National Commentary

Who Remembers George Lakoff?

nfbenton-mugThe bottom line on the GOP alternative to the Affordable Care Act, as evaluated by the Congressional Budget Office this week, is almost too simple. In exchange for denying health coverage to 24 million Americans in the next few years, the federal government will enjoy a reduction in the budget deficit of over $300 billion.

How it is possible for Republicans to call this a “shift to patient-centered from a government-mandate approach?” It’s the height of mendacity requiring a sequence of mental back flips that can only add to the opioid epidemic.

The reality is simply this: the aim is to cut over $300 billion in funding for care from the public health line item, period. What could be more simple or self-evident? That $300 billion is coming right out of the health services that Americans, under Obamacare, would otherwise have.

Funnyman Bill Maher’s unfunny advice to Democrats on his HBO show last week was to stand up to Trump and the GOP by out-Trumping them. This would be unimportant except that it reflects a strong mindset now among the ranks obsessed with an almost panicky mandate to figure out how to undo what’s been happening the last few months.

The range is from stampeding further into a leftist wilderness to mewling before a racist, xenophobic Trump Nation, begging forgiveness for not taking it more seriously in the election. Maher’s comments conformed to the latter option. In his view, if Trump won as the “alpha male” then Democrats need to man-up with alpha male candidates of its own, including the rehabilitation of many of its former leaders who were disgraced by sexual misconduct, and to ridicule Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine for being a “boring beta male.”

Of course, it is always an easy out for comedians to claim they were “just kidding” if they say something stupid, as obviously Trump has done more than once. But Maher’s “editorial” was in the context of what he called “a battle for the soul of the country.”

Forget that all the disgraced males Maher cited were guilty of degrading women in one fashion or another, such that his call was for Democrats to match the “male chauvinist pig” traits of Trump.

Back in 2004, after George W. won re-election, Democrats rallied around a small book for which Howard Dean wrote an introduction, entitled Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, by U.C. Berkeley cognitive linguist George Lakoff.

The impact of that little book helped to frame the debate for Obama’s election in 2008.

Lakoff, now trying to get his Citizens Communication Network organized around his insights, reiterated his basic, and timeless, themes in an interview on PBS’s Tavis Smiley show recently.

He sees in Trump a salesman skilled in manipulating the 98 percent of human thoughts that are unconscious through the use of repetition, among other things, such as the relentless refrains of “Crooked Hillary” and “the lying press.”

To the unconscious that is governed by moral world views (for better or worse) rather than basic logic, Trump represents the harsh morality of the “strict father,” he said, who uses tough love to demand discipline, and who insists that those who are poor, disadvantaged or otherwise down the ladder of a “moral hierarchy” are “losers” who deserve their fate because they’re lazy or inadequate in a variety of ways.

But the answer to that framework is to opt out entirely in favor of one that focuses on care and nurturing, instead.

The message of the historic women’s march following the inauguration in January, with its millions in D.C. and elsewhere, was one word, he said, “Care.” It spoke against Trump with the basic unifying notion that people need to care for each other.

In politics, for example, he said, when Trump and the GOP use the word, “regulations” in a negative light, caring people need to substitute “protections.”

While “regulations” are seen by the GOP as hamstringing business, for example, in reality they are protections against abuses in food, drugs, water and banking.

Get the idea?


Nicholas Benton may be emailed at