Much More Than Race: What Makes a Great Speech Great

by: George Lakoff

Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 18:00

( - promoted by Chris Bowers)

The first of a series by George Lakoff on The New Politics.

Barack Obama's March 18, 2008 speech was about much more than race. It outlined a new politics that many Americans-candidates at all levels, activists, and ordinary citizens-have been speaking and writing about, and yearning for, for years. It is a politics that goes beyond the electoral horserace to the deepest questions about what America is as a  nation and who we Americans are as people.

George Lakoff :: Much More Than Race: What Makes a Great Speech Great
We are on the cusp of a new politics in America. It should be dated from March 18, 2008, the date of Barack Obama's landmark speech, A More Perfect Union. The usual pundits have looked mainly at the speech's surface theme: race.  They weren't wrong. It was indeed the most important statement about race in recent history.

But it was much more. It was a general call to a new politics and an outline for what it needs to be. Just as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was about much more than the war dead on that battlefield, so Obama's speech-widely hailed as in the same ballpark as Lincoln's-went beyond race to the nature of America, its ideals, and its future.

To get an appreciation for the greatness of Obama's speech, we have to start with its context: What were the problems Obama faced in writing it, and what were the constraints on him?

He was under severe political attack, both from Republican conservatives and from the Clinton wing of his own party. Here's what he was facing:

• Racial divisions and identity politics had been injected into the campaign by his opponents and the media. The effect was to position him, as an African-American, as opposed to the interests of whites and Hispanics.

• An attack on his and his wife's patriotism.

• A claim that he was really a Muslim.

• A repeatedly shown film clip of his long-time pastor, Jeremiah Wright, who had married him and his wife and baptized his daughters, making embarrassing remarks taken as Anti-American and anti-Semitic.

• One of the hallmarks of his campaign has been good judgment on foreign policy; his opponents claimed that his connection to Wright had shown bad judgment.

• Another hallmark of his campaign has been authenticity, telling the truth. Two of his advisors had made remarks-one on NAFTA and one on Iraq-that opponents had twisted to make it seem that he was lying. He had to establish himself as truthful.

• Another hallmark of his campaign has been values. His opponents had claimed that his values were unknown and that the public didn't know who he was.

• His opponents had claimed that he could not stand up to strong opposition.

• He was in the center of an intensely divisive campaign while pressing unity as a major theme.

• His opponents had claimed that his eloquence was all talk and no action.

In addition, Senator Obama faced certain constraints on what he could say:

• He understands that people vote primarily on the basis of character and how he would govern: on values, authenticity, trust, and identity, and only secondarily on fine policy details (See Thinking  Points). He could not ignore the problems and hope they would go away. They wouldn't. Since he was being attacked on all of these character and governance issues, he had to confront them all.

•He had been putting forth a vision of bipartisanship opposite that of Senator Clinton In her bipartisanship, she moved to the right giving up on fundamental values. In his bipartisanship, he understands that "conservatives" and "independents" often share fundamental American values with him. Instead of giving up on his values, he finds those outside his party who share them. His speech had to have such an appeal.

• The honesty and openness of his declared new politics required him to be consistent with his previous statements.

• He could not explicitly go negative and still continue to campaign on civility and unity. He could only go positive and evoke implicit negatives.

• He could neither accept his opponents framing of him, nor argue explicitly against that framing. If he did either, he would just strengthen their frames. He had to impose his own framing, while being true to his values and his campaign themes.

• He could not go on the defensive; that would just encourage his detractors. He had to show leadership.

• Though he might have felt frustrated or even angry, leadership demanded that he be his usual calm self, embracing not attacking even those who opposed him. He had to be what he was talking about.

Try to imagine being in this position and having to write a speech overnight.  And yet he wrote not a speech, but the speech-one of the greatest ever.

As a linguist, I am tempted to describe the surface features: the intonation, the meter, the grammatical parallelisms, the choice of words. These contribute to eloquence.  I'm sure the linguistics community will jump in and do that analysis. Instead, I want to talk about the structure of ideas.

Any framing study begins with communicative framing, the context. Contextual frames carry ideas. Senator Obama is patriotic, and had to communicate not only the fact of his patriotism, but also the content of it. And he had to do it in a way that fit unquestionable and shared American values. Where did he give his speech kicking off his Pennsylvania campaign? Not in Scranton or Pittsburgh or Hershey, but in Philadelphia, home of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and at once home of one of America's largest African American communities. What building was it in? Constitution Hall. How did he appear onstage? Surrounded by flags. He is tall and thin, as were the flagstaffs, which were about the same height. He was visually one with the flag, one with America. No picture of him could be taken without a flag shaped like him, without an identification of man and country.

How did he start the speech? With the first line of the Constitution: "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union..." He called the speech "A More Perfect Union." And that's what it was about.  Union: About inclusiveness not divisiveness; about responsibility for each other not just oneself; about seeing the country and world in terms of cooperation, not competition or isolation. More Perfect: Admitting the imperfections of being human and making a commitment to do better; distinguishing the ideals on parchment from the reality that our actions must forge. A More Perfect Union: Looking to a better future that it is up to us to make and that can only be done by transcending divisiveness and coming together around the ideals of our Constitution.

That is what he has meant by "hope" and "change." It is the general message. And race, though a special case, is one the hardest issues to address. And though his opponents will continue to promote and exploit racial divisiveness, race is an area where huge progress has been made and needs to be made visible. If there is to be a test of character and leadership-a test of honesty, openness, strength, and integrity on his part, and good will and American values on the part of American citizens, race is as tough a test case as any. Not a test of Obama, but a test of America. A test of whether Americans will live American ideals. No pussyfooting. No sweeping it under the rug. This election sets a direction for the country. Will we face our problems and follow our ideals or not? Obama can hold the mirror up to us, and he can endeavor to lead the march. What he asks is whether we are ready to continue the march, "a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring, and more prosperous America."

Most of the adjectives are familiar in political speeches: just, equal, free, and prosperous. What is the crucial addition, right in the middle, is "caring." A day later, Anderson Cooper asked him on CNN what he meant by patriotism. His response began with "caring about one another." The choice of words is careful. In his Martin Luther King Day speech this year, Obama spoke repeatedly of the "empathy deficit," the need to be "more caring."

Empathy, as I showed in my book Moral Politics, is at the heart of progressive politics in America. And as UCLA historian Lynn Hunt has shown in her book, Inventing Human Rights: A History, the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness became self-evident by 1776 through the development of empathy. Democracy is based on empathy, on the bonds of care and responsibility that link us together and make us a nation.

It is the mark of a great speech not just to mention its themes, but to exemplify those themes. Empathy, union, and common responsibility are the ideas behind the speech, as well as the ideas behind the New Politics; and as the speech shows, they are behind the idea of America itself. The speech works via empathy, via the emotional structure built into the speech and into our national ideals. The speech works because, almost line by line, it evokes those foundational ideals-the ideals we have and feel, but that have been far too long hidden behind political cynicism, political fear, and the concern for advantage. And it is the mark of political courage to confront those monsters head on at the most critical point in a campaign for the presidency, when one could play it safe and just count delegates, but chooses the right but difficult path.

At this point, the symbolic structure of the speech becomes easier to see.

He begins by discussing the achievement of the Declaration of Independence in uniting the states, while seeing its flaw-the country's "original sin of slavery," part of the deal to get South Carolina to join the union. The nation is great, and still flawed-and loved for its greatness despite its flaws.

The same is true of Reverend Wright. Reverend Wright's history symbolizes the history of his generation of African-Americans-a bitter history of oppression by whites in an America in denial: segregation, legalized discrimination, lynchings, a brutal fight for basic civil rights. His bitterness and that of his generation is real and understandable. We can empathize with him. And we empathize even more when we learn of his positive accomplishments: Service in the Marine Corps. Speaking to Obama "about our obligations to love one another, to care for the sick and lift up the poor. And he lived what he preached: "housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS." He preached empathy, he lived empathy, and we empathize with him for that.

And yet Reverend Wright's statements as shown in the TV clips were wrong. Not just incorrect, but morally wrong: divisive and harmful, raising what is wrong with America above all that is right with America. Obama condemns those statements. But he won't fall into the same mistake, raising what is wrong with the man above all that is right with the man. Obama loves and is loyal to his flawed country, just as he loves and is loyal to this flawed but fundamentally good man. Just as he loves his wonderful white grandmother who is flawed by occasional racial stereotypes. His relationship with Reverend Wright shows in Obama a positive character: love and loyalty while acknowledging the reality of flaws and not being taken in by them. It is good judgment, not bad judgment-about Wright and about America.

But Obama is not just black; he is half white. His wife has in her veins the blood of both slaves and slave owners. Obama's empathy is not just for black America but equally for white America. He speaks of the real troubles of poor white Americans, and their real and legitimate feelings of anger and resentment. But both black anger and white resentment are counterproductive. They create divisiveness when unity is needed to overcome "the real culprits of the middle class squeeze-a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many." The poor-black and white and brown-are all victims of the real culprits, whose weapon is fear and divisiveness. Race gets in the way. It is a distraction from dealing with corporate greed.

Another culprit that stands in the way is the media, which uses race for its own ends-as spectacle (the OJ trial), tragedy (Katrina), and "fodder for the nightly news." Obama is courageous here. He is taking on a media that has been especially underhanded with him, helping the Right spread guilt by association by showing the Reverend Wright tape snippets over and over. For a candidate to talk straight to the media about what it is doing to harm the country is courageous, to say the least.

A bit of courage for a candidate who seeks the votes of Republicans is to point out that a serious flaw of Reverend Wright's is also a central flaw of conservatism: "the notion of self-help, or what conservatives call individual responsibility. It is central to conservative Christianity as well: whether you go to heaven or hell is a matter of individual responsibility. It is a mistake in both religion and politics.

What is called for is nothing less than what all the world's great religions demand-that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect our spirit as well.

American politics and religion come together on these moral grounds: empathy and responsibility both for oneself and others.

And with all the Christian references in the speech, it is hard to imagine him as a Muslim.
Obama begins the close of his speech with a riff on how talk is action: "This time we want to talk about..." followed by the plights of Americans, plights that arouse our empathy-or should. Speech, Obama tells us, is action. Collective speech changes brains and minds, and when the minds of voters change, material change is possible. And if ever a speech was an act, this speech is it.

The closing portion is pure empathy- the story of Ashley and the old black man. Ashley, a white girl, out of empathy for her struggling mother, ate mustard and relish on bread for year to save on food money. She became a community organizer out of empathy for those in her community who were struggling. At an event she organized, she asked everyone to say why they were there. She told her story, others told theirs, and when they came to the old black man he said simply, "I'm here because of Ashley." The empathy of an old black man for a young white woman. A moral for us all.

The true power of the speech is that it does what it says. It not only talks about empathy, it creates it.

The speech achieves its power not just through the literal and the obvious. Family metaphors abound: the nation is a family; the nation's future is its children; it's flawed past is its older citizens, scarred by past flaws. "The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids ..." The nation is a family, and we have to care for our kids.

It is a common metaphor that an institution is seen as a person, with the special case that a nation is understood in terms of its leader. In this speech, Obama becomes contemporary America: as America is of mixed race, he is of mixed race; as Americans have benefited from advances over past flaws, so he has benefited. His story is an "only in America story," an American dream story. His candidacy is only possible in America. Indeed his genes are only possible in America. How could he be anything but patriotic when he is America? And how can we, identifying with him, be anything but patriotic when we are America?

No, this is not, as the NY Times says on its website, "a speech on race." It is a speech on what America is about, on what American values are, on what patriotism is, on who the real culprits are, and on the kind of new politics needed if we are to make progress in transcending those flaws that are still very much with us.

Finally it is a speech about policy and how he would govern. When he says "This time we want to talk about,..." he is listing a policy agenda: education, health care, overcoming special interests, creating good jobs, saving homes, fighting corporate greed that works against the common good, creating unity, bringing the troops home from Iraq, and taking care of our veterans. As a list, this looks like Senator Clinton's list. But there is a crucial difference.

Senator Clinton speaks constantly of "interests." In doing so, she is doing what many other Democrats have done before her, engaging in interest group politics, where policy means finding some demographic group that has been ill-served by the market or government and then proposing a governmental redress: a tax break here, a subsidy there, a new regulation. Obama does not speak of interests and seeks to transcend interest groups and interest group politics. That is at the heart of this speech. When we transcend interest groups, we transcend interest group politics.

And when he says, "I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents..." he is making a foreign policy statement, that foreign policy is not just about states and national interests, but about people and the world's family.

What makes this great speech great is that it transcends its immediate occasion and addresses in its form as well as its words the most vital of issues: what America is about: who are, and are to be, as Americans; and what politics should be fundamentally about.

The media has missed this. But we must not.

The media has gone back to the horserace, reporting counts of delegates and super-delegates, campaign attacks, who endorses who, and this week's polls.  Hardly irrelevant, but not the main event.

The main event is the new politics, what has excited Americans about this election, what has brought young people out to political speeches, and what has led voters to wait for hours in the cold just to catch a glimpse of a candidate for president who has been saying what they have been waiting to hear. It is this:

The essence of America was there in its founding documents, carried out imperfectly and up to us to keep alive and work toward as best we can.

At the heart of our democracy is empathy-made-real, a political arrangement through which we care for one another, protect one another, create joint prosperity and help one another lead fulfilling lives.

America is a family and its future is our children-to be nurtured and attuned to nature; fed and housed well; educated to their capacities; kept healthy and helped to prosper; made whole through music and the arts; and provided with institutions that bring them together in these ongoing responsibilities.

The strength of America is in its ideals and how we act them out.

Americans have come here from around the globe, with family, ethnic and cultural ties to virtually every country and with human ties to people everywhere. Our actions in the world must reflect this.

All of this is politics. Politics is essentially ethical, it is about what is right. And the nuts and bolts of determining legitimate political authority-the fund-raising, the on-the-ground organization, the speeches, the campaign ads, the voter registration, and the counting of ballots-should reflect these values as well.

That is the politics Americans have yearned for, and though we don't have it yet and it won't be here tomorrow, it is what so many of us are working for and that we have glimpsed through this speech.

No matter who wins the Democratic nomination and the presidential election in 2008, these ideals are not going to be fully realized right away. No candidate is perfect on this score, nor could be. But this is the vision. It sets the goals that I believe most Americans seek. We can make progress toward it in hundreds of ways. But in its vision it will always be the New Politics we seek as Americans, in 2012, 2016, 2020, and beyond.

George Lakoff is Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, Senior Fellow at the Rockridge Institute
Author of the forthcoming The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st Century Politics with an 18th Century Brain,, available June 2, 2008, Viking/Penguin.

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empathy in action (4.00 / 4)
The true power of the speech is that it does what it says. It not only talks about empathy, it creates it.

Among the many insights of George's analysis, his observation on the importance of a candidate acting and being what  he/she is advocating can't be overstated.

Sen. John Kerry, for instance, legitimately described himself as a war hero, and built the narrative of his campaign around that role. But then, by not responding forcefully to the swift boat attacks on his character, he failed to ACT like the war hero he described himself as being. That's a rather obvious instance, and I don't mean to pick on Kerry, but it's an easy one to understand.

In this speech Obama was true to the character and the narrative of his campaign.

"It does what it says." Seems simple advice to follow. Much harder in practice.

Putting this post together with Paul Rosenberg's (4.00 / 2)
critique gives a sense of the pressures that Obama faced when giving this speech.

I tend to agree with most of what Lakoff said and also with most of what Paul said.  It was a great speech, one of the most important of the past few decades. And it was a tragic cop out.  And maybe it had to be both.  

But Paul is right.  We need to acknowledge both sides.  

The realities of the oppression of blacks in America today are hard to exaggerate.  

I'm willing to take a chance with Obama.  But in many ways I hope he doesn't really believe everything he says.  I fear he does, as does Rosenberg, I think.  Maybe the congressional republicans will knock some sense into him if he wins.  

Lakoff is laying it on a little too thick, here.  One can become too enamored with one's own theoretical abstractions.  

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

[ Parent ]
A Better Explication Than A Speech (4.00 / 1)
I don't disagree with anything George says here about Obama's speech itself--well, maybe a quibble.  But I do think he focuses exclusively on what works.  And though there is a lot of that, there are some things that don't work, as I have argued in Wright Was Righter Than You Think.

What Obama has done, more than anything, I would argue, is extend the boundaries of America's Eurocentric vision.  Now, it should go without saying--though of course it does not--that that Eurocentric vision is already deeply influenced by non-European cultures.  Our Judeo-Christian roots are African and Asian.  Our Greek roots, too, draw heavily on earlier African and Asian cultures--as do our Roman roots, as well.  Our Renaissance was only possible because Islamic scholars kept alive our earlier Greek and Roman heritage, when Europe had all but totally lost touch with these rich roots.  And not only that--they added significantly to the scientific and mathematical heritage they preserved, planting seeds that grew to full maturity in our Age of Enlightenment.

But as I have indicated in my diary, there is a black Ameircan reality that Obama's speech has given short shrift to.  And my diary only touched on one part of one aspect of that reality.  What's really needed for us to advance is not merely what Obama has offered us--for what he has offered us is really what it takes for white America to begin moving out of reverse, and into first gear.

I believe that George's analysis is very penetrating, as usual.  But we do not yet have a similarly sophisticated analysis that comes from an Afrocentric perspective, that lives in the very different sorts of linguistic practices that Africa has birthed, and continues to birth, again and again, with each new generation or wave of its ongoing diaspora.

As a white boy myself, I can only vaguely indicate the sort of difference this would make, the direction it migh take us.  And, of course, I could well be mistaken.  But it seems to me that liberalism is inherently pluralistic in ways that conservatism is not.  George's work illuiminates this fact from a different angle than others before him.  But it does not fully tell us how to compensate for the strategic vulnerabilities this entails.

There is, I think, a very strong case to be made that African culture is inherently more consistent with expressing and defending a pluralistic vision, on multiple levels.  And I believe that linguists rooted in African experience and working in the tradition George has helped to create will take us significantly farther than where we can even begin to see today.

In short, what I'm saying is that Obama looks a whole lot better in contrast to Bill and Hillary Clinton than he does in contrast to George Clinton.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

Don't underestimate what it took (0.00 / 0)
It's not so much that I disagree, but that I think the speech Obama gave was next to impossible to give. To go further might have actually been impossible in the full context. Impossible, that is, for Obama to succeed as a candidate and rise to level you suggest. And getting beat would not in this case be noble, it would signal failure.

This is the criticism Martin Luther King faced from inside the movement for years, and there was always merit to the criticism. But he chose differently, and ultimately moved the nation one important step close to a post-racial society.

I also agree that there is a danger that many will think the speech is a beginning and an end, and not just a beginning, or a new beginning, or another important step. You are right about that.

And, of course, you are right about the multicultural influences in what we call the West, as well as the observation that some of those influences -- African, Native American, Asian -- and many other unique perspectives -- will have to be bright parts of a new American grain.

[ Parent ]
King vs X (0.00 / 0)
This does seem a bit like the Dr. King versus Malcolm X argument*, only now King is the new X.

* Or as the younger folks think of it, Professor X versus Magneto.

[ Parent ]
One Thing's For Certain (0.00 / 0)
Obama is partially responsible for getting himself in this fix in the first place.  On the one hand, he could have come down much harder on the "Obama is a Muslim" whisper campaign, which would have sent the message not to mess with him.  On the other hand, he could have been much more outfront about the nature of his church, so that nothing from Reverend Wright would have had such an impact.

And, on the third hand (we're talking Hindu gods here, got as many hands as we need), he could have talked much more forthrightly about race before his hand was forced.

So, basically, what you're saying amounts (in my view) to "he got himself into this situation, and then did a remarkable job of getting out of it."  I can't argue with that.  But I think there's a broader perspective to be had, from which more could be seen. Both more that needed to be done, and more that could have been done.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
A perfect union.. (4.00 / 3)
...of imperfect souls. He and we could always be better and do better.

It's not exactly true that Obama got himself into the mess. A few hundred years of history here helped, as did the willingness of many, including his opponent I'm afraid, to play a little race politics in hopes it would bring him down a peg or two.

But I want to take this away from Obama for a moment.

The responsibility lies with us. No candidate can carry this burden, and we can't expect them to. And we often make that mistake. We have to prepare the nation's consciousness, or in more mundane terms, the opinion environment, before the ordinary can become extraordinary. The extraordinary can be approached, and it was in this instance.

There's no silver bullet and there's no Lone Ranger. It's a mistake for a candidate's supporters to believe them capable of the miraculous, and it's a mistake for others to criticize them for not attaining it.

[ Parent ]
But Obama Has ENCOURAGED His Own Elevation As A Silver Bullet Candidate (0.00 / 0)
so, again, he has brought it on himself.

I'm hardly arguing he did any of this in a vacuum.  But he did make certain choices, and those choices have consequences.

Meanwhile, did you happen to notice that we just might be on the verge of another Great Depression?  I know that Obama hasn't noticed.  I can understand McCain doing a Hoover.  But Obama?  Too busy being brilliantly post-racial, I guess.

Sorry.  But listening to Paciifica radio can do that to you sometimes.  

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
The source of my bias (4.00 / 2)
I am probably overlooking shortcomings in Obama because of my hopes that we can get beyond the Clinton years.

It's nothing against Hillary personally. It's the fact that I spent many of those years working in Texas, watching the Clintons write it off year after year. It's my belief that their machine has inhibited infrastructure building and the emergence of a new politics, or even a semi-new politics, for fear it would work against their return to power. In that fear, at least, I think they are being proven right.

I think an Obama nomination will put some serious cracks in the centrist superstructure, even if he governs more from the center than I would prefer. At least we'll be arguing with a few new people who haven't dominated Democrats from their comfortable D.C. homes the last 16 years.

[ Parent ]
I Generally Agree With This Analysis (0.00 / 0)
It's just that I've never been candidate-centric, even when I was rather enthusiastically supporting Jesse Jackson back in 1988.  It's my natural inclination to look at things from a much broader scope.

I think that George makes the best possible case for this speech, and I think his analysis is an important one.  But we all know that no speech can erase the context in which it is given.  Alter it, yes.  Erase it, not so much.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
More like you and we'll win (0.00 / 0)
Yes and yes again.

Lincoln helped get himself re-elected with the Gettysburg speech. But we still haven't fully erased the context in which that speech was given.

We've all been too candidate-centric, and it works against transformational change, because candidate games are played on short fields. Their tactical demands have never fit well into long-term strategic needs, especially when most of the silo-bound liberal interest groups were also more focused on the short-term than the long-term.

But I have always worked for candidates, when I wasn't writing about them, and so while contributing to the problem I saw it from the inside. It makes me more forgiving of them. All of them all too human, most made to be something they weren't by their own minds, their supporters' hopes, and their detractors' enmity.

[ Parent ]
Yikes we cant expect Obama to not be candidate centric though (0.00 / 0)
One of the reasons we work for them, and for the constitution that created them, is that candidates have taken the, dare I say, existentialist plunge, to declaring as Obama has, and  must; 'the feirce urgency of the now' demands that he step forward and be that candidate.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
No, we can't (4.00 / 1)
I agree. It's us that can't be candidate-centric all the time.

[ Parent ]
Actually, Not (0.00 / 0)
The candidate that is about themselves is the last one on Earth you should vote for.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
The famous gray area (0.00 / 0)
I don't mean selfishness; I mean that tactical demands placed upon short-term enterprises, which campaigns are, necessarily focus candidates on what's needed to win.

There is an obvious tension between what must be done to win and a long-term strategic effort for change. That's what I mean about the necessity of progressive infrastructure, about preparing the opinion environment ahead of candidate contests.

It's also the case that in Celebrity America, much more attention is focused on  candidate personalities  than on what values are embodied in a long-term vision.

[ Parent ]
But Campaign-Focus ISN'T The Same As Candidate-Focus (0.00 / 0)
This is a very crucial distinction, which I'm sure that someone with your experience probably appreciates more than the rest of us, having to deal with it up close and personal.

What's more, one doesn't just want to win an election, one wants to win it in a way that sets the stage for successful governing.  There is a larger political purpose that the campaign is supposed to serve, and while political operatives often see this as something to be sacrificed, if need be, in order to win, voters often see things precisely the other way around--if you're not really interested in the larger purpose, why should they vote for you?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Not certain I understand (0.00 / 0)
If  you mean campaigns that extend beyond the boundaries of election cycles, I agree. But candidate campaigns are candidate-centric.

I'm suggesting a call to arms for all of us to work between election cycles to make it easier for candidates and campaigns to serve the larger purpose -- because we have set the larger purpose in the public consciousness before candidates step into the arena.

This is, in part, how the Right did it.

I'm not trying to lower expectations for our candidates, I'm trying to raise expectations for ourselves.

And I'm not defending our history of myopic campaign operatives, either.

[ Parent ]
No, I Mean Something In Addition To That (0.00 / 0)
I mean--among other things--that candidates have to have a reason for running beyond just wanting to hold an important office.  The campaign has a reason beyond the candidate's ego.  The ego is there, obviously, but something else is at the core of the campaign, even for the candidate, since the candidate themselves is sacrificing something to run.

This is, I would argue, a less important point than the one you are making.  But it's still an important one, I think.  So I want to be clear about it.  

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Pastor Wright (4.00 / 2)
I'm convinced that the whole Pastor Wright flap would never have mushroomed into such a big deal if his words hadn't been delivered in an angry tone.  White America freaked out at the sight of an angry black man ranting.  I doubt that many of the voters who were impacted by his words have actually taken the time to analyze exactly what he said.  And even fewer have seen the full video of the sermon, which helps to put things in a broader context.  Unfortunately the media ran the excerpts incessantly for about a week, and the impression left by that barrage of images is not easily modified.  

Character wins elections, not policies (4.00 / 2)
Lakoff states what I believe is the most important reason that Democrats have taken a back seat when it comes to winning elections and winning the hearts and minds of the American people. While the Democratic Party principles and policies promoted are in the interest to a majority of Americans, Democrats repeatedly fail to understand what Lakoff notes below:

people vote primarily on the basis of character and how he would govern: on values, authenticity, trust, and identity, and only secondarily on fine policy details.

The battle between partisans supporting each Democratic candidate does little to bolster character, and authenticityfor the candidate the support. Battling over the fine policy details between the Obama and Clinton health plans fails to recognize that either plan would be a miles ahead of a McCain health plan. And, more important, a plan ultimately passed by congress will look little like the one put forth by the president. Our candidates need to get back to looking presidential.

Obama seems to understand this importance of character and authenticity while Hillary does not. Her approach to politics is to win the "important states" and important "demographic groups" by speaking to each group's special interests. She has a policy for everything, yet during this campaign, she has done little to convince us that her sense of personal integrity is sufficient to bring about the change we so desperately crave. Her values and authenticity have repeatedly come into question and leave an uncertain picture of what a Clinton presidency may be like.    

Thank You George! (0.00 / 0)
I think you and I saw the same speech through the same set of "frames".

Barack's ability to take his world view and communicate that against a sea of critics was one of the more compelling political moments of my life.

Listening to Bay Buchanan later that same day concede the speechs strengths was encouring... but almost all the follow on reviews seemed to twist the content against another set of frames: inexperience, a racial bias, political "slight of hand", and "so it goes".

But, history will judge the event by the effects and I can see that the effects will be powerful. By addressing the issues in this manner Obama has given himself that armor of righteousness that makes it hard for an opponent to attack without seeming less worthy.

After the speech, I can judge a lot of TV pundits by their ability to see what does or does not work with people. Which to me shows who enters the conversation with an agenda and who has an open mind for new ideas and perspectives. It allows me to find like minds across the political spectrum... to find common ground based upon an appeal to empathy.

Imagine a politics of empathy tempered with wisdom. One can only "Hope" for such a "Change". That would be a Golden Rule.

One thing he did (4.00 / 3)
Was make the speech rise to a level where the usual suspects who wanted to rip him to shreds either had to hold off, concede it was pretty good, or look churlish.  It was so much so that Chris Wallace actually ripped on the Fox morning crew for their attacks on the speech.

There's a lesson here for skilled orators, say something eloquently enough and your critics end up looking bad for criticizing it.  Of course this is easier to say than to do, but still, worth noting that there are ways to rise above the muck slingers.

Thank you Prof. Lakoff (0.00 / 0)
Ever since I read "Don't think of an elephant" I've seen and heard politics differently - and look for framing around me rather than always falling prey to it.

The Frame Around the Frame? (4.00 / 1)
I appreciate this analysis of Obama's speech, but I'd also like to hear what Prof. Lakoff has to say about the predominant framing of the Rev. Wright "issue." It occurs to me that the attempt to make Obama accountable for Wright's words has a deeply racist objective, which is to disqualify from office ANY African-American who identifies with his or own community (ergo, to disqualify from office ANY African-American, period).

Ask yourself, if mixed-race, Columbia Univ Poli/Sci/Int'l Relations graduate, Harvard magna cum laude, Harvard Law Review Editor, State Senator, US Senator, university lecturer in Constitutional law, community activist, father of two, bestselling author, and Grammy Award winner Barack Obama is not acceptable, then who would be?

IOKIYAR (0.00 / 0)
Ask yourself, if mixed-race, Columbia Univ Poli/Sci/Int'l Relations graduate, Harvard magna cum laude, Harvard Law Review Editor, State Senator, US Senator, university lecturer in Constitutional law, community activist, father of two, bestselling author, and Grammy Award winner Barack Obama is not acceptable, then who would be?

Well, gosh, just about anyone, if he was a Republican!

The name Alan "Batshit Crazy" "Hates-His-Daughter" Keyes comes to mind....

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
The Speech: A Brilliant Fraud (0.00 / 0)
In "The Speech: A Brilliant Fraud", Charles Krauthammer makes some very good points.... please read... and ask yourself if it sounds true. Everyone should be careful and go ahead and look deeply into this horse's mouth.

Charles Krauthammer is a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist and commentator. He is a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard and The New Republic.


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