Eagle Forum Legislative Alerts

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why liberals hate the Santorum strategy

George Lakoff is a leftist Berkeley linguistics professor who explains to his fellow liberals why Rick Santorum appeals to conservatives with his pro-family arguments.

Lakoff believes that his leftist ideals will never be achieved by reason and logic, so his best hope is to skillfully reframe leftist political issues in terms of progressive metaphors. But he complains that conversatives like Santorum have an advantage, because most American grew up in stable nuclear families, and the American family metaphor is inherently conservative.

Therefore the most important goal for liberal progressives is to break down the traditional American nuclear family. Conservatives are often defensive about being pro-family, and Eagle Forum readers will be familiar with those pro-family arguments. But it is also useful to see liberals explain just why they are against those pro-family positions.

Lakoff writes at the Huff. Post:
The basic moral values in the progressive moral system are empathy and responsibility, both for oneself and others. This leads to a view of government as having certain moral obligations: providing protection and empowerment for everyone equally. This requires a vibrant commitment to the public -- public infrastructure (roads, buildings, sewers), public education, public health, and so on. No private business can prosper at all without such public provisions. The private depends on the public.

These values follow from certain ideal progressive family values, as projected to larger institutions. The progressive family has parents of equal authority. Their central moral role requires empathy with each other and their children, it requires self-responsibility, and responsibility for the well-being of other family members. This means open communication, transparency about family rules, shared decision-making, and need-based fairness.

This is an idealized view. Because our first acquaintance with being governed is in our families, we come to understand ideal versions of governing institutions (e.g., churches, schools, teams, and nations) in terms of idealizations of families.

The idealized conservative family is structured around a strict father who is the natural leader of the family, who is assumed to know right from wrong, whose authority is absolute and unchallengeable, who is masculine, makes decisions about reproduction, and who sets the rules -- in short, the Decider. Children must be taught right from wrong through strict discipline, which is required to be moral. This maps onto the nation. To be prosperous in a free market, one must be fiscally disciplined. If you are not prosperous, you must not be disciplined, and if you are not disciplined, you cannot be moral, and so you deserve your poverty.

When this idealized family model is projected onto various governing institutions, we get conservative versions of them: conservative religion with a strict father God; a view of the market as Decider with no external authority over the market from government, unions, or the courts; and strictness in other institutions, like education, prisons, businesses, sports teams, romantic relationships, and the world community. Control over reproduction ought to be in the hands of male authorities.

For conservatives, democracy is about liberty, individual responsibility and self-reliance -- the freedom to seek one's own self-interest with minimal or no commitment to the interests of others. This implies a minimal public and a maximal private.

We can now see why the Santorum Strategy is so concerned with family values. Strict father family values are the model for radical conservative values. Conservative populism -- in which poor conservatives vote against their financial interests -- depends on those poor conservatives having strict father family values, defining themselves in terms of those values, and voting on the basis of those values, thus selecting strict fathers as their political leaders.
Lakoff then applies this to some contemporary issue. For example, someone from a traditional American family is more likely to think that an elite law student should take some personal responsibility for her sexual needs and behavior.

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