Framing Barack Obama

The only frames most people have been talking about lately are the wiry numbers Palin wears with her skirts and upswept hair. But over at The Huffington Post George Lakoff, author of Moral Politics and Don’t Think of an Elephant, talks about a more important kind of frame, one Obama better give some attention: namely the frame placed around a politician’s substance.

We know every voter makes a decision based in part on logic and in part on emotion. We might agree that a preference for logic produces better decisions, but Democrats typically make the mistake of believing that emotions can be overcome by logic (Gore 2000, Kerry 2004).

Republicans tend to nurture emotional responses and are happy to play fast and loose with logic. Oh, and they win elections. What makes Republicans successful as campaigners is their skill at providing a clear and attractive emotional frame for their candidates based on the current political environment.

In our current political environment: Economic hard times in an uncertain world where current strategies aren’t working, Republicans have framed McCain and Palin as follows:

John McCain – Tough prisoner who stands up to the establishment

Sarah Palin – Assertive, energetic mom who will go to bat for us

I do not believe these frames are accurate, but they don’t have to be to work, simply believable. Nor do I believe they reflect effective candidates. They are, however, effective frames. And if you doubt the importance of frames, ask G.W. Bush (upright beer buddy Texas rancher [2000], vigilante cowboy [2004]) just how important they were in winning the last two elections.

Obama has been effective so far at delivering a consistent message – hopeful change. And in many ways he has been effective at reshaping McCain’s frame to be “weak-minded Bush clone.”

But while important, a consistent message, even one backed up with well-considered policy, isn’t a frame. Obama also has a compelling life story. But while a life story feeds a frame, it isn’t a frame either.

So does Obama have an effective frame? I would have to say, not yet. But can he be given one? Absolutely, and a good one.

Obama, like McCain, must convince voters that he will bring our country out of its current economic struggles and help us navigate a dangerous world that doesn’t like us much at the moment.

Unlike McCain (and Palin, who matters only if McCain dies), Obama has LIVED personal economic crises and has spent much of his youth living and working with folks battling those issues first hand, not as a politician, but as neighbor and as a director (with executive responsibilities, thank you very much) of a community action group.

His is a deeper spin on the “one of us” idea that appeals to voters. He’s one of us, but with a degree from Harvard Law and Hill experience, and he’s successful! In other words, Americans can look at him and where he came from and see what amazing things are possible.

So how would I frame Barack Obama?

“Innovative coach who inspires us to win as champions”

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3 Comments on “Framing Barack Obama”

  1. RallyGrrrl Says:

    Katrina, four dollar gas, a trillion dollar war, rising unemployment, deregulated housing market, global warming…no more

  2. Jackie Says:

    Troy, how do we get you on their campaign advisory team??? Talk about framing, (and I NEVER thought I would say the following 2 words but) poor Bush has been thrown under the bus, framed as the reason for all ills in this country. I am so tired of the idea that HE is the problem, totally ignoring the policies and practices of the party that put him there and will still be there if, God forbid, McCain were to win. For Pete’s sake, Bush could be one of the single most loyal Republicans in this country and the RNC acted as if he invited himself to their party. The hypocrisy will never cease to amaze me. I keep hoping that the groundswell that Obama started early this year will just keep gaining momentum and this ridiculous cult following that McC/P have managed to cobble together will not have anywhere near enough time to catch up. Less than 2 months to go. We can do this. But first we might have to all work on getting Troy on the advisory committee…

  3. Katy Says:

    Very well said and I am proud of you.


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