Frameshop has empowered a core group to question political language and think about values, message, and metaphor. All good things. But the first principle of framing-- repetition--needs more attention. Everybody loves framing and as such, more of us need to...

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Jeffrey Feldman, Editor-in-Chief
Frameshop, 01/11/2005

Frameshop has empowered a core group to question political language and think about values, message, and metaphor. All good things. But the first principle of framing-- repetition--needs more attention. Everybody loves framing and as such, more of us need to think about the importance of repetition. Without repeition, framing is play. It's important, powerful, analytical play--play with consequences. But to change debate, to force response, there needs to be repetition.

So, how best to get over this hurdle? Let's take a look at how it works for the opposition.

Covert Conservatives
In the video introduction to framing circulated by The Rockridge Institute, George Lakoff sets up the idea of repetition by mentioning think tanks. I believe the numbers are "43 for them, 2 for us" or something similar.
It's a powerful idea, the think tank. Anyone who has spent an hour watching the daily news cycle, then flipped through the offerings at The Heritage Foundation notices immediately a startling correspondence between the content of the Republican think tank and the content of the broadcast news copy. It's often identical.

The Right in this country, it seems, has taken 35 years to develop a covert approach to repetition that has been very successful. All of this happens behind the scenes:

* Conservative think tanks generate policy, frames, language
* The list of terms to be repeated is agreed upon
* The Think Tank moves the language into the media and the party
* Party leadership confirms everything is in place for policy launch

All that happens on a covert level--beyond public ears or eyes. Repitition begins behind the scenes. Given this, the policy launch can be understood as a transformation of this covert repetition into pubic repetition, which happens like this:

* Party leadership launches the core phrases in the frame
* The launch matches up with content already put in the media and local party affiliates
* The chain reaction of repetition begins

So the Republicans, using the networks of think tanks, have developed a technique for creating a process very similar to nuclear fission in the process of framing public issues. Once the pieces are in place, it's a chain reaction.

Counter covert activity on the part of Progressive think tanks may tame the Republican chain reaction to some extent. But even if Progressives launched 50 think tanks in the next six months, the impact would be on the amplitude of the reaction, not the reaction itself. A chain reaction cannot be stopped easily. At best, it can be contained until it burns itself out.

One alternative is not to follow Republicans into the reactor at all, but to take a completely different approach to repitition.

At the level of the family, the most powerful method of repetition is child rearing. At the level of American society I think it might be branding.

I am not an expert on branding, but I can say the core concepts are distinctly different than how we think about politics and framing.

Political framing involves these key concepts: morality, metaphor, issue, policy. Branding, by contrast, introduces these keywords: Markets, consumer, logo.

My argument, here, is that while the methodology of framing is better-known than it was, say, one year ago, we can help build our political values by building the brand value of our various framing projects.

Let's consider briefly how this has happened already.

Since November '04, Republicans have continued to retrench their positions through think tanks. Progressives, by contrast--without a single new think tank being formed--have oriented large segments of the political base towards "framing." This has happend by the promotion of The Rockridge publications and through mulitiple independent framing projects, such as Frameshop and DemSpeak. As the value of these individual brands grows, the importance of framing for Progressive politics grows with them. That's distinctly different than the covert approach of the Republicans. It's out in the open, faster, and can be much more effective.

Branding happens through media and market strategy. The progressive "framing" brand was launched through a combination of print media and viral marketing. Lakoff's Moral Politics was repackaged as Don't Think of an Elephant. This project then gave rise to other initiatives on the internet. The fact that you are reading this essay, and thinking about the importance of language for the Democratic party, speaks to the success of branding for the Progressives.

That's because a brand is a form of repetition, constantly reminding people of the core set of issues and ideas associated with it. And it's been very effective for Progressives.

Meanwhile, even as everyone embraces the principle of repetition on the level of the brand, it is often the case that Progressives resist repetition on the level of political debate. Progressives love to be original, to speak against the grain, to be independent. All great things! But framing is not about eliminating those values. Framing is about setting up a set of broad logical concepts that then give rise to a range of creative ways to evoke that frame. Setting the frame is the hard part. Once it's set, we can be very creative within it.

The challenge, then, is to transfer more of the value of repetition in "framing" as a brand to the process of framing political debate itself.

© Jeffrey Feldman 2005, Frameshop

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