Framing is an important concept to Lakoff. Frames are the lenses in which people construct their world view. This is basic psychology 101. We all view our world from the concepts we have developed during our lives, a type of filter so to speak, and it's important to know this in order to strive for intellectual honesty, and a firm grasp on reality. Reality as it exists, not as we wish it to be.
Lakoff suggests techniques on how to debate conservatives. His basic premise is: When a conservative asks a question, or makes a point, the best course is to reframe the question or concept. In other words, don't get trapped in answering the question.
Here are some examples of what he means (taken from his article).
Conservatives: Abortion is the immoral taking of innocent life. It must be banned.Well, some conservatives support this absolute position, but most do not go this far. What conservatives want is some restrictions, such as late-term abortions, the right of parents to be involved, and no financing of abortions with tax payer money, among others.
According to Lakoff, the "progressive" response should be:
Progressives: Promoting life means ending America's huge infant mortality rate through pre- and postnatal care. It means caring for individuals throughout their lives. It means affordable universal health care to improve life and life expectancy for forty-five million uninsured Americans. It means improving the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink. It means improving schools and parenting so that every young life has a chance to flower. It means finding ways to end the violence in our society that cuts short so many lives. It means fulfilling the promise of stem cell research, rather than destroying the hopes of millions of suffering Americans for the sake of a tiny cluster of undifferentiated cells that will otherwise be discarded.He doesn't even answer the question. Notice how he twists and turns, talking about infant mortality rates, health-care, improving schools, and so forth. This doesn't even mention abortion. So what his is position on abortion? We just do not know. Here's another:
Conservatives: Patriots do not question the president or his war policies.Oh, yea? Where has he been? Conservatives do question policies all the time. But we do not base our questions on faulty logic or a re-written history.
Progressives: The greatest testament to one's love of country is when one works to improve it. This includes principled dissent against policies one disagrees with and against leaders who promote those policies. Times of war are no exception. Our first loyalty is to the principles of our democracy that are embedded in our Constitution, not to any political leader.This position sounds nice, but what does it really mean? Do we all not want to improve our country? And I don't know of a conservative today (except for maybe the extreme right-wing nuts, but they are no better than extremists on the left) who wouldn't support "principled dissent," even in time of war. However, I don't include providing aid and comfort to an enemy in the concept of principled dissent, which is what some on the left have done.
Basically what Lakoff is doing -- and encouraging other liberals to do -- is to "reframe" the issue, and if necessary, avoid the issue all together to further the secular progressive agenda.
In his book, Don't Think of an Elephant, Lakoff advises to "never answer a question framed from your opponent's point of view." You can see from the examples above, he does just that.
It's all word play. All politicians -- Republican and Democratic -- do it, so it takes a hard look into current issues to see just what the these folks mean. But at least most conservatives can answer simple questions like "do you support abortion?" The left doesn't even use the word, hence the "pro-choice" mantra. It is faulty use of the language, and avoids the basic issue.
Don't play into the semantics of this: get informed about the real issues before you drink from the kool-aid pitcher.