. . . Friday December 10, 2004

Social Security: Watch Them Work

Dan Froomkin has been keeping an eye on how the administration frames issues. They have developed and honed a tried and true method. Sometimes it takes years. Lately, they’ve been cutting down on the lead time.

The framing example that Berkeley linguist George Lakoff often points to is the phrase tax relief. The Republicans generally and the Bush administration specifically have been using the words tax relief to describe their fiscal policies.

The phrase positions taxes as an affliction while the administration is positioned as the group with the cure. You can argue that they are giving breaks to the rich at the expense of the poor. You can argue that a time of war is the wrong time to deplete government funds. But as long as you call it tax relief, they win. Who could be against relieving an afflction?

As Froomkin explains, you can watch the framing take place in real-time when it comes to the issue of social security – which from now on will be known as the social security problem (a phrase that was repeated about 39 times by Bush and his spokesperson this week):

An essential part of the Bush campaign to add private accounts to Social Security is getting the public to believe that there is in fact an imminent crisis.

That’s step one; step two is to getting people to believe private accounts will help; step three is to getting people to believe that borrowing another $2 trillion or so right now to pay for them is a good idea.

And in pretty much all of today’s coverage, as the White House surely hoped, the existence of some sort of amorphous, alarming Social Security problem was taken as a given. Step one seemingly accomplished.

That, in a nutshell, is how they do it. That’s how they won the election, that’s how they got us to Iraq, and that’s how they will push forward on their domestic agenda. If you frame it and the other side buys into the frame, it’s over. After all, you aren’t going to have much success if you go on a radio show or write a column that argues against solving a problem, are you? Or perhaps you’d like to try to win an election while agreeing that Iraq posed a threat but merely suggesting that the President went about his war in slightly the wrong way?

Be the frame.

Concentration is important!