Customer Reviews: The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic
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on October 14, 2012
As one who watched President Eisenhower on black and white TV, I have never read a book that so clearly, definitively and accurately engenders the difference between Liberals/Progressives and Conservatives.

Simply put it's Politics 101 for the 99%.
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on September 18, 2012
Lakoff's thesis is as true as ever. Voters do not decide based upon facts, but how they FEEL about a candidate and that candidate's values. Even facts are subservient to whether the source is believable based upon their values. If we intend to fight and win support, we must explain our arguments in a moral frame-- a way of expressing our beliefs that meshes well with the beliefs of voters. Moral arguments often trump factual, intellectual arguments in the voting booth.

The political Right has done a remarkable job of boiling their ideas down to memorable phrases which engage our conservative side. We don't need to repeat theirs, but to promote our own values, like when Bill Clinton recently said "We're all in this together" is a better philosophy than "you're on your own." The advantage of giving our arguments a moral frame is that we don't sound rushed or defensive by making a half-hour argument on each issue that requires complex details and nuance. Too often, a political Left bumper sticker would be an essay because we want all the facts.

In this book, Lakoff gives us moral reasons to support political positions which you can use in your day-to-day conversations. Some may call it manipulative, but it's honest and straightforward. The intent is to appeal to voters who aren't policy wonks, but ordinary humans who cannot be bothered to learn every detail about every issue. They will rarely fact check the candidates. They will vote for their values, so we must expertly express ours.
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on December 31, 2015
The main point of this book is that words matter. And the words that we debate with have been chosen by the conservatives to the detriment of progressive causes.

Someone recently posted on Facebook a quote by Robert A. Heinlein that sums up our current political situation nicely:

“You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic.”

The authors phrased it thusly:

“All politics is moral…
One of the problems we see for liberal democracy is that conservatives use language more effectively than liberals in communicating their deepest values. Liberals assume their own values are universal values, and then further assume that all they need to do is present the facts and offer policies that support these universal values.”

The authors’ base premise is that conservatives and progressives are inherently different. This is nothing new. I have seen multiple news stories quoting studies that the two brains are not wired the same. In an effort to explain this difference they use the family model. The progressive model is of a nurturing family¬ where empathetic parents share power equally.¬ There must be self-responsibility as well as responsibility for other family members. Respect of parents is not from fear, but is earned. For the family to succeed everyone must work together. In the conservative model family is centered on a strict father. He is the provider and protector in a hostile world. The children must be taught right from wrong, by punishing if necessary. Love is the tough love model. The mother’s role is that of a nurturer and helpmate to the father.
The two models then project these different moral jumping off points onto larger institutions, government and business. For the conservatives it is all about individual liberties and self-reliance. It is Social Darwinism at its finest (worst?). Progressives are about working together for the common good, about taking care of each other. There is a cartoon floating around that depicts this perfectly. A lifeboat is tilted up at an acute angle, obviously leaking from the lower portion. There are two individuals bailing furiously in this section. In the upper section are two other individuals. One of them says to the other, “No need to worry we are high and dry.” Progressives are about community. Conservatives are about the individual. The authors do go on to say that most of us are morally or politically complex. That is we take a little from column A and a little from column B, and frequently we are easily switched.

What the authors seek to do with a multitude of examples is replace the conservative language everyone is using to language more emotionally in favor of progressives. They argue that by using the language put forth by the conservatives we are reinforcing the conservative message.
Good examples of this are found around taxes. Taxes are a necessary part of living in society. Without taxes we do not have roads, schools, firehouses, etc, etc, etc. Somehow taxes have become a very bad thing. This is done with language like “tax relief”, “tax burden”, “tax haven” and “tax loopholes”. All those have the implication that taxes are bad and something to be avoided. Progressives need to be using words like “revenue”. Without revenue our government does not run. When conservatives resist any tax for any reason, progressives should use language such as “deficit creation” or “revenue depletion”. Besides taxes the authors suggest language for health care, women issues, social security, all the areas where the war between the two sides is being fought.

The authors have a very succinct discussion of the Keystone XL pipeline and why it is wrong that is the best I have read. They also give the same treatment to the Farm Bill. I was seeing red before I completed the chapter. Conservatives are so worried about freeloaders on SNAP and somehow so accepting of billions going to subsidize food crops like cotton.

For their ending they dealt briefly with income disparity. It can best be summed up with this quote from the book:
“…that 93 percent of the additional income that entered the economy in 2010 went to the top 1 percent. The market is now the 1 percent market.
That is the real point. There will always be a richest 1 percent. The issue is the degree of disparity in wealth and power. A market that disproportionately robs the 99 percent and rewards 1 percent should be called a 1 percent market. Not a free market. Not a laissez-faire market. A 1 percent market.”

Language matters and if progressives wish to prevail in what is essentially a struggle for the soul of this country they do not need to let the conservatives set the language of the debate. They need to realize that the battle is about different perceptions of basic morality, and not logic.
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on September 12, 2012
This book is a must read for all Democrat Party and progressive activists. If Democrats develop a backbone, pick the right meme, have a personal narrative or story and repeat it ad nauseum, we have a chance to win. Always be on the offensive, never use the messaging of the right, use your values, stick to them, be authentic and repeat often. That is how the truth and the real American Way will win. It's better than "The Little Red Book": the quotations of Chairman Mao" but I digress. If you want to disprove the null hypothesis of Will Rogers: "I don't belong to any political party, I am a Democrat." then buy this book and use it, spread it around, loan it, give it away and practice what they say. If you doubt it's efficacy, then watch Michelle Obama's or Bill Clinton's speeches at the Democratic National Convention. They used the wisdom in this Little Blue Book. Facts, reason and logic don't sell or sway voters, character, emotion and values are what win in elections. Position papers are not read nor convince most voters. Appeals that are based on shared values, that spark positive or fearful emotions are what motivate voters. Use this book to do that. The Republicans already do. It is about time the Democrats get smart, "get a backbone", and "stay on message." Read this book and win.
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on August 6, 2012
The friend who gave me Dr. Lakoff's brilliant "Don't Think of an Elephant" as a Xmas gift forget to mention I'd never be the same person after reading it. Since then I've read everything the good professor's written. This little volume is a summary of the best of five or so of his works & is worth reading for just the time savings! In these pages lie the key to shaking poor & middle class Americans who steadfastly vote Republican out of their collective comas. Read it & act on it! So76 (dot) org
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on October 22, 2012
The circumstances and processes whereby people change their minds fundamentally about political issues remain mysterious. What moves conservatives to embrace liberalism, and what leads liberals to abandon the left and become conservative? It's very clear that endless, heated political arguments do not accomplish this. Blah, blah, blah, we shoot our talking points reflecting our alternative realities past one another like so many misplaced guided missiles. Political discourse ultimately seems to be a realm of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

In light of this futility, Professor Lakoff has been working on deciphering "political language" for years now, and has made real contributions to our understanding of how political assumptions and concepts operate within American discourse. He points out how the political left has too often failed to see how the initial framing of issues renders true political dialogue impossible. This short book represents just a sliver of his overall project, and is meant as a quick and easy handbook to help progressives to present their perspective to conservatives in a way that might possibly facilitate real discussion.

Given the sorry nature of political "discussion" in today's society, this seems a welcome opus, and in some small, incremental ways, I think this is a positive contribution to bridging the huge rhetorical gap that divides left and right in the United States. However, Lakoff errs in assuming (apparently) that the basis of this philosophical division lies solely or even mainly in the nature of "moral values," his principal focus. These are important, but I think even these values are built upon something more fundamental, i.e., bedrock assumptions about the very nature of human/social life. I guess this would be termed "social ontology." The most fundamental and contentious issue is whether or not society is a collection of self-creating individuals, or conversely, an interdependent web of people-in-relations. Are we more individual or social? How much do people's circumstances determine who and what they are? To what extent am I my brother's keeper? Am I diminished by and responsible for the existence of poor and miserable people in our midst, or is their continued existence "their own fault?"

This highly contentious set of issues emerged most clearly during the 2012 campaign when Obama made his now-infamous remark, "You didn't build that." Yes, the Republicans took the quotation out of context to make it seem that Obama was completely discounting the accomplishments of successful individuals, but even when it was pointed out that he meant we all depend on collective accomplishments and services in order to pursue our individual goals, the argument fell upon deaf ears with many voters. I would argue that this is because of this fundamental difference in perspective regarding the crucial individual/society relationship.

Within current political discourse, there is an inevitable tendency for conservatives to frame this argument in terms of extremes, i.e., either we strive to be a society of "individual responsibility" or else we are headed toward one that is "socialist." It is within the nexus of assumptions underlying this contentious divide that liberals/Democrats somehow need to concentrate their rhetorical efforts, in my opinion. I am guessing that Dr. Lakoff would argue that his "moral values" framework encompasses these issues, but I sure did not discern it in this book. The kinds of simple talking points he conveys here simply were and are inadequate to convince anyone on the right that they should reconsider their viewpoint. Bottom line: it doesn't work, and more is needed.

No, I don't have "the answer," and I wish Dr. Lakoff well in his continued project. But given the horrendously polarized condition of the American populace today, one does not have to be a maven of political/philosophical analysis to conclude that The Little Blue Book of quick and easy talking points is not going to accomplish a whole lot.
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on August 9, 2012
(Did you ever notice how -angry- conservatives always are?) Also interesting to note that not one conservative review said "thanks for explaining the progressive mind."

There is a difference between the "me first" and the "we first" approach to life. "Me first" goes a long way back... all the way to caveman days. "We first" takes a bit of understanding... and with the founding of the USA (and the French Revolution) came fairly recently. The thing that separates the USA from the petty dictators and oligarchies of the rest of the world -IS- "we first-ness" : putting everyone as a whole on the same, equal footing as the needs of the individual.

Ask a conservative about what makes the US great, and you'll get a lot of chest-beating and harumphing about "our freedoms." But seldom can they actually answer -what- it is about the US that separates us from the crowd. Lots of countries have "freedom."

It's that the first word of the Constitution of the Unites States is "We" - and there's a reason it's not "The King" - we take care of each other. We place the basic rights to life, liberty and happiness together for ALL citizens, not just the strongest, or the most wealthy.

We often hear that it's hard to be a good citizen of the US... and the reason is the "we" in the Constitution - each one of us must balance our own personal desires and beliefs with those of complete strangers, with whom we may vigorously disagree... but who have as much right to their opinion as we do to ours.

THAT is what makes the US great. And the extreme conservatives seem to either forget, or no longer believe in, our founding principles. The USA is about -balance- not power. It is quite possible to have BOTH life _and_ liberty - it's not an either/or situation as most conservatives believe.

Progressives may not accept the beliefs of the conservative mind, but at least they are willing to allow for co-existence; conservatives, on the other hand, want to literally -outlaw- the liberal perspective. And that is, according to our founding fathers, un-American at its core.

This book may overstate its case, but it does provide some insight into the differences of mind. Personally, I think the extreme right has gotten a bit hysterical in the past 20 or 30 years (and I'm certainly old enough to make that observation.) Unfortunately, in their blind passion, they are destroying the very country they profess to want to save.

It's our -balance- between the public and the private that makes us strong and resilient. Without it, with either side predominant, we are just another also-ran country in the dust-bin of history; not unique, not strong, not special.

I'm a veteran. I love this country. I'd hate to see the conservatives "me first" destroy its very foundations.

I think this book is worth a read, whether you're liberal -or- conservative.
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on September 12, 2012
I am halfway through "The Little Blue Book" and I now have proper words to use to illustrate the ideas that have been rumbling around in my head for over a decade. Wish I had had this book back in 2008 but I'm glad it is here now. Easy to read with "plain English" explanations. Wrap up at the end of each section is very helpful. Can't wait to use the ideas!
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on September 19, 2012
George Lakoff does it again. He is a master at stating succinctly how our human brains process language, and how our choice of words affects our message. I highly recommend this book to every Democratic or Progressive activist who wants to improve their messaging. Let's stop accepting the framing the other side uses. We need to state our own values, not argue against theirs. They've been doing this for decades, it's high time we take back the dialog.
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on October 7, 2012
Very helpful in creating the language and argument forms need in the long term to keep what we already have as losses are noticed only after they happened. The authors are not talking about money management, but the values of our democracy that have been eroded by conservative policies and practices over the last 40 years plus. The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic
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