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Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate--The Essential Guide for Progressives Paperback – September 15, 2004


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Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate--The Essential Guide for Progressives + The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic + The Political Mind: A Cognitive Scientist's Guide to Your Brain and Its Politics
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing; 1st edition (September 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931498717
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931498715
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (230 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In the first of his three debates with George W. Bush, 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry argued against the war in Iraq not by directly condemning it but by citing the various ways in which airport and commercial shipping security had been jeopardized due to the war's sizable price tag. In so doing, he re-framed the war issue to his advantage while avoiding discussing it in the global terrorism terms favored by President Bush. One possible reason for this tactic could have been that Kerry familiarized himself with the influential linguist George Lakoff, who argues in Don't Think of an Elephant that much of the success the Republican Party can be attributed to a persistent ability to control the language of key issues and thus position themselves in favorable terms to voters. While Democrats may have valid arguments, Lakoff points out they are destined to lose when they and the news media accept such nomenclature as "pro-life," "tax relief," and "family values," since to argue against such inherently positive terminology necessarily casts the arguer in a negative light. Lakoff offers recommendations for how the progressive movement can regain semantic equity by repositioning their arguments, such as countering the conservative call for "Strong Defense" with a call for "A Stronger America" (curiously, one of the key slogans of the Kerry camp). Since the book was published during the height of the presidential campaign, Lakoff was unable to provide an analytical perspective on that race. He does, however, apply the notion of rhetorical framing devices to the 2003 California recall election in an insightful analysis of the Schwarzenegger victory. Don't Think of an Elephant is a bit rambling, overexplaining some concepts while leaving others underexplored, but it provides a compelling linguistic analysis of political campaigning. --John Moe

From Publishers Weekly

Lakoff, a cognitive scientist and linguist at Berkeley, believes he knows why conservatives have been so successful in recent years and how progressives like himself can beat them at their own game. This slim book presents a simple, accessible overview of his theory of "moral politics" and a call to action for Democrats mourning November’s election results. Lakoff’s persuasive argument focuses on two ideas: what he calls "framing," and the opposition of liberals’ and conservatives’ concepts of the family. Conservatives, he says, have easily framed tax cuts as "tax relief" because of widespread, preexisting views of taxes as burdensome, and liberals have had little success conveying the idea that taxes are a social responsibility. In Lakoff’s view, conservatives adhere to a "strict father" model of family, in contrast to liberals’ "nurturant parent" view, and he sees this difference as the key to understanding most of the two sides’ clashes. His writing is clear and succinct, and he illuminates his theories through easy-to-follow examples from current politics. Although the book has been updated since the election, many of its sections were originally written long beforehand, so some comments are outdated (at one point Lakoff wonders, for example, whether George Bush’s support of the gay marriage amendment will help him keep the White House). However, the process of regaining power may be a long one for Democrats, and Lakoff’s insights into how to deal with conservatives and appeal to the general public are bound to light a fire under many progressives.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

George Lakoff is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, where he has taught since 1972. He previously taught at Harvard and the University of Michigan. He graduated from MIT in 1962 (in Mathematics and Literature) and received his PhD in Linguistics from Indiana University in 1966. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Don't Think of an Elephant!, among other works, and is America's leading expert on the framing of political ideas.

George Lakoff updates may be followed on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+. Find these links, a complete bibliography, and more at http://georgelakoff.com

Customer Reviews

Critics of the book also misunderstand Lakoff and his take on facts.
Kevin Heaton
This book picks up where most books leave off when it comes to getting a better understanding of the conservative voter and what makes them vote that way.
Ryan McMahon
I appreciated the way Lakoff provided a frame for progressive values.
D. M. Foster

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

290 of 334 people found the following review helpful By Laurie on September 29, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In Thomas Frank's bestselling "What's the Matter with Kansas?" the author asks why so many Americans vote against their own economic interests. Well, George Lakoff of the Rockridge Institute, a prominent progressive think tank, provides the answers. According to Lakoff, most Americans vote their identity and values not their economic self interest.

Conservatives, despite being a minority, are dominating because they understand this. They are winning by putting their values front and center, by controlling the national dialogue by "framing" issues (i.e. calling the estate tax "the death tax,"), through institution building, and by developing overarching strategic initiatives rather than advocating single issues and isolated programs.

Lakoff provides the groundwork for progressives to begin to counter conservatives. Conservatives call for "strong defense," progressives call for a "stronger America;" conservatives say "free market," progressives say "broad prosperity;" conservatives argue for "smaller government," progressives want "effective government;" etc. The book provides the tools for progressives to move the debate -- by addressing people's core American values -- from the divisive arguing that reinforces conservatives' positions to a civil discourse that reinforces progressives' positions.

A must read!
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71 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Ed Uyeshima HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on September 26, 2004
Format: Paperback
I sure wish I had the foresight to take George Lakoff's class when I was going to Berkeley, but at least I can revel in this illuminating book about the influence exerted by metaphors that resonate with the American public. A professor of linguistics, Lakoff is a senior fellow of the Rockridge Institute, the renowned liberal think tank that concentrates in part on helping Democratic candidates and politicians with re-framing political metaphors. He certainly has the credentials to produce this treatise on the power of words and the resulting images that stay within the mind regardless of what other objective information may be conveyed that run counter to these images. The discussion seems so basic, but Lakoff's treatment is fascinating.

In this penetrating book, he focuses on the impermeable connection people make between family and nation and how images are divided along party lines. Republicans follow the strict father model, which assumes that the world is a dangerous place and always will continue to be because there is evil out there in the world. The world is also difficult because it is competitive. There will always be winners and losers. There is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. What is needed in this kind of world is a strong, strict father who can protect the family in a dangerous world, no matter the cost.

Democrats, on the other hand, see both parents are equally responsible for raising the children. The assumption is that children are born good and can be made better. The world can be made a better place, and our job is to work on that. The parents' job is to nurture their children and to raise their children to be nurturers of others. According to Lakoff, empathy and responsibility are paramount in political liberalism.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Ambrose Bierce on April 21, 2005
Format: Paperback
This was a fascinating book to read during the heat of the 2004 elections, since it crystalizes the reasons why Mr. Bush considered his victory a "mandate." His partisans framed the debate in honeyed words, they didn't waver from those sweet talking points, and they wound up with the most votes. People do like their honey! Semantics aside, those who wanted a second term came to believe that partisanship itself is its own God-annointed reward.

But as even the best spin machine is finding out, honeyed words only gum up the works when there's a country to run. Those who cried out to let freedom reign at the Republican convention are discovering it takes two sides to build a democracy in Iraq. The fate of Terri Schiavo gives the lie to a Republican Party interested in less government, not more. And ahead -- well, is Social Security really a private account or a public trust? Check the stock market daily to see how that argument will fare. To get anything accomplished will take a serious bi-partisan effort. God is in the details, not occupying a Senate seat.

The book is best when it gives the abstraction of politics a practical gloss -- the argument that the system is actually something which can work, and be changed for better or worse in the process. Words are powerful tools and political systems have used them time and again for their own ends. Mr. Bush (he's not my president, and hasn't been) is the latest manifestation of what words can do. I'm sure he and his supporters believe in their hearts that they are doing the correct things to secure America's future. But they are not the only ones who have control of that future, no matter how it's framed.

Ambrose Bierce defined the conservative politician as "a statesman enamored of existing evils.
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57 of 66 people found the following review helpful By M. Jarjoura on September 27, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have been following Lakoff for almost a year now after the Howard Dean campaign introduced me to his Rockridge Institute. Lakoff is one of the few who understood that the conservative party had owned the debate for the last 20 years, not because they were populist, but because they learned how to frame the issues. He also took the "progressive" term to replace the now negative word liberal. After I heard that he was coming out with an action book for the election, I immediately purchased it. However, once I started reading it, I began recognizing that these were the same articles that were on alternet.org. This wouldn't be a problem for those who wanted his articles in one location, except that there is a lot of repetition as he explains "father morality" and "nurturant family" over and over.

Part II was what I was waiting for as it went into detail on how to talk to conservatives and awake their "nurtuant" side. Unfortunately that part of the book is a measily 3 chapters long.

I still give this 4 stars because it is a great book if only because its one of the few sincere "progressive" vs. conservative theory books out there.
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