The NIE and Lakoff's Whose Freedom?

The Bush administration reluctantly declassified the key points of the National Intel Estimate after enough people raised a fuss that Bush weakly bleated somehow about taking something like “HEY, IRAQ IS 100% MAKING US LESS SAFE” out of context.

Bush in his own words said that once we saw this document, we would see the truth for ourselves, as if it were THAT obvious.

Bush also condemned the leak of this document, calling it dangerous for the terrorists to know our estimate of their capabilities (most of the key points were addressed in Al-Qaeda’s own estimate that we confiscated). He said our intel analysts would be reluctant to publish future analyses if they thought it might be leaked! Yeah, because analysts would HATE to receive national recognition for their work.

What he also claimed was that this report was leaked for political reasons, and that it would confuse Americans.

That’s what really burns me up. I just finished reading George Lakoff’s “Whose Freedom?”. He is a linguist who talks about how the conservatives have taken a stranglehold on the entire political debate. Through building frames for arguments that progressives cannot escape, and using terms such as “war on terror” (courage through fear), “tax relief” (making taxes appear bad), “homosexual lifestyle” (as if it is a fad choice) and so on to subtly reinforce the Republican agenda, the conservatives control the voting mind. What’s more, discipline and initiative are all you need to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”. People are poor because they deserve to be, not because they are stuck in that situation by their circumstances.

The overarching point Lakoff makes is that there are two major frames: there is the strict father frame, the authoritarian conservative. And there is the nurturing maternal frame, the progressive. Conservatives, Republicans, fundamentalist Christians…they all believe in a paternal figure whose word is god, whether that figure is the literal God, the president, or your father. You do not question him. You must be loyal to him. You can trust him. Those who do not respect their superiors will be strictly dealt with.

And thus when Bush tells us that we will only be confused by knowing more about this “war on terror”, he is telling us that it is not our right to know. Father knows best. Your president knows best. The state knows best, and classifying everything is for your own good. You will only be told what you need to know and he will take care of you. He does not respect our capacity to govern ourselves.

His administration is against states’ rights. Authoritarianism requires a strong central government. Federalism will not fly. Now, states like California are finding ways to work around the administration’s weak policies on issues such as illegal immigration and global warming. This demonstrates why I think federalism is probably one of the most important aspects of a working republic/democracy. Just look at how virulently the administration attacks federalism in Iraq. It does not want to see Iraq be broken up into ethnic states, despite that being a popular idea amongst Iraqis. It does not line up with an authoritarian central government that we want to impose.

I highly recommend the book — it helped me to understand where the right is coming from and why it’s so frustrating to deal with. The strict, paternal style is a philosophy of life that dovetails nicely with Army life. You don’t ask questions in the Army. If your sergeant tells you to do something, you do it. And if you don’t, then you’ll be doing push-ups until he gets tired.

Another issue the book brings up is how powerful the corporation has become. While the government is constitutionally responsible for a checks and balances system, corporations are not. There is no accountability for a corporation’s ability to exert its will upon its employees or customers except for the invisible hand of the marketplace. Agencies designed to slap the corporations down if they take advantage of people have been gutted so that legal avenues for redress are almost useless. Perhaps there needs to be a bill of rights for employees/customers. Radical Republicans are using corporate immunity to subvert constitutional freedoms.

The progressives have a long way to go before they can de-link the political discourse from being swept up in conservative framework, according to Lakoff. But in his book he outlines talking points for progressives to focus on, and traps to stay away from.

As for the estimate, well, it’s obvious that the administration is not happy with its conclusions and is de-emphasizing the negative. It has to. If the authoritarian wasn’t right, then his entire strength will be questioned.