Joining the Framing War

It’s all in how you put it. Childlike and childish mean the same thing, but one is used for what is charming, a kind of innocence wistful adults miss, and the other is used for whining and pouting – and what is heroically assertive in men is appalling aggressive in women, even if the behavior is the same. That’s a matter of role-expectations left over from the days before women got the vote and before they entered the workplace and did the job as well as any man did the job, or better. There are those who never got over that, who admire assertive men and despise aggressive women, who just aren’t ladylike. Hillary Clinton will just have to work that out – if she wants to be president she needs to show she can be as assertive as any man, without coming off as a ball-busting butch harridan. It won’t be easy. Unlike Germany now, and Britain in the eighties, and Israel a decade earlier, we’ve never had a female head of state. We don’t know which adjectives to use. We have no way to frame things in that circumstance. Hillary Clinton’s detractors will no doubt frame her as a castrating bitch, although not in those words, and she will be forced to either say damned straight, I am, and we’re bombing Iran back to the Stone Age tomorrow – or she can flutter her eyelids and ask why anyone would think that, with a small tear running down her cheek. That tear would humanize her – it did in the 2008 primary in New Hampshire – but that tear may have also lost her the nomination. Maybe she wasn’t tough enough for the job – but there was no winning anyway. She was a woman. Men have it easier.

Hillary Clinton, or any future woman running for president, will just have to develop their own framing that allows voters to consider the idea that assertive and strong women aren’t scary and awful – and Disney out here in Burbank has been laying the groundwork for that in one animated hit movie after another built around the little girl who is stronger and braver than anyone around, and cool and charming and funny too, and very pretty of course. She’s the real hero, and of course one of those movies was called Brave – so Disney is doing what it can to help Hillary Clinton and any woman who follows her. But cultural reframing takes time. America might not be ready for a woman as president yet. We don’t yet know how to think about that. We still use the wrong words.

Hillary Clinton could hire a political consultant to help with that. Long ago the Republicans hired Frank Luntz – the guy who told all Republican at all times to talk about the Death Tax instead of Estate Tax and about Climate Change instead of Global Warming, and oil drilling became Energy Exploration. He also did public relations work for our pro-Israel lobbies and Israel itself regarding the Israeli-Palestinian business. Israel might be willing to negotiate, but the Palestinians made “demands” – so when you hear about Palestinian demands when the two sides decide to talk to each other about talking to each other, you never hear about Israeli demands, just what they must get before there’s any talking about talking – but those aren’t demands, really. Frank Luntz made that so. He’s the master of reframing things, and he’s a lot more effective than Disney-Pixar will ever be. His work is direct and targeted.

He was only flummoxed once, by the Occupy Wall Street movement. He knew effective framing when he saw it, and they were talking about the One Percent, endlessly – and they never used another term for the folks who owned everything and sneered at everyone else. In November 2011, when the Occupy Wall Street movement was all anyone could talk about, Luntz had a meeting with the Republican Governors Association to discuss dealing with these people, and said this – “I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death. They’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.”

He had met his match, but then the nation moved on – but not really. The framing made sense, and the hits keep coming:

More than half the world’s wealth will be owned by just one percent of the population by next year as global inequality soars, anti-poverty charity Oxfam said on Monday.

In a report released ahead of this week’s annual meeting of the international elite at Davos in Switzerland, Oxfam said the top tier had seen their share of wealth increase from 44 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2014.

On current trends, it will exceed 50 percent in 2016.

The other details:

The richest 80 individuals in the world had the same wealth as the poorest 50 percent of the entire population, some 3.5 billion people, Oxfam said. This was an even bigger concentration at the top than a year ago, when half the world’s wealth was in the hands of 85 of the ultra-rich.

Yep, five losers dropped out of the list of the really good people, but others up top will be able to squeak by:

Members of the top 1 percent had an average wealth of $2.7 million per adult, Oxfam said.

The bulk of the world’s remaining wealth was owned by the rest of the richest fifth, while the other 80 percent shared just 5.5 percent of the pot, equaling an average wealth of $3,851 per adult, it said.

It’s going to be hard to reframe this as a good thing, or what God wanted, because He takes care of those He favors. Do you tell these people that God hates them, as He should? Or do you tell them that the Invisible Hand for free-market capitalism, that produces the greatest good for the greatest number when greedy people try to make as much money as possible, has done just that, and that their number didn’t come up? Luntz was right to be scared. This can’t be spun a good way. The “other eighty percent” are in misery. They won’t see this as a good thing, no matter what cool word substitutions Luntz might come up with.

Then things got worse:

Pope Francis is planning to address a joint session of Congress and visit the White House during a trip to Washington, D.C., in September, one of the archbishops organizing the pontiff’s trip said.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza told the Catholic News Agency (CNA) on Sunday that the pope is projected to arrive in Washington on Sept. 22 as part of a three-city U.S. tour that includes New York and Philadelphia.

Francis will visit the White House on Sept. 23 and celebrate Mass at Washington’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception later that same day, Auza added.

“And we might say really the highlight of the Washington visit might be his speech to the joint-meeting of Congress, so the Senate and the House of Representatives,” Auza told CNA.

That would be the Republican Senate and House, now full of those who don’t much care for this Pope. This is the guy who has said over and over again that income inequality is a major moral issue, and that trickle-down economics makes Jesus cry, and is about to issue an encyclical about how global warming is real, and caused by man, and no Christian can believe that God wanted us to destroy the earth, so we’d better do something about this right now. The details are here – with direct quotes and links and all the rest – so this is an oh-shit moment for the Republicans, and there’s no point in calling in Frank Luntz. Luntz can rename this and that all he wants. Pope Francis will point to the Bible. Who is going to win that one?

The odd thing is that the Republicans have no one to blame but themselves:

Last March, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) invited the pope to address a joint meeting of Congress.

“Pope Francis has inspired millions of Americans with his pastoral manner and servant leadership, challenging all people to lead lives of mercy, forgiveness, solidarity, and humble service,” Boehner said in a statement.

Boehner said the pope’s call to protect the ailing, the disadvantaged, the unemployed, the impoverished and the unborn “has awakened hearts on every continent.”

“The Holy Father’s pastoral message challenges people of all faiths, ideologies and political parties,” Boehner added. “His address as a visiting head of state before a joint meeting of the House and Senate would honor our nation in keeping with the best traditions of our democratic institutions. It would also offer an excellent opportunity for the American people as well as the nations of the world to hear his message in full.”

They can’t exactly uninvite him now, although some on Fox News will probably urge that they do, and Stuart Varney might lead the charge – although that would look bad now. They’ve lost the framing. It happens. They lost the framing on gay marriage too – it’s legal in thirty-six states now, and lots of those people got married to each other and the world didn’t end. America shrugged. They should live and be happy – and all the Obama scandals turned out to be nothing much at all too. Benghazi? Shrug. And Ebola didn’t kill us all, and Obamacare is working just fine. This is not the time for John Boehner to tell the Pope to stay away, because he’s an evil man who is trying to end capitalism. A few Republican senators and congressmen might not show up, in protest, or maybe some of them will stand and turn their backs on the Pope, like the NYPD guys did at those funerals when the mayor walked by – but they’ll only come off as jerks.

Other people can do framing too, and the Democrats finally figured that out. Obama is going to do what Frank Luntz once did:

President Obama will focus on “middle-class economics” in his State of the Union speech Tuesday, one of his senior advisors says, unveiling a message designed to challenge newly empowered Republicans on economic policy in the final two years of his presidency.

“It’s the simple proposition that now that the economy is in a stronger place than it’s been in a very long time, we need to double down on our efforts to deal with wage stagnation and declining economic mobility,” White House advisor Dan Pfeiffer said in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

The White House has already released the policies it hopes to use to frame the debate. On Saturday, officials said the president would call on Congress to raise taxes on top earners and impose a new fee on large financial firms to pay for tax credits aimed at low- and middle-class families. The $320 billion in new revenue would be used to pay for expanded higher education benefits, child care tax credits and retirement programs.

Pfeiffer acknowledged the plans aren’t tailored to appeal to Republicans, who took complete control of Congress this month.

No, they’re not. They’re tailored to paint the Republicans into a corner. What are they going to do, argue for the rich and the big corporations and say the middle class is full of whiners and losers? No, but they’ll try:

Republicans quickly rejected the White House’s proposals. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), also speaking on “Face the Nation,” called the president’s tax plan “an outdated model that no longer works in the 21st century.”

“The notion, first of all, that in order for some people to do better someone has to do worse is just not true,” Rubio said. “Raising taxes on people that are successful is not going to make people that are struggling more successful. The good news about free enterprise is that everyone can succeed without punishing anyone.”

It hasn’t worked so far, but it might.

Paul Waldman sees what’s going on here:

Even President Obama’s most fervent opponents must acknowledge that he’s getting quite good at putting them on the defensive. Facing a Republican Congress and with only two years remaining in his presidency, he seems to come up with a new idea every couple of weeks to drive them up a wall. So he certainly wasn’t going to let the State of the Union address go by without using the opportunity – days of pre- and post-speech commentary, plus an audience in the tens of millions – to its utmost.

Obama will simply reframe things:

At Tuesday’s speech, Obama will announce a series of proposals meant to aid middle class and poor Americans and address inequality, most particularly an increase in the child care credit and a $500 tax credit for working couples. To pay for it, investment and inheritance taxes on the wealthy would be increased and some loopholes that small numbers of the super-rich (like one Willard Romney) exploit will be closed. While the SOTU is often the occasion for dramatic announcements that are soon forgotten, this one lands in the center a debate that is looking like it will shape the upcoming presidential race. Naturally, Republicans are not pleased.

But if you listen carefully to what they’re saying, you’ll notice that they are barely mentioning the proposals for middle-class tax breaks which are supposed to be the whole purpose of this initiative; instead, all their focus is on the increases America’s noble job creators would have to endure in order to pay for it.

They’re trapped in their previous framing, and his tax-and-spend stuff is something they didn’t expect, because he used the tax code as a tool:

While Obama does want to provide new funds to make community college free to anyone who wants it, most of his proposals in this round use the tax code to help people of modest means, which is exactly what Republicans usually suggest when they’re forced to come up with an idea to help the poor or middle class. Since they believe that government programs to help ordinary people are useless almost by definition, the only way to give anyone a hand is with a tax cut. And yes, the hand they usually extend is toward the wealthy, whose burdens are so crushing that justice demands that lawmakers not rest until they can be afforded relief. But tax cuts are so magical they can help anyone, which is why Republicans been in favor of expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and the child care tax credit before.

But paying for it by increasing investment and inheritance taxes on the wealthy, like Obama is proposing? Not on your life.

They used to love expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and the child care tax credit – that’s not directly giving money to whiners and losers – but no more. That will now hurt the rich. They have to argue that can’t be done now. The framing changed on them, as it has for everyone:

One thing’s for sure: as the economy improves, both parties are now being forced to address the underlying issues of stagnant wages and inequality that have been an anchor around ordinary people’s lives for the last few decades. It’s fair to say this isn’t the debate Republicans want to have, and it’s easy to mock them for their insistence that they’re really the party with something to offer the middle class and the poor. But it’s a lot more productive to just take them at their word and see what they actually propose to do.

It had to be done:

You can argue – and many will – that it’s pointless for Obama to introduce significant policy proposals like this when he knows they couldn’t make it through the Republican Congress. But what alternative does he have? He could suggest only Republican ideas, but he wouldn’t be much of a Democratic president if he did that. Or he could offer nothing at all, and then everyone would criticize him for giving up on achieving anything in his last two years. If nothing else, putting these proposals forward can start a discussion that might bear legislative fruit later on. Major policy changes sometimes take years to accomplish, so it’s never too early to start. And if Republicans have better ideas, let’s hear them.

It’s time to call Frank Luntz again, but for now they have Marc Thiessen with this:

Let’s imagine you were a Democratic president who just lost control of Congress to the Republicans, and you wanted to make it really, really clear that you are not serious about governing. What would you do? Simple: Use your State of the Union address to propose hundreds of billions of dollars in new taxes that will never be enacted, in order to fund a slew of new government programs that have no chance of being approved.

Welcome to President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address.

On Tuesday night, Obama will ask the new Republican Congress to approve $320 billion in tax increases. To see how absurd this is, imagine for a moment what the reaction would have been if, after losing control of Congress to the Democrats in 2006, President George W. Bush had used his next State of the Union address to propose $320 billion in growth-oriented tax cuts. Would anyone have taken him seriously? The media would have dismissed Bush as delusional. Democrats would have laughed. Everyone would have asked: What’s wrong with him? Didn’t he get the message of the 2006 midterms? What planet is he on?

Obama is not delusional. He knows his plan has no chance of becoming law.

He’s up to something else:

Obama’s move is completely and transparently political. He knows Republicans have been working to shed their image as the party of the rich and powerful, with a new focus on helping the poor and the working class. He wants to taunt the GOP into attacking his plan so he can accuse Republicans of fighting for the wealthy. Indeed, within hours of the White House announcement of Obama’s plan, his former speechwriter Jon Favreau tweeted: “I see Obama’s tax plan has already baited Republicans into making the argument that most annoys people about their party.” That is the objective – to bait Republicans.

There’s only one thing to do:

Not take the bait. Not argue the merits of Obama’s plan. Ignore it and pass proposals of their own to help lower- and middle-income families. The president gets his one night at the rostrum of the House of Representatives to make his case, but Republicans control the House and Senate. They should move forward with serious plans to help those who are struggling in the Obama recovery that do not involve massive new taxes or massive new spending – and then dare Obama and the Democrats to oppose them.

Thiessen goes on to suggest lowering the minimum wage, or eliminating it, so employers would hire more people, because they could pay them next to nothing for massive amounts of work – so unemployment would drop. He suggests relocation vouchers for the long-term unemployed – help them move from high-unemployment areas to states where jobs are “abundant” like North Dakota perhaps. There’s just no need to spend money on much of anything, except on programs to strengthen family values and get these people to shape up. And everyone should ignore Obama:

Obama’s political ploy only works if the right treats it seriously. Republicans should ignore his plan and move forward with their own proposals to help Americans who are struggling. If Obama wants to act like a lame duck, the GOP should treat him like one.

That might not work. The lame duck changed a few words. America now practices Middle Class Economics. Get with it or get left behind. Two can play at this reframing game.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Joining the Framing War

  1. Rick says:

    Not a bad idea of Obama’s, reframing the problem away that worn-out “inequality” stuff (which, for some reason, always prompts certain knee-jerk conservatives, every time they hear the word, to involuntarily shout, “Class Warfare! Class Warfare!”) and toward the issue of “middle-class economics” — although I suspect that, by this time, eyes glaze over at the mention of “middle-class”, too.

    I suggest a new term: “balance”. The problem is not just one of “unfairness” — that those at the middle and bottom of the economy are getting the short end of the stick (although that’s certainly true, too) — but also that the whole system is like a wobbly wheel that’s threatening to fall off the wagon, and until we fix it, we all, from the top to the bottom, are in for a bumpy ride.

    But already, Marco Rubio has called the president’s tax plan “an outdated model that no longer works in the 21st century”:

    “The notion, first of all, that in order for some people to do better, someone has to do worse, is just not true,” Rubio said. “Raising taxes on people that are successful is not going to make people that are struggling more successful.”

    I’m not sure what model he thinks is “outdated”, but if it’s from a century previous to the 21st, it’s probably from a time when things were not so screwed up, back before 1% of the world population was fixing to own 50% of the world. Someone needs to ask Rubio about that new Oxfam statistic, since I think (pardon my Ricky Ricardo) Senator Rubio has some ‘splainin’ to do.

    For one thing, he needs to tell us what he means by “successful”. Is he claiming that the 1% somehow “earned”, fair and square, all that wealth that we have, for various reasons, transferred to them from the poorest half of the world? I would like to see his detailed explanation as to exactly what those rich people “succeeded at” to allow them to get that much richer at the expense of all those poor people. And the very fact that only the richer have been getting richer, and that everyone else hasn’t, should take care of Rubio’s notion that, “in order for some people to do better, someone has to do worse, is just not true”.

    I think his answer is probably the same old Republican response as Marc Thiessen’s — that rather than rejigger the whole system to get the economy back in balance, we should just work on growing the whole economy which can be simply done with “growth-oriented tax cuts” on job creators, or some other silliness.

    But hello? People who say this need to wake up and notice that the whole economy has been growing, except that only rich people have been benefiting from it!

    You may be tempted to echo Mitt Romney’s recent speech in San Diego, in which he pointed out that the middle class has been suffering under the “Obama Recovery” because of something Republicans kept denying even existed — so-called “inequality” — but now, all of a sudden, concede it does exist after all, but which they now blame on Obama! The fact is, the imbalance in the economy that Romney is suddenly fretting about didn’t start under Obama; it’s been there for some time.

    But I’m pretty sure the people who believe that lowering taxes “on people who are successful is going to make people that are struggling more successful”, don’t really care that much about the economy anyway, what they really care about is lowering taxes, period.

    And while we’re on Marc Thiessen, he has this theory that Obama’s plan for his State of the Union speech is just to put forth a bunch of things that he knows won’t get past the Republican-controlled Congress, simply because he “wants to taunt the GOP into attacking his plan so he can accuse Republicans of fighting for the wealthy” — which has got to remind us of what the Republicans have been doing in all their attempts to repeal Obamacare, knowing it was all going to be for naught. Does this mean both sides are playing the same game?

    No, seriously, how are we to tell the difference between all those Republican anti-Obamacare campaigns, and Obama’s attempt in a speech to outline the Democratic agenda for the next few years?

    One way, I predict, is there likely won’t be over fifty-something symbolic but otherwise stupid votes on our new Democratic agenda.


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