||Issue No. 273||22 July 2005|
Interview: Battle Stations
Unions: The Workers, United
Politics: The Lost Weekend
Industrial: Truth or Dare
History: A Class Act
Economics: The Numbers Game
International: Blonde Ambition
Training: The Trade Off
Review: Bore of the Worlds
Poetry: The Beaters Medley
The Locker Room
Keep the Faith
Life on a Low Wage
Seeing the Trees For the Wood
Carnival Comes to Town
Letters to the Editor
The Left in America are rediscovering the language they previously used that has now been captured by the Right to distract people from voting for their own economic interests. It's time we in Australia re-learnt the art of FRAMING THE DEBATE.
For the past forty years or so the Left in America have been losing ground to Republican Right in their core constituency: the average American. Ever since Keating, the same has been happening in Australia with regards to the Labor Party being the traditional party of the working class now holding less low income federal seats than the Liberal Party alone.
What went wrong? the language of framing. The simplest way to explain language is basically to set the terms of the debate on an issue. For example, in America the Republicans introduced a bill into Congress to ban what they called 'Partial Birth Abortion'. When the average person hears that, they more than likely imagine a gruesome image of a baby being killed whilst half born. The term was a frame and was another word for 'late term abortion'. However because every Conservative media outlet kept repeating it along with all the Republican Congressmen, it soon became mainstream and replaced late term abortion. Unfortunately our side, the Democrats, failed to realise this and started using the term 'partial birth abortion' when they were trying to argue for a woman's right to choose. The right wingers had defined/framed the issue as 'you are either for or against partial birth abortion'. The Democrats failed to realise this and argued within this frame.
To the average person watching the Left arguing to support 'partial birth abortion', the left come across as complete monsters. Even the average pro-choice person saw it that way because most people did not know what the term meant.
When John Howard began framing Paul Keating as an 'elitist' and won over the majority of those on the bottom of the economic ladder, he reframed the debate away from economics and onto social issues, and our side unfortunately played right into it. By taking economics off the table in terms of what differentiated us with the Liberals, and only seemingly remaining different on Social Issues, we took away the major reason for these people to vote for us.
Given that most people on the lower end of the economic scale are economically left and socially conservative, the Liberals now became a match made in heaven for the conservative 'working class'.
John Howard is a master at framing and reframing. When Mark Latham had him cornered as untrustworthy due to being caught out as a liar, Howard REFRAMED the issue of trust to associate it with his 'record' on interest rates. This is exactly how he launched his campaign when he called the election. "This campaign is about trust. Who do you TRUST, to keep interest rates low?"
One recent major mistake the Student Unions have made in their campaign against Voluntary Student Unionism is accepting the frame of the government - introducing VOLUNTARY Student Unionism. When our side argues against VOLUNTARY Student Unionism, we are implying that students should be forced into it. No one likes to be 'forced' into anything. Every time we used the term VOLUNTARY Student Unionism we were arguing against ourselves and kicking our own goals. What we perhaps should have done was to frame it as 'dismembering student communities'. "We are against DSC".
This article is by no means proposing that Labor and the general Left go back to the old days and forget how much many of the reforms gave the nation the prosperity it is enjoying today, but what it is proposing is that we need to be careful with our language. We need to win back our traditional base, and we need to frame the Liberals for what they are - supporters of the big end of town elite, at the expense of the average Australian.
Other frames which we could benefit from:
With the Senate falling into Conservative hands for the first time in a long time, John Howard is going to push through MANY measures which will harm the average Australian. Every time the Howard government tries anything slightly controversial, the Progressives can be their and label the government "arrogant and out of touch". "After winning all those elections, the Howard government has become arrogant and out of touch".
To see how the grass roots of the Left in the States are reframing visit here http://www.demspeak.com/ or google 'framing'.
Highly recommended book: "Don't think of an elephant! Know your values and frame the debate" By George Lakoff now available in Australian bookstores, or Amazon.com.
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