George Lakoff, the Chomsky
protege wannabe* who’s a big fave with Democrats these days, has a new book out urging leftish politicians to spin more. Steven Pinker is not impressed:
There is no shortage of things to criticize in the current administration. Corrupt, mendacious, incompetent, autocratic, reckless, hostile to science, and pathologically shortsighted, the Bush government has disenchanted even many conservatives. But it is not clear what is to be gained by analyzing these vices as the desired outcome of some coherent political philosophy, especially if it entails the implausible buffoon sketched by Lakoff. Nor does it seem profitable for the Democrats to brand themselves as the party that loves lawyers, taxes, and government regulation on principle, and that does not believe in free markets or individual discipline. Lakoff’s faith in the power of euphemism to make these positions palatable to American voters is not justified by current cognitive science or brain science. I would not advise any politician to abandon traditional reason and logic for Lakoff’s “higher rationality.”`
I’ve always been amazed that anyone takes Lakoff seriously, but he does have a following. Doc Searls, for example, practically worships him. Some Democrats, frustrated by a decade of Republican rule seek a magic bullet that will put them back in power, and Lakoff claims to have one. The Republicans are all set to relinquish the government this election regardless of what the Dems do, so Lakoff and his ilk will no doubt claim credit. It’s best for Republicans if Democrats believe Lakoff, but not so good for the Republic.
The ultimate issue is whether the Democrats have failed for the last decade because the public rejects their policies, or because they simply haven’t packaged them as well as the Republicans have packaged theirs. It’s seductive to believe it’s all matter of packaging, but ultimately wrong. The Democrats haven’t had a new idea since Roosevelt, but the world has changed substantially.
The Democrats are going to do very, very well in this year’s elections, but not because of better euphemisms, more blogs, or louder screams. They’re going to do well because the Republicans are corrupt and incompetent. This isn’t going to be an election about policy or language, it’s going to be decided by the public’s lack of patience with an endless string of failures and broken promises.
Don’t be deceived.
Here’s Lakoff’s response to Pinker.
*UPDATE: See commentary on the meaning the term “protege” and Nunberg’s complaints. For clarity, I’ve re-worded the first sentence. Chomsky and Lakoff disagree on some fine points of linguistic theory and political ideology, but from the layman’s perspective they’re essentially interchangeable.