Framing wins

Here’s an interesting piece on framing by Rickard Linde. I think he and George Lakoff are both right about the expert framing job that the McCain campaign is doing on Obama, and that Republicans since Reagan have done in major elections. Rickard also has some excellent framing advice for the Obama campaign.

Both Rickard and George, however, are discounting the importance of bullshit. The Onion nailed it months ago. It doesn’t matter if Sarah Palin is unqualified as a presidential candidate (and remember, that’s what she’s running for — sitting on the bench behind an elderly president). She’s a star. A celebrity. That counts in America. A lot.

Who’s running for VP on Obama’s side? Nobody. Not compared to Palin’s celebrity, name recognition and face time on TV and magazine covers. Suddenly Obama’s got half a ticket.

I don’t know if the McCain campaign actually intended for this to happen, but the way it looks to me right now, it’ll work. Palin is single-handedly turning Barack Obama into John Kerry: a policy wonk quarantined to the bottom end of the FM dial. It’s amazing to watch.

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11 Responses to Framing wins

  1. Matt V says:

    Wait a sec.

    Your statement “It doesn’t matter if Sarah Palin is unqualified as a presidential candidate… She’s a star. A celebrity. That counts in America. A lot.” pretty much equally applies to Obama, too.

    It isn’t like he has toiled for 20-30 years in public office before running for president. He has a couple years in the Senate and a few years in the Illinois statehouse. Very few people had heard of him before his speech at the 2004 convention.

    Like Palin, he delivers an excellent speech. Like Palin, he has rabid followers. Like Palin, he is HDTV attractive.

    If he wins the election, I think he’ll be a good president. But, like Palin, he doesn’t have the base of experience that our previous dozen presidents have had. It is up to the people of America (or at least Ohio) to decide if it matters.

    And don’t dis Biden too much, he’s great to listen to on the stump.

  2. Karl says:

    Framing doesn’t win. Both sides are framing each other.

    Capturing and directing attention is what wins.

    Obama had the edge in that department until Palin was added to the McCain ticket.

    Now McCain is playing the media – both mass *and* independent as the perfect tools to keep voters attention from the issues – which they would lose if they were kept front and center.

  3. Karl says:

    Oh, and the issues will matter again as soon as an issue comes along that is favorable to the McCain camp politically – that will be when they stop pushing along these false narratives in the media.

  4. Neil Gorman says:

    @Matt V. the Rickard Linde post that Doc links to agrees with you in regards to Obama *not* being a higly experienced political / Washington insider.

    The point here is that the McCain camp is attempting to make it look like Obama is

    a. about “more of the same” and not change.
    b. turn Obama into someone who talks about both sides of his mouth… a liar.

    What McCain is doing (saying that the Republican ticket is about change) is really an attack, it just does not look like one.

    @Karl — I totally agree! Right now McCain stands to gain NOTHING by talking about issues. When it makes sense for him and his party to talk about issues again they will, unless Obama can somehow force issues into the public / political discourse.


  5. Mike Warot says:

    I heard a new term yesterday… McBama… from the Ron Paul camp… and I’m starting to buy into it. Obama has already demonstrated he’s going to suck up to the zionists and other special interests who put US last.
    We need a return to fiscal solvency and real money… and McBama isn’t going to do it for us.

  6. Graham Glass says:

    Hi Doc,

    I think the bigger issue is that the US public no longer has the ability to distinguish fact from fiction. So pundits can come up with all kinds of elaborate theories about framing, VP picks, strategies, etc. and I doubt it would really make any difference in the end.


  7. Mike says:

    Amazing how Americans let the news cycle dictate their views, up to the point of changing who to agree with most in an presidential election. With these nonsensical arguments and with two diametrically opposed candidates at that. Like a wild eyed stampeding herd chased by a bunch of cowboys (RNC spinners + press) yelling and shooting guns in the air. Yeehaw!

    On the other hand, it wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out that the polls were all rigged because of some massive Karl Rove scam in bed with corporate America.

  8. Doc Searls says:


    George Lakoff is the guy who came up with framing, and he did it as one of the world’s leading cognitive linguists. The concept is now part of political punditry, but it does go deeper than that. George’s book Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, makes that pretty clear.

    While I agree that the VP picks make little difference in most cases, I think McCain’s makes a huge difference. And strategies matter too. Else why have them?

  9. Graham Glass says:

    Hi Doc,

    Thanks for your comment! I’m very familiar with George Lakoff’s work, and have read a good portion of it. I admire him and agree that good framing makes a difference. My point was really that when a population becomes so easily influenced by trivia and lies and seems unable to distinguish fact from fiction, framing by a party that wants to maintain some semblance of dignity becomes increasingly difficult. The population becomes easy to manipulate by FUD, which I believe is very hard to fight back at even with the best possible framing.

    That being said, I definitely agree that framing as a part of a strategy is vitally important. You do the best that you can and hope that the population makes a good choice.


  10. Karl says:

    Framing as part of a strategy is common sense.

    Lakoff’s major advance was revealing that bit of common sense along with a framework and a language to discuss it.

    In any case, you can use framing all you want – if you don’t have the capability to drive attention where you want it to – so that your efforts reach those you need to reach – it means little.

    McCain/Palin over the past few weeks have been an exercise in attention driving that is hard to imagine any more effective. Obama had it going on during his run against Clinton. Now McCain/Palin are moving the conversation where they want it.

    This election will be debated for a long, long time.

    Who is best at utilizing the attention economy to their advantage?

    Graham, that’s the other piece to this. We are more easily manipulated because those that seek to market something to us – in this case those running for national office – have woken up to the attention economy and are using it to the fullest.

  11. Doc Searls says:

    Good points, Graham and Karl. In sum, framing and driving attention both matter. (More on the latter, and a pessimistic view with which I’m inclined to agree, from Dave Rogers.)

    Somewhere down there, substance does too. One can hope.

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