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Book Review 

by Michael Bowen

Not "defense of marriage" against gays and lesbians, but "freedom to marry"; not "tax relief" (from some kind of affliction?) but taxes regarded as investments; not "greedy trial lawyers" but "public protection attorneys" fighting against greedier corporate lawyers -- George Lakoff provides new avenues of thinking for folks fed up with right-wing rants.

Signaling his bias, the full title of Lakoff's new book urges readers not to use Republican paradigms: Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate: The Essential Guide for Progressives (Chelsea Green).

Lakoff, a professor of cognitive linguistics at UC-Berkeley, argues that our opinions derive from our views about how families should operate: with strict fathers or nurturing parents. From a strict father perspective, the world is competitive and dangerous, with absolute right and wrong. Children are born bad and must be disciplined. Because self-disciplined people attain wealth, society should reward the rich and starve social programs.

Nurturing parents, in contrast, share the raising of children who are essentially good and who learn best by observing models of empathy, cooperation and responsibility. They seek to raise safe and fulfilled kids who truly care about others' welfare.

Lakoff insists that such family-values "frames" matter far more to voters than mere facts. If you admire a strict daddy like Bush, the facts -- no WMDs, no Saddam-al Qaeda link -- aren't essential. What matters is that Bush acts like a strict father.

That also helps explain why the working poor vote for Bush, even though he gives tax cuts to the mega-wealthy. A Bush vote may not be in workers' self-interest, but it does match their values. From the standpoint of strict father morality, rich people deserve their wealth: Through self-discipline, they earned it.

And conservatives really do feel threatened by gay people moving in next door, because gay parents subvert strict fathers everywhere.

Lakoff exaggerates when arguing that 9/11 gave Bush free rein to fight a perpetual war -- with the end result that ... conservatives will not only devastate the ANWR but also wipe out all known social programs.

Despite his stridency, Lakoff offers some hope to our polarized nation. Many, he says, are strict fathers in one part of their lives but nurturing parents in another. Whoever wins on Tuesday, maybe limousine liberals and Nascar dads can get along after all.

Publication date: 10/28/04

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