Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Context for a disaster

Brendan Danaher, an issues mobilization specialist at AFGE headquarters and our point man on Hurricane Katrina, has drawn our attention to this provocative piece by George Lakoff and John Halpin at The American Prospect Online. Here Lakoff, author of the bestselling Don't Think of an Elephant, and Halpin examine the conversatives' framing of their issues in the context of Hurricane Katrina, and offer suggestions to progressives on how to make the case for good and humane government in the context of the storm's aftermath. Indeed, they lament that the right has seized the opportunity to make its case via the catastrope, while progressives could well miss this boat.

Here are Lakoff and Halpin, in their own words:

Whoever succeeds in framing Katrina will have enormous power to shape America’s future. Progressives started out with the framing advantage, because empathy, responsibility, and fairness are what progressives are about. Conservatives started out with a big disadvantage, because they promised to protect us and they failed.

But the conservatives filled the framing gap so quickly and effectively that, if progressives don’t respond immediately, conservatives may be able to parlay this disaster into an even greater power grab than they made out of September 11.
On government:
Government is not the problem. Conservative government is the problem. The Bush administration’s actions have only reinforced the need for smart government that protects the public good, not an anti-government ideology that puts private interests above common needs. Relentless budget cuts and misplaced policy priorities left vital government response capabilities uncoordinated, stripped of critical funding, and in the hands of political novices. These were the results of deliberate decisions by our nation’s conservative leaders following the failed principle that less government is always better. When America needed its officials to step up to the challenge of a massive disaster, conservative government let us down.
On values, a favorite topic of the right:
The tragedy of Katrina was a matter of values and principles. The heart of progressive values is straightforward and clear: empathy (caring about and for people), responsibility (acting responsibly on that empathy), and fairness (providing opportunities for all and a level playing field from which to start). These values translate into a simple proposition: The common wealth of all Americans should be used for the common good and betterment of all Americans. In short, promoting the common good so that we can all benefit -- and focusing on the public interest rather than narrow individual gain -- is the central role of government. These are not just progressive values. They are America’s values.
To read the complete article, "Framing Katrina," click here.


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