Thursday, January 25, 2007

Issue Framing and Exaggerations

One of the biggest problems Democrats have had in terms of pushing an agenda over the last 10 years has been, in my opinion, their inability to frame their issues. Issue framing is probably the most important aspect of successful marketing. Or instance, anti-tax conservatives have always had a serious problem with the Estate Tax. Of course, many of them are super rich, but many of them just disagree with it on principle - these estates were built with wealth that had already been taxed, so the resources should not be taxed when passed down to beneficiaries. However, the Estate Tax has been largely popular amongst the majority of Americans because 1) the vast majority of people are not, nor will they ever be, subject to such a tax, and 2) because Americans tend to approve of progression tax schematics, particularly when the wealth transfer is unearned; i.e. inheritance, lottery winnings, capital gains, etc. To counter this sentiment, anti-tax forces have re-framed the issue from one of economic fairness and the taxing of wealth transfers, to one of liberals trying to tax death. Taxing DEATH. This is, of course, grossly disingenuous. The Estate Tax (or rather, death tax, as some would put it )does not tax death, but rather, taxes a transfer of wealth from one person to another - from one who earned it, to one who did not. The anti-Death tax movement has gained some steam as a result of this re-framing. Fortunately, Washington State voters voted down an initiative which would have done away with our state Estate Tax, the revenues of which are collected from no more than 250 families and which are diverted to public school funding.

Bill O'Reilly has engaged in a re-framing strategy in an effort to mitigate support for programs which are widely considered to be "leftist" programs. Of course, referring to them as "leftist" is ridiculous; something is only as right or as left as they are in relation to the general will of the American moderates, which is to say, the middle 60 percent or so. I would go so far as to say that embryonic stem-cell research is incredibly popular in this country, garnering support well over 60 percent. Many political hacks (as opposed to wonks) try to frame this as a liberal pet project, which is silly, because the vast majority of people support such research. However, by framing the issue in such a way as to make it appear "leftist", conservative forces are able to link it to other, more controversial issues, like abortion or social welfare, or whatever. O'Reilly uses his radio and TV shows to this end pretty constantly. His whole "Culture War" thing attempts to further solidify issues into certain classes as secular-progressive (aka liberal/Democratic) or Traditionalist (aka conservative/Republican). By using a taxonomy which creates dichotomous classes of issues, O'Reilly is able to associate unrelated issues with each other, and thus mitigate support for one issue by focusing on its association with others. He does this primarily with silly language. For instance, he refers to embryonic stem-cell research as "fetal stem-cell research" which is, of course, ridiculous because the stem-cells are not harvested from fetuses, but rather, embryos. He does this to link stem-cell research to abortion in an effort to sway pro-stem-cell-research people who happen to be pro-life away from supporting stem-cell research.

Last night's "Talking Points Memo" on The O'Reilly Factor was a perfect example of how O'Reilly uses issue framing to manipulate how people examine these issues. My good friend Blaine, on his blog over at Dead Journal, has provided an excellent analysis of O'Reilly's segment, and illustrates how O'Reilly uses rhetoric to misrepresent the American left.

Check it out.