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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Frames Run Wild

One of my serious pet peeves about the blogosphere is the widespread abuse of a legitimate but limited principle: in intra-progressive debates, one should make some effort to avoid the use of language and lines of argument that reinforce “the other side’s” attacks on progressives generally.Taken to an extreme, as it often is, all the fretting about “frames” and “memes” has a very chilling effect on political discourse, amounting on occasion to willful repression. Worse yet, it reflects the strange belief that politics is all about “noise” and “narratives;” whoever makes the most noise or gets the most Google hits is going to win, regardless of objective reality. And it also dangerously suggests that there are preset “conservative” and “progressive” points of view and language-sets for every conceivable issue, from which no one is allowed to dissent. This mindset was perhaps best illustrated during the recent Edwards Blogger kerfuffle, in which some bloggers were literally beside themselves with anger than anyone–even those “grassroots voices” of the comment threads–could reinforce the “enemy meme” by debating the merits of the case.I mention this subject in connection with a post yesterday by Nathan Newman at TPMCafe that upbraids Markos Moulitsas for use of the term “local union bosses” in excoriating the Nevada supporters of a Fox News-sponsored Democratic presidential candidates’ forum, Kos’ latest cause celebre:

I hate to the core when folks like Kos use the term “local union bosses”, as if elected union leaders are the same as management bosses who get to tell their workers what to do. It’s one of the most persistent rightwing frames, creating an equivalence between union representatives of working people and those who boss them around without democratic accountability. Criticizing union leaders is fine and even needed, but using rightwing frames like the phrase “union bosses” should be avoided.

Now it’s tempting to just chuckle at the irony of Kos getting nailed on a “frame” charge in the course of his own crusade to accuse Nevada Democrats of reinforcing “conservative frames” by legitimizing Fox. But it’s actually a serious issue.I wouldn’t use the term “union bosses,” because, as Nathan suggests, it implies a degree of power that unions themselves, much less their executives, do not, alas, in the real world, enjoy. But it’s correspondence to actual facts, not correspondence to “conservative frames,” that’s the problem here. Remember when progressive bloggers liked to call themselves members of the “reality-based community?” We need to regain that attitude. Uttering words that the hated enemy utters, if justified by “reality,” does not magically translate into Republican votes; in some circumstances, in can win votes by denying “the other side” a rare win on the merits. And tolerating free and fact-based debate is a lot more politically and morally valuable to progressives than any inquisitorial attempts to enforce “frames” or sniff out heresy.

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