits and they seem just as hungry for power as the Republican counterparts-for the public good of course.
    The problem the democrats have is the perception of giveaway. The red state sort of person all know someone who is getting some sort of government assistance and they know quite well that either this person does not need it, or they got it the state they are in due to their own actions, or inactions and Joe Blow making $13-15/hr does not see why he should support someone for doing nothing. If the Democrats could convince the public that they are a bit more into responsibility and less into rights, they would do a lot better in the polls.
    It may be that the Republicans have blown the differences in substance of actual policies between them and the Democrats up out of proportion, the recent administration certainly has nothing to be proud of in regard to fiscal responsibility, but they at least talk the talk of personal responsibility. This seems to be the core of their recent ascendancy.

  49. Hi Sam – good to hear from you.

    I wish I had some better way of making clear that this post was not about Dem vs GOP. If you read closely, you’ll see that I note that the Dems are immediately implicated in the process simply because they’re the other party in a two-party system. But after that, how many times do I make it about the Dems? Once you get to the section on messaging, which is where the prescriptions start rolling out, the word “Democrat” only appears one more time in the article, and that’s in a string that includes Greens, Libertarians and Independents.

    Further, I’m most assuredly NOT counseling for anything remotely like “welfare.” This isn’t about taxing, it isn’t about give-aways, it isn’t about ANY of the conventional perceptions about what Democrats do. Instead, it’s about INVESTING in our nation – something that’s supposed to be very Republican, right? For instance, when I talk about financial aid, I’m not talking about GIVING money away, I’m talking about investing in human resources whose accomplishments will pay that debt back hundreds of times over.

    To use a popular analogy, I’m not advocating that we give people a fish. I’m advocating that since we live next to an ocean of opportunity, it makes sense for the whole village to invest in teaching our young people how to fish.

    Your response, thoughtful though it is, plays out along the same old perceptual political lines. My goal here is to break up that unproductive way of discussing the issue. I’ve seen plenty of Republicans and plenty of Democrats, and while our system requires me to make some forced choices about the lesser of evils, I haven’t seen anything on either side that I’d give my heart and soul to.

    And until we get past the limits of our language, it’s not going to change.

  50. Alan: you have fundamentally misunderstood the argument on a couple important levels.

    1) It’s NOT about Dems vs Republicans, as I explicitly state in the post.

    2) Yes, the system we have has been damned near wrung dry. BY the established order of things. And this framing underpins the importance of breaking out of our same-old ways of operating. When you expend certain kinds of resources, you have to INNOVATE your way to a new, more productive system. As our society is now constructed, we need ALL of our potential to assure that, and our current system is guaranteed to suppress a massive percentage of that potential.

  51. “Alan: you have fundamentally misunderstood the argument on a couple important levels.
    1) It

  52. Sam, you’re a good person with noble intents, I am sure. I did not
    mean to be hard on you, personally. But I wish you would more
    carefully examine your proposals.

  53. Your tone suggests that you see yourself as being in a position to rule on my post, and that means I’m going to need to see some credentials that aren’t in evidence. Since you’ve failed to even understand the basic purpose of the post, you’ll forgive me for needing a bit more than I’ve seen so far. In addition, your “counter-argument” exists in magic wand land and I can’t imagine any plausibility to any part of it.

    My proposal is plenty well examined; it’s not fully baked, but it does exactly what it was intended to do. Your failure to track with my purpose doesn’t change that.

  54. I have a suggestion to help improve your message and help you achieve your goals.

    Drop the George Lakoff imitation. Stop focusing on “framing.”

    The problem with focusing on “framing” is that you get caught up in the superficial pseudo-analysis of the problem that you’re trying to “frame” and in so doing, you let the problem persist.

    The problem persists even longer if you insist on keeping the focus on “framing.”

    “Framing” is the naked emperor of politics. It is a way of appearing to be busy analyzing things, while not analyzing and implementing real solutions.

    “Framing” is not even a new concept. It is a new label on something that rhetoricians have been using for millenia. When you buy into the idea that “framing” is novel and important, you are doing nothing more than elevating the stature of George Lakoff and his sad theories. You definitely aren’t working on the underlying problem!

    Substantively speaking, your essay is wrong on a very significant point.

    BOTH parties are vehicles for the rich individuals and businesses in America. The only difference is in the sales pitch each party offers, and in the large businesses who will be the beneficiaries during that party’s administration.

    All you need to do is follow the money. And the money shows that both parties are corrupt. Not just one.

  55. If you read S&R enough, you’ll see that the Dems get flogged silly on that point on a routine basis. By all means, track back through Dr. Denny’s offerings and you’ll see – nobody gets a free ride here. Not the candidates we hate, and certainly not the ones we actually hold out a little hope for. So on this, we are in violent agreement.

    Further, a close reading of my piece reveals that I see the Dems as a necessary agent of action in the short term (it’s a two-party system and there are NO viable third party agents that are going to be able to address this meaningfully in the near term), but I scrupulously avoid making it a GOP vs. Dem issue beyond that. Go back and read how things are worded.

    No, framing isn’t new. It’s a commonly accepted word that describes an ancient linguistic process, and trust me, in grad school I had ample opportunity to explore this particular rose by a number of other names.

    This is a strategy doc, and it attempts to speak a language known to and understood by its intended audiences. That, also, is an ancient process. I hear your concerns and share them, but sometimes I have to sit my inner idealist in the corner and let my pragmatic side have the run of things for awhile.

  56. I suppose.

    On the other hand, I say that having only one “regular” who sees the problem of the Democrats is not any indication that you are realistic.

    Your “pragmatic side” ought to tell you that there isn’t a Democrat that will make a difference. The federal offices are staffed by people who see alike — regardless of political party affiliation.

    Haven’t you been watching the conduct of the Federal Govt since 9/11/2001?

    I don’t see how you can watch all that, and then say that you need to go Democrat “short-term.”

    That’s the same as saying you don’t care about the nonexistent difference between Dems and Repubs.

    And it’s the same as supporting Mr Bush and Mr Cheney.

    You may not see this now. But rest assured, at some point in the next 18 months, you will see it for sure.

    When you do, do not thank me. Instead, thank yourself for finally removing the blinders of ideological partisanship.

    By the way, Sam — we are NOT a 2-party system. That’s one of the pivotal errors in your strategy. Anyone who supports the idea that only 2 parties are allowed in America is wrong from the start.

    Keep analyzing. Keep framing.

    The rest of us will fix America for you.

  57. No. You’re absolutely right. We have lots of viable parties besides the Dems and GOP. I mean, look at all the 3rd party presidents we’ve had. And how about all those non-GOP/non-Dems in Congress? It’s a third-party wonderland.

    If your other point is that the difference between Dems and GOP is a lot less than it ought to be and that we imagine it is, you’re right. If you’re trying to say there’s no difference at all, well, you’re just being silly.