Freedom, Opportunity, And Security Are Progressive Winning Words

An Exclusive Interview With Author Bernie Horn

framingthefuturebookcover.pngBernie Horn, author of "Framing The Future: How Progressive Values Can Win Elections And Influence People" is coming out with a new book on Progressive framing this summer, so we decided to get to know Bernie a little bit, and introduce him to our readers ahead of its much anticipated release. We asked Bernie some pretty hard-hitting questions about "Framing The Future" so we could learn more about this critical aspect of winning elections, and he was gracious enough to take the time to answer them for us. "Framing The Future" is chock full of really important points and we had a lot of questions, so we'll be posting this interview in parts.

(Slideshow version)

Part I

The Winning Words Project: Thank you so much for agreeing to talk to us and our readers about your book. First, tell us a little about your background. Why did you decide to work in the field of Progressive Messaging?

Bernie Horn:  I’ve worked full-time in politics since 1988. I’ve been a campaign manager, a political consultant, a lobbyist, and currently I work for the Progressive Majority Action Fund and its 501(c)(3) sister organization. From 2000 to 2008 I served as the Policy and Communications Director at the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA). CPA had a fellowship program for state legislators which stressed “values-based leadership.” Our hundreds of legislator-fellows included Gabby Giffords, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Keith Ellison, Jon Tester, Chellie and Hannah Pingree, and Kendrick Meek. I feel like they taught progressive values to me and I have tried to spread those ideas to others.   

WWP: Your book, “Framing the Future: How Progressive Values Can Win Elections and Influence People," was written just before the 2008 Presidential Primary season got under way. What inspired you to write it? Were any of your recommended frames used by either of the two major candidates, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, and if so, how did they effectively use them?

Bernie Horn:  After writing about progressive values for about four years, The Nation magazine published one of my essays and that led to an invitation from Berrett-Koehler to expand it into a book. So my inspiration was the enthusiasm of that wonderful publishing house.

Obama and Clinton are two of the best communicators in the Democratic Party and don’t really need the structure I suggest. For several years, I have been focused on state and local officeholders and candidates; many of them have been part of the Progressive Majority “farm team.” I think we have made a difference there.

Is He "Thrifty" Or Is He A "Miser"? Focus Groups Can Help Us Learn What Resonates

“Framing the Future”: "[U]nlike some other progressive framers, [The Center for Policy Alternatives, where I serve[d] as senior director for policy and communications] uses focus groups and polling to test its recommended language."

binoculars.JPGThe Winning Words Project: Why is it important to use focus groups and why do you think Democrats and other progressive organizations shy away from using them in developing their recommended language?

Bernie Horn:  There are many progressive communications experts who base their message framing advice on polls and focus groups—others do not. There are also times when we have to try to frame and no polling data is available on the specific question, so we must apply what we know from polling on similar issues and hope it works.

Maybe this is a good place to give a brief explanation of framing for readers who are less familiar with the subject. We all know words that are universally understood to contain “cues” inside them, passing judgment on the activity described. For the same behavior, a person could be called “thrifty” or “a miser.” The same person could be called “brave” or “foolhardy.” The words we use tip off the audience whether to feel positively or negatively about that person. Obviously, there are words where everyone gets the same “cue,” like freedom, responsibility, public safety, or clean water. Less obvious is the fact that there are words which bring to mind positive images in some people and negative images in others. “Government” is generally a positive or neutral word to progressives, but it is a negative word to people outside of our base. This is my simplest explanation for why we frame. When we persuade, we need to be aware of the way our audience feels about words and phrases—most especially when the audience gets a different “cue” from the language than we see inside our heads.

So whose heads are we trying to look into? Most Americans are in the Democratic or Republican base—they really cannot be persuaded. In the coming election, only about 20 percent can possibly choose between Obama and Romney, the rest are set in stone. So that is who we focus on, the independents, who I prefer to call “persuadable voters” because some Democrats and Republicans remain persuadable and some people who call themselves independent are not really. We need public opinion research to understand the persuadables. All too often, language that seems positive to those of us in the progressive base is perceived very poorly by the persuadables. For example, a few months ago I wrote a proposed message that included the sentences “Extremism and obstructionism has turned Congress into a nearly-useless exercise” and “Americans are impatient with this hyper-partisan Congress; America can no longer afford to wait for its Members to come to their senses.” Considering what’s happened in Congress, that seemed like pretty mild language to me. In focus groups, persuadable voters were really turned off. They thought it was too negative. (Fortunately they loved the other sentences tested.)

One reason why some progressives attempt to frame without such research is that polls and focus groups are expensive and we often don’t have access to research that has tested one phrase against another. We do have one advantage while Barack Obama is President—anything noteworthy that he says more than once was probably tested. For example, “Everyone gets a fair shot, everyone gives their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules” is fantastic. We should all use it

WWP: Another question related to this: Do you have examples of progressive language that you couldn't have developed without focus groups, and how do you know if it has been effective?

Bernie Horn:  When we attempt to create new framing language, we have to hypothesize what might work, and then test whether or not it succeeds—just like a garden-variety science experiment. The primary recommendation in Framing the Future is to describe the progressive philosophy as “freedom, opportunity, and security for all.” (Doesn’t sound like much? Read the book.) Pollster Celinda Lake tested it a variety of ways. In a long series of individual values, all three scored well, but “freedom”—which progressives don’t say often—is clearly the most powerful political value. She then tested slogans based on “freedom, opportunity, and security for all” against other slogans based on: Al Gore’s “the people, not the powerful,” Bill Clinton’s “the common good,” and John Edwards’ “two Americas.” Freedom, opportunity, and security tested best, although all were popular except “two Americas” which voters saw as too polarizing. Then these ideas, each expressed in two sentences, were compared to the generic conservative message. “Freedom, opportunity, and security” was the only progressive message that scored higher than the conservative message. I had a hypothesis that this might be the result, but there’s no way to know without public opinion research.

The American Dream Is A Prayer

Framing the Future: "The American dream is a prayer, a vision, a fervent hope that every individual in our nation may be given a fair chance to build a successful life. This deeply held, deeply felt common vision for our nation is both about money—individuals and their families getting ahead, and about self-determination—individuals and their families deciding what to think and how to live. Our dream celebrates the individual."

praying-small.jpgWWP: I like that you've framed our dream as celebrating the individual. But the Right Wing messaging masters have framed us as the party of "collectivism" for decades, and started outright calling us Socialists once President Obama came into office. Where do you think we lost the narrative on this aspect of our ideals and more importantly, how can we get it back?

Bernie Horn:  In framing “liberals” as collectivists, the right wing had plenty of help from our side. I agree with those who feel that progressives have not advanced a coherent philosophy and often fall back on something that sounds like a dishwater version of socialism. I personally feel fine with collectivism, but it’s not a winning argument. I think the way to turn this around is for progressives to actually understand how our policies are justified by a philosophy that celebrates the individual. If we don’t feel it, we can’t make a convincing case. In chapter 1 of Framing the Future, I explain what the concepts within “freedom, opportunity, and security” mean and argue that “for all” really does express the key difference between us and our ideological opponents.

Our National Culture Is One Of Individualism And Competition

Framing the Future: "I, too, wish that American culture were more oriented toward altruism and community. But it isn’t. A realistic progressive philosophy is one that accepts our national culture of individualism and competition."

football.JPGWWP: From my reading of history, I see strong evidence that our Founders shaped our government such that while individuals were able to prosper, that prosperity came with the responsibility to profit only insofar as it did not harm "the common good." Benjamin Franklin quite explicitly called those who would oppose using their wealth for the common good, "savages" with no right to the benefits of society. Is there a way to tell our story in a way that both espouses the common good while celebrating individual fortitude and triumph in a political environment where "altruism" and "community" are not philosophies that sell?

Bernie Horn:  You ask tough questions! Let me put off “common good” for a second and focus on related concepts. We have to take voters as they are in 2012; we have to accept that they have preconceptions, understand them, and try to avoid evoking the wrong bias that’s already stuck inside their heads. If we use words that describe our “soft” ideals, like community or cooperation, I think it tends to trigger a negative stereotype of progressives; we’re weak, we’re too trusting of the undeserving, and we’re advocates of “kumbaya” politics. Yes, we favor what’s best for the “community”—we are also proud to favor mercy to offenders, generosity to the poor, and understanding of other cultures—but those values don’t help us defeat the right wing. Also, unlike freedom, opportunity, and security, these “soft” values tend to be about means, not ends—and persuadable voters care about ends, not means. Now “common good” is not exactly “community.” “Common good” polls well, but as I explain above, it fails to defeat the generic conservative message and I think that’s because it evokes some of the same reactions as our “soft” ideals. I believe the solution is to understand that saying freedom for all… opportunity for all… is the most persuasive way to describe the common good. The listener is explicitly included among the people who benefit.

Our System Should Be In Balance

Framing the Future: "A system in balance rewards hard work, efficiency, and innovation—which benefit all of society, and discourages crime, corruption, and schemes to game the system—which rob all of society."

balance.JPGWWP: Conservative Think Tanks in conjunction with the Republican Party have spent the past 30+ years twisting logic to sell the notion of "trickle down economics," and Americans by and large (including Democrats) have bought it hook, line and sinker. Even if that's not what they're calling it anymore, Republicans are still pushing hard for lower and lower taxes for the wealthiest, and little or no taxes at all on corporations and on many types of personal income such as inheritances.

Corporations are now sitting on $1.9 trillion in cash in bank accounts while the average worker is still trying to subsist on 1965-level wages. Hard work, efficiency, and innovation has not been rewarded one iota to those below the 1% line and the scales are incredibly out of balance. Yet the Republican message of reduced taxes for the alleged "job creators" and less and less government to apply that necessary balance, is still extremely powerful. Even with 30 years of evidence that those who've bought "trickle down" have been bamboozled, how do we drive this message home? How do we call the Right Wing out on this (obvious to us) lie so that that "AHA!" switch is activated in the persuadables' brains?

Bernie Horn:  We have, loudly and repeatedly, called trickle down economics false. But it doesn’t stick because we have not advanced an alternative economic vision. There is no concept of progressive economics that our rank-and-file can declare in a debate. Now, I’m a lawyer, not an economist. But in chapter 10 of Framing the Future, I attempt to lay out how we could describe and understand progressive economics. In a nutshell, “free markets” do not exist—that is a myth, albeit a powerful one. All markets in the U.S. are controlled by a dense web of federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Right wing economic policy does not make markets any freer, they rig markets to favor themselves. Progressive economics should pursue “fair markets.” To create a fair market, government has to be focused on acting as a counterweight against powerful interests to level the playing field, making it possible for everyone to compete in a fair manner. Fair market economics rewards hard work, efficiency, and innovation and works to take the profit out of corruption, gaming the system, and destroying healthy companies for quick profit—i.e., the way Mitt Romney got so rich. “Fair trade” out-polls “free trade,” so I believe “fair markets” could be made to succeed.

Freedom Is The Absence Of Legal Interference With Our Fundamental Rights

Framing The Future: "By freedom, I mean the absence of legal interference with our fundamental rights—freedom of speech, religion, and association; the right to privacy; the rights of the accused; and the right of all citizens to vote."

Framing The Future: "Freedom should be fairly easy to understand—it’s a defense of our basic constitutional rights and civil liberties. I include the right to vote because it should be as sacred as any constitutional right. The very definition of democracy—rule by the people—requires the unrestricted right to vote. So laws that keep American citizens from casting ballots should be eliminated on the grounds that they violate our most fundamental democratic freedom."

rights.JPGWWP: Ironically, the party who used to control the "Freedom" frame has turned tail on freedom as policy and is now embarking on some of the most stringent restrictions of rights this country has seen since the early 20th century. Yet when progressives attempt to remind them that they're supposed to be the party of individual "Freedom," we still can't seem to win the debate. To what do you attribute that flip, and how can progressives take the "Freedom" frame back and actually make it "sticky"?

Bernie Horn:  In my experience, we have not really tried to take back “freedom,” even though, as I said, it is the single most persuasive American value. I almost never hear progressives say “freedom.” I believe that is because we don’t have a definition of the word that makes us feel comfortable using it. Right wingers have corrupted it to stand for preemptive war, laissez-faire economics, and the imposition of religion into every corner of the public square. The solution is to get progressives to think of freedom as “negative freedom,” those situations where government should be prevented from acting—freedom of speech, religion, and association; the right to privacy; the rights of the accused; and (I would add) the right of all citizens to vote. Progressives should not attempt to argue for Roosevelt’s “freedom from want.” We’ll never get our rank-and-file to use “positive freedom.” And besides, what Roosevelt was describing 70 years ago is better framed as “security” today.

WWP: 2011 saw a huge push across many states to begin restricting voting rights by making it harder and harder for minorities and the elderly—who traditionally have voted for Democrats—to vote. Rick Scott in Florida is on a rampage to strip voting rights right now. And when progressives attempt to remind the public that they are having their rights eroded by these policies, because the Right has framed them as "common sense," the larger public supports those pushes none-the-less. 

To what do you attribute not only the lack of public outrage that Republicans are making it harder to vote, but the support for policies where this is the goal? Is it a result of their superior messaging, or is there an element of support because people perceive that those restrictions will only affect "others"—those "others" being people both not them and not like them. And much like the Welfare recipient of the 1980s, today's targets for voting restriction are defined as "the undeserving," which you also talk about in the book. Now that the length of this question rivals anything Rachel Maddow has ever asked, how do we win this argument back again?

Bernie Horn:  Most voters can’t understand why anyone would not own a driver’s license or state-issued ID. They own one. That’s why polls show pretty strong support for right wing voter ID laws. And framing is not a magic solution. There has to be a lot of hard grassroots, public relations, and lobbying work for progressives to win these battles. But I believe better framing would help a lot—I think we have not made a convincing argument that voting is a question of “freedom” because we don’t feel comfortable saying the word.

WWP: And further to those questions, from my colleague, Nils Davis: This question and the previous one are really important. Help us understand how the language we've tried to use is not working (and why) and how we can use language better. Obviously, "freedom" and "voting rights" are code words. But Democrats are trying to use them literally, and failing. How did the Right Wing get these words encoded, how can we break the back of that code, and how can we create our own code words that will enable us to fight back effectively?

Bernie Horn:  For readers who are not familiar with the concept, when we say words are “encoded,” we are referring to the preconceptions linked to particular words and phrases that exist in voters’ heads. Among persuadable voters, some of these preconceptions favor progressives and some favor conservatives—that’s what makes them persuadable! E.g. they hear “lower taxes” and thoughts favorable to conservatives come to mind; but in the same debate they hear “tax fairness” and their thoughts are favorable to progressives. We cannot rewire how voters think, but how can we make voters’ preconceptions work for us in the voter ID debate?

I think we need voting to be understood as a basic right like freedom of speech. Just as free speech should never be curbed unless it risks an immediate, serious threat to public safety (shouting fire in a crowded theater), our freedom to vote should never be curbed without an overriding reason—and none exists. Win the frame that voting is a fundamental “freedom” and we’ll ultimately win the argument.

 We Must Start Telling Our Story!

Framing the Future: "Clarence Darrow was right when he said, 'You can protect your liberties in this world only by protecting the other man’s freedom. You can be free only if I am free.'"

megaphone.JPGWWP: I love this quote. Thank you for sharing it. Besides quoting it directly, how can progressives frame this into a winning message?

Bernie Horn:  We must say stuff like that! In my experience, progressives rarely do. But understand that Darrow was talking about negative freedom, about the absence of government interference in constitutional rights.

A Republic Should Guard One Part Of Society Against The Injustice Of The Other Part

Framing the Future: "As James Madison wrote in The Federalist: 'It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part.' ... That means we believe society should step into an unfair competition, balancing the scales of justice to help the weaker interest get a fair deal. It means that where government has no proper role, we demand freedom; where government acts as a referee between economic interests, we champion opportunity; and where government should protect those who cannot protect themselves, we call for security."

desegregation.jpgWWP: Democrats have allowed themselves to become framed as the "Party that Interferes," and among the worst “interferences” are “Regulations” such as those directed at environmental protection and reining in the banking industry. Yet these are actually the tools of “The People” to ensure freedom, opportunity, and security from potential bad actors. How do you suggest Progressives reframe these institutions and their rightful roles in society against the desire for their destruction that’s coming from the Right?

Bernie Horn:  For more than 200 years, Americans have never particularly liked government. So first, don’t say “government,” say “our community,” or “society,” or “America,” or “we.” Second, don’t say “regulation” or “bureaucracy,” which bring to mind scenes of unfairness, inefficiency, and frustration. Voters like the results of government—public health, safety, fairness for customers, etc. So when you can, talk about the results. When you have to talk about processes, instead of “regulation,” say “fair rules,” or “level playing field” or the need for a “public watchdog” or “referee.” All these phrases appeal to persuadable voters.

Why Are Our Party Leaders So Stubbornly Against Using Framing?

Framing the Future: "The theme of the 2004 Bush campaign was strength. ... Rove set out to frame the election as a referendum on which candidate was stronger. While Bush played the macho cowboy, his campaign pulled out all the stops to portray John Kerry—who won a Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam—as a weakling. ... The book "Take It Back," by Carville and Paul Begala, includes a heartbreaking account of behind-the-scenes decision making in the Kerry campaign. Kerry focused on a laundry list called J-HOS, which stood for Jobs, Health Care, Oil, Security. As Carville and Begala lament, “That, of course, is a litany, not a narrative. Calling ‘J-HOS’ a message is like calling a supermarket full of food a gourmet meal. Despite impassioned pleas by both authors, Kerry would not adopt a frame."

etchasketch.jpgWWP: This is our number one frustration with progressives and Democrats: their flat out refusal to accept the basic truth that framing is the only way to win elections. Yet Progressives and Democrats in the general population understand the importance of framing, fully embrace it, and are downright desperate for our political leaders to use it. Why on earth are they so incredibly, stubbornly opposed to—basically—marketing their "product"? When really smart and experienced guys like Carville and Begala can't convince the party's leaders how critical it is in winning elections, what hope do we have of getting through to them ourselves?

And as a follow-up, how have you had success in getting campaigners to take on and execute both framing as a tool and the specific frames you create for them?"

Bernie Horn:  I am as frustrated as you are. There are many great consultants who try with all their powers of persuasion to get high-level Democrats to employ good message framing. But too often they do not succeed because people who have won past elections think they know how to win the next one. (And usually, because of incumbency, they do.) It may seem like a slow process, but I think our best chance is to influence state and local progressives, and younger leaders on the federal level. We need to target those Democrats who can be persuaded to frame. 

I have given dozens of message framing workshops to progressive candidates and campaigners. I believe it has made a difference.

Framing the Future: "Don't your ears still turn red just thinking about 2004?"

WWP: Don't get me started. I had a winning frame for John Kerry and like Carville and Begala, he wouldn't listen to me, either. I've never talked to a soul (and I've talked to a lot of people about this) who remembered (or even knew) that it was John Kerry who took down Osama bin Laden's (and the Bushes') bank; BCCI, and that it was him and his staff who personally exposed the Iran-Contra scandal. He had all the bona fides to go up against Bush as being the one better prepared to "fight terrorism" (which was Bush's cattle call) because he'd successfully done it before, whereas Bush had been an utter failure (9/11 did happen on his watch, after all, and bin laden was still at large).

Before I started the Winning Words Project, I wrote an impassioned plea to President Obama not to leave his major accomplishments hidden in the dusty attic like Kerry did, but it's clear that he's not listening to me (or us, now), either. What do you see as the strengths of the Obama administration that they should be highlighting in this campaign, and how should they be framing them?

Bernie Horn:  Barack Obama is a brilliant man and he is surrounded by some pretty great political consultants. He probably has more polling data available to him than any candidate in history. So, really, who am I to say?* But since you asked…

I believe Obama/DNC has to focus on three differences between the candidates. Stated as an attack, they are: Romney is dangerously rich, wildly extreme, and has no core political values. Some detail: (1) Obama grew up as a regular person and fully understands our desires and concerns. Romney is so rich that he is completely out-of-touch with middle-class reality; he has no idea whatsoever what our lives are like, as demonstrated by many things he’s said. (2) Obama’s policies are mainstream, pretty close to what persuadable voters would want if they knew what the heck Obama has actually done. Romney’s policies are way-way-way outside the mainstream; he’d have trouble holding some of the Republican base if they actually understood what he stands for. And specifically on economic policy, he not only advocates for the 1% more boldly than probably any presidential nominee in history, the way he got so rich illustrates why his form of capitalism is a disaster for the 99%. (3) Obama says what he means. Romney will say or do anything to get elected; he is a serial liar and has already reversed positions on more major policies than almost any American politician in memory—because he has no core principles at all, just a burning desire to get elected.

(*We at The Winning Words Project aren't quite so modest: Obama Is Right About The Economy But He Needs A Better Speech Writer—Here's What He Should Have Said »)

Thanks, Bernie, We're Really Flattered!

Framing the Future: "Democratic pollsters create talking points for one candidate or organization, but that poll-tested messaging advice never gets to 90 percent of Democratic officeholders. And progressive activists remain almost entirely in the dark."

thumbsup.JPGWWP: This was the reason I launched The Winning Words Project. It is our goal to establish a network of "information disseminators" who will get the "Winning Words" in front of the eyes of candidates, elected officials, and party leaders. When I first published the "5 Words Democrats And Progressives Should Never Say Again," people came out of the woodwork begging me to write more pieces in that vein to be the counterweight to Luntz from the Left. I'm no Luntz, but I figured, "Okay, why not?" and I put together an awesome team and we took on the task. But we're just a small, grassroots group right now, without the power of any Progressive or Party institutions behind us. Any advice as we move forward with our project?

Bernie Horn:  Keep it up! Your group took on a difficult and usually thankless task. But it is an essential one and hopefully there are people out there who appreciate your effort as much as I do.

Freedom, Opportunity, And Security Appeals To "Persuadables"

Framing The Future:"In its short form, “freedom, opportunity, and security” was preferred above all others. The “people not the powerful” is nearly as compelling. “Common good” is popular, but it carries substantially less intensity. “Two Americas” is the only progressive slogan that’s a serious disappointment—it’s too polarizing."

Framing The Future: "Even on economic issues, populism works better in times of economic hardship—it didn’t have much traction in the mid- to late 1990s, for example."

mountrushmore.JPGWWP: One of the things we've been trying to do with The Winning Words Project is "take back the Founding Fathers." In that regard, we have highlighted quotes from the likes of Washington, Hamilton, Madison, Adams, etc., that specifically refer to "the common good." If that phrase was at least "popular" as recently as 2007/2008, by tying it in with the fundamental foundation of our country, can it be turned into a winning frame?

Also, given the more dire circumstances the now-decimated middle class finds itself in, do you think the "common good" frame, properly applied, might resonate today where it didn't resonate in the 2000s?

Bernie Horn:  The “common good” does resonate, it is popular among persuadable voters. My concern is that, while it works to say “common good” from time-to-time (I remember Obama saying it), I believe that—just like 2007/2008—it would still lose to the generic conservative message in a head-to-head contest.

As to the broader strategy, I do think it’s great to try to take back the founding fathers. I’m not so sure what Washington and Hamilton would be today, but Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, and I believe even John Adams would be progressives. Americans still revere the founding fathers and that’s why the right wing tries so hard to capture them.

WWP: Occupy Wall Street saw a resurgence of the populist message and the "99% versus the 1%" has resonated. Do you suggest that Progressives ignore this populist uprising and maintain a more individualistic message? How do you see OWS having affected the narrative?

Bernie Horn:  We are now in times of economic hardship. A populist message works. We should say “the richest 1%” instead of just “the 1%” because some progressives won’t get it otherwise.  Similarly, make sure it’s clear you mean “the rest of us” when you say “the 99%.” Don’t underestimate how clueless some of the persuadables can be. Sadly, Occupy Wall Street is not favored by persuadables, so let’s participate in OWS but let’s not have candidates identify with OWS. Still, I don’t think that populist language substitutes for “freedom, opportunity, and security for all.” It’s not an either-or question, we should use both.

The Anti-Government Mindset Is Hardwired

Framing the Future: "When we talk about freedom, opportunity, and security, it demonstrates that we know where government belongs, and where it doesn’t.

dragon.JPGWWP: Another goal we have at The Winning Words Project is to destroy the Right Wing's very definition of government. They have intentionally framed it as a monolithic "other" entity that needs to be slayed like a dragon that is destroying our country with its fiery breath and gigantic talons. Given the recent legislative attacks against public sector employees, people seem to be coming around to the original definition of government as laid out by our Founders as, "We, the People." We believe that the more people come to see "the government" as "us," the less likely they're going to be to want to see it destroyed the way Republicans are always threatening to do (and are now carrying out). Do you see this as a potentially winning frame? What do you anticipate would be its strengths and/or weaknesses (where could it be attacked, so we can be prepared with a strong rebuttal)? And do you have any suggestions on how we can frame it to be more emotionally resonant?

Bernie Horn:  Another very hard question. I believe the anti-government mindset is hardwired into persuadable and conservative voters. I don’t think we can make them like “government.” What I think we need to do is make it clear that is not the choice. The right wingers are not anti-government when they cut taxes for the powerful and the richest 1%, they are greedy, they are not paying their fair share, and they are causing our taxes/fees/expenses to rise as a result. They are not anti-government when they eliminate environmental protections. They are turning our jointly-owned property (clean air, water, land) to their private profit, and causing us to lose the value of that property. They are not for less government, they are for using the government to enrich themselves at our expense. People strongly believe that “everyone should get a fair shot, everyone should do their fair share, and everyone should play by the same (fair) rules.” Government is not the real issue, it’s fairness.

We Need A Powerful Description Of Progressives

Framing the Future: "A political campaign is not the place to educate voters—it’s the place to persuade them. Politics is not a battle of information; it is a battle of ideas."

yeswecanhope.jpgWWP: This has been the one wall we've come up against in putting forth our recommended frames; Many Progressives/Democrats/Liberals are married to the "fact, fact, fact, fact, fact" argument style because they think facts work on them. But they're wrong. The facts they want to believe work for them. The other side has their own set of facts and they believe those just as strongly. How do we get the skeptics from our side to board the persuasion train? Do you have any recommendations?

Bernie Horn:  You are absolutely right. We need to convince our own base, our own candidates, and our own interest groups that persuadable voters are not particularly moved by the facts. After the right wing-caused disasters of the last eleven years, how can anyone believe that they stand for smaller government (after Iraq, the giant Department of Homeland Security, domestic spying, the budget deficit, and the war on women?), for lower taxes (when it was Obama, not Bush or the Republicans, who has lowered taxes for the middle class?), for a stronger military (when Bush decimated our armed forces?), for family values (after torture, rendition, and killing of civilians?) And yet, the reason that the Republicans remain competitive in our elections is that persuadable voters still assume they fit the generic description. Voters either forgot the facts or never paid attention to them in the first place. To beat back the right wing, we need a powerful generic description of “progressive,” but have never adopted one.


Though this is where Part I of our interview ends, there is much, much more in the book, so Don't forget to stay tuned for Part II.

We'd like to once again thank Bernie for this great Q&A about his book, "Framing The Future: Progressive Values Can Win Elections and Influence People," and about the important subject of political message framing in general. He has helped us (and we hope, you!) with his knowledge and insight, and we are excited to start incorporating his suggestions into our work.

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