The field of cognitive linguistics was born, and Lakoff became one of its most prominent champions. But it wasn't until the mid-1990s that he began thinking through some of the political implications of framing. Startled by the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 1994, Lakoff set about looking for conceptual coherence in what he saw as the seemingly arbitrary positions that defined modern conservatism. What thread connected a pro-life stance with opposition to many social programs, or a hostility toward taxes with support of the death penalty? Lakoff concluded that conservatives and liberals are divided by distinct worldviews based on the metaphor of the nation as a family. Conservatives tend to relate to a "strict father" mode, which explains why they are concerned with authority, obedience, discipline, and punishment. Liberals, on the other hand, perceive the nation as a "nurturant parent," an empathic presence dedicated to protection, empowerment, and community. Swing voters harbor both frames.
That schema is at the center of Lakoff's seminal 1996 book (reissued by the University of Chicago Press in 2002), Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. In working out his theory, Lakoff found that people tend to vote not on specific issues but rather for the candidate who best reflects their moral system by evoking the right "frames." Consider the phrase "tax relief," an effective staple of the Republican lexicon. According to Lakoff, the word "relief" elicits a frame in which taxes are seen as an affliction. And every time the phrase "tax relief" is heard or read by people, the relevant neural circuits are instinctively activated in their brains, the synapses connecting the neurons get stronger, and the view of taxation as an affliction is unconsciously reinforced.
Moreover, Lakoff believes, policy can be crafted to change the neurological landscape of peoples' brains ‚ÄĒ what he calls "cognitive policy making." For example, he is particularly enthused about Sky Trust, a proposal to reduce carbon emissions developed by Peter Barnes, a founder of the Working Assets Funding Service. The policy is constructed on a foundation of two frames. The first is that oil, coal, and gas companies have polluted the environment and stymied the development of clean and renewable energy alternatives. The second frame is that the air over the United States is owned by the people of the United States. Why should private companies be allowed to dump pollutants into the public's air at no cost?
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