November 05, 2004

Framing the debate

Over the past several years, I have witnessed a slow-growing realisation among liberals and progressives that much of the gains the neo-cons have made can be directly traced to the terminology they introduced into the national debate. By "framing" the issues in such a way that certain things are presupposed, they win the debate before it even starts. For instance, by grabbing the term "pro-life", people trying to make abortion illegal assert that everyone else is "anti-life", and by letting them do that, the pro-choicers concede the point. It also helps to conceal the fact that there are a lot of other life-related issues that many anti-choice activists do much worse on. Another example is, as I've pointed out elsewhere, the stupid debate between whether homosexuality is genetic or a choice. It presupposes that homosexuality is bad, and that gay people are either choosing badly or just dealt a bad hand, and the debate is lost before it starts.

But that's all been slow in developing. What I've seen just in the last three days since the election, is the sudden realisation from many different sides that liberal and progressive causes need to specifically attack the assertion that the bigoted viewpoints are more moral. Not just "we ought to re-frame the abortion debate... somehow" but "we must cast it as morally wrong to deny a woman the choice that God Himself granted her". Not just "we ought to re-frame the marriage rights debate... somehow" but "we must cast it as morally wrong to deny life partners the right to visit each other in the hospital".

Seriously, I'm seeing this on nearly every liberal or progressive forum I read. It's almost completely out of the blue, and for its sudden prominence we can thank the fact that fifty million people demonstrated that they care more about things framed in moral terms than anything else---it became more important to deny two men the right to leave each other money in their wills than to fund our schools, keep people healthy, or stop killing people.

"It is WRONG to rule through fear. Not in some abstract or removed god-says sort of way, but rather in that visceral experiential way showing us again and again that the fruit of fear is tyranny." --Jonathan Prykop

Posted by blahedo at 1:02pm on 5 Nov 2004
This is why I like Obama. In the debate, Keyes tried to paint parental consent for abortion laws as "moral". Obama smacked him back with "I am not making a teenager who has been raped by her father ask her father for permission to abort the pregnancy." He made Keyes' position immoral by putting it in a context where it was not merely immoral but inhuman. Posted by kelly at 7:50pm on 5 Nov 2004
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