You can’t buff a turd


The Little Blue Book: Quotations from Chairman Lakoff

George Lakoff, Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at U.C. Berkeley — and highly regarded Democratic tactician — has just released his playbook for the 2012 election. Titled The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic, it purports to be the ultimate insiders’ guide to liberal messaging and left-wing ideology.


He spells this out explicitly on page 17 of The Little Blue Book; in this passage, Lakoff explains to us the difference between progressive families and conservative families — and this difference is crucial to contemporary politics, because our moral values as adults are a direct result of how we were raised:

According to this analysis, conservatives are conservatives because their minds and morals have been twisted by cruel parenting, and they seek to reconstruct this pathological family unit on a grand society-wide scale; whereas progressives naturally were raised by wonderful, caring co-parents to become wonderful, caring adults who seek to replicate this loving family environment for all mankind.


Lakoff is also the reason why liberals and conservatives never seem to be able to communicate with each other. This frustrating problem is no accident, nor a natural result of differing ideologies simply not seeing eye to eye. Rather, it’s a conscious behavior explicitly recommended by Lakoff over the years, and one which he hammers home repeatedly in The Little Blue Book. Page 43 contains the book’s core message:

“Never use your opponent’s language….Never repeat ideas that you don’t believe in, even if you are arguing against them.”


And many politicians, pundits and talking heads have taken Lakoff’s recommendation to heart. This is why conservatives and liberals can’t seem to have the simplest conversation: liberals intentionally refuse to address or even acknowledge what conservatives say. Since (as Lakoff notes) conservatives invariably frame their own statements within their own conservative “moral frames,” every time a conservative speaks, his liberal opponent will seemingly ignore what was said and instead come back with a reply literally out of left field.

Thus, he is the progenitor of and primary advocate for the main reason why liberalism fails to win the public debate: Because it never directly confronts, disproves or negates conservative notions — it simply ignores them.


And this is Lakoff’s fundamental flaw, which unfortunately exactly coincides with his fundamental thesis (in other words, his thesis doesn’t have an error — it is an error). By intentionally refusing to challenge, disprove, understand or even acknowledge the existence of the other side’s argument, you allow that argument to grow in strength and win converts.

This would not be true if the other side’s argument were inherently weak or fallacious, which I assume is at the root of Lakoff’s blunder; he must assume that conservatives don’t have valid arguments or positions, but rather nothing more than sneakily effective ways of misrepresenting erroneous or ridiculous beliefs. In Lakoff’s universe, you can extinguish such beliefs by ignoring them completely, thus depriving them of oxygen.

This strategy of Lakoff would work if two things were true: First, that the conservative position really and truly did not have a valid point behind it; and second, that the conservative position did not have enough of a platform to reach the general public. In order to prop up his thesis, Lakoff must pretend (and insist that all his readers also pretend) that the conservative position is beneath contempt, even beneath ridicule. That solves the first potential problem. But the second one is vexatious to the liberal; Lakoff and his ilk simply cannot stand the very fact that conservative ideas are even allowed to be enunciated in public. Giving conservatives a soapbox is dangerous, even if (as Lakoff presumes) conservative arguments are nothing but a pack of lies and psychological disorders; if lies and lunacies are repeated often enough and cleverly enough, then they can successfully win the hearts and minds of the general public.

The article is quite a bit longer and I don’t agree with everything in it, but I want to thank Zombie for addressing one of my pet peeves. Too many liberals are obsessed about the messaging and ignore the message. Between that and the “Shut-up is why” school of debate it is annoying to watch them blow opportunity after opportunity.

Lakoff’s theory has a lot to do with the failure of OWS – it was all messaging, no message. It was a protest without a defined purpose run by rebels without a clue.

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29 Responses to You can’t buff a turd

  1. Oswald says:

    From the comments at Zombie’s:

    I, Liberal

    I’m sure that there could never be
    A man as virtuous as me.
    I’ve honed my precious self-esteem
    In ways no common man could dream!
    To feed my moral vanity,
    I preen for all the world to see;
    I thrust in everybody’s face
    The noble causes I embrace.

    And lest there be the slightest doubt
    That I’m no bitter, clinging lout,
    The bumper stickers on my Volt
    Affirm that I’m no right-wing dolt.
    As these credentials will attest,
    I am the brightest and the best –
    And true to my enlightened soul,
    Utopia shall be my goal!

  2. votermom says:

    Back in the W years, when I was still a member of Daily Kos, I thought Lakoff’s “Don’t Think of an Elephant” was absolutely brilliant.
    From what I remember of it now, it’s actually quite tinfoil-hatty and absurdly reductionist.

    • Oswald says:

      Lakoff is partially correct. There is a certain amount of salesmanship needed to put ideas across. But salesmanship is not the message. You still need a product to sell.

      • votermom says:

        One of the commenters at pjmedia has it right – Lakoff’s methods are about propaganda, not debate.

        • trixta says:

          Yes, and before 2008 Lakoff & his Rocklin think tank advised the Left to find a candidate who appealed to the masses on an emotional level, rather than a rational or pragmatic level. Obama definitely fit the bill on that score.

  3. elliesmom says:

    If those are the bases of what makes a conservative a conservative and a progressive a progressive, then most of the Republicans I know are progressives, and a lot of the Democrats I know are conservative.

  4. yttik says:

    U.C. Berkeley just got themselves a tank from Homeland Security to protect themselves from….themselves? Must be, because there really aren’t any violent gangs of right wing Tea Partiers hanging out at Berkeley.

    Anyway, nothing says “equal authority” and “shared decision making” quite like a “progressive” crowd control tank.

  5. angienc says:

    The progs believe that conservative ideas are beneath contempt & shouldn’t be allowed to be spoken, but it is the conservatives who wish to impose an authoritarian structure upon society.

    Hmm, seems to me that progs don’t really understand what “authoritarian” means.

    And btw — parents who allow their children to “participate in family decisions” are dumbasses. I know there are plenty of them around — the ones with kids running around like banshees in restaurants, throwing food, playing between the tables, etc. I don’t call this “loving parenting,” I call this “negligent parenting” and they do it not because they are such wonderful, loving, intelligent people, they do it because they are lazy. It is a lot easier to give the kid a cookie when he’s crying for it then to make him wait until after supper, etc. However, if you can’t or are unwilling to make hard decisions then you have no business having kids, because it isn’t just your family that suffers allowing spoiled brats to run things, it is we, as a society, who are suffering the consequences with all these special little snowflakes with no self-control or ability to accept responsibility for their actions running around. They’re raising a generation of sociopaths.

    • elliesmom says:

      My husband and I were out to dinner at an upscale restaurant in Bar Harbor. It was late – probably too late to expect children to still be well-behaved, but there were two families with kids sharing a small dining room with us. At one table the older children were helping the little ones figure out how to get all of the meat of a lobster. There was much giggling, but the whole family was engaged and the kids were very well-behaved. At the other table the kids were mostly under the table, whining and poking at each other, and when they weren’t doing that they were playing what my husband calls “Restaurant Duck, Duck, Goose”. Because I can never really turn the teacher thing off, I stopped by the table with the charming children on my way out and complimented them on their behavior. They were obviously pleased. As we were reaching the door, the mother from the other table grabbed my shoulder and yelled at me that I had spoiled her children’s evening because I had not complimented them as well. I politely told her that it was my choice to offer praise or not – just as it was her choice to raise children who deserved it or not. The restaurant manager stepped in and offered to comp our dinners if her kids had spoiled our evening. I said that my evening wasn’t spoiled -just that her kids were. I truly thought she was going to deck me.

      • Lola-at-Large says:

        LOL! Another great story, elliesmom. I hope you write a book one day. I’d totally buy a copy.

      • angienc says:

        OMG — I love you!
        And this story is *exactly* what I’m talking about. That dumbass was offended that *you* didn’t compliment her children; it didn’t *once* occur to her that her children didn’t deserve it. So offended, in fact, that she actually said something to you about it! She is raising these kids to expect praise without doing *anything* to earn it and unleashing them on the rest of us.

      • votermom says:

        You so rock. Lola is right – you should write a book!

      • leslie says:

        What a great story!! You have such a way with words! What I can’t imagine is that the other mother actually touched your shoulder. what a rude person. You can see why her children are so intrusive (with their behavior) but she is even worse. In some communities (i.e. where I work) she’d have been on the floor for disrespecting someone’s person and space.

        • elliesmom says:

          I think her touching me is what made the restaurant manager step in. I think he was worried that I might accuse her of assault, and as I said this was an upscale place. After she returned to the dining room where her kids were, he insisted on giving us a gift card for the next time we came. Because we were leaving the next morning, we had the fun of giving it to the newlyweds who were staying at the same inn that we were. We told them how we got it over breakfast, and everyone had a good laugh. The inn doesn’t allow kids. Not why we choose it when we head north, but the story resonated with the innkeepers.

        • leslie says:

          I didn’t mean where I actually work, but the area in which I work and some of the clients with whom I work.

  6. DeniseVB says:

    I used to joke I was in a mixed marriage, my husband is a solid Republican gun loving warhawk and I was the aging hippy from hell. Funny, we’re the total opposites of what Lakoff describes.

    As 2008 taught me, I really do have more in common with the right than I did with the left. Just happy to be in the middle now.

  7. HELENK says:

    dem durbin say jackson must soon talk about health woes

    not the time for an empty seat, or do they want to sell it to someone to finish the term???????

  8. Lola-at-Large says:

    I hope he got paid well for constructing a strawman to fight.

  9. leslie says:

    Yesterday I left a comment with information about one of the candidates(Blair Hull) TehOnce had “defeated” when said candidate’s sealed divorce files were mysteriously unsealed for public consumption.
    Today at JWSmart’s place, sophie left a comment about how Obama’s records are oddly enough, the only records that have remained closed to public view. And opined that the skids were greased for BHO from the beginning. She left this link to an article about “How Obama Won His US Senate Seat”
    It’s worth reading.

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