Here is a great example of conservative framing strategy and how smart and well meaning people fall victim to it. And we’ll end with an example of inspired framing from a local group, spawned after one of our framing workshops.
It has been being suggested, when talking about the healthcare issue, that since the conservative frame will be the cost, we “must frame cost as preemptive framing [that health care for all is far less costly], and stay out of the weeds in the frame we use”. Preemptively grabbing hold of a frame is good advice, but if staying out of the weeds means restricting our messages to cost alone -we’ve already lost. It’s an important fact, but as we know, facts generally fail as messaging.
Conservative strategists are fully aware, as is anyone who has studied the issue, that we pay far more than any developed nation for healthcare and we are way down the list for outcomes. The health of real people, of course, is not the strategists’ prime concern; they want to protect the massive wealth generated by the medical and insurance industries by keeping things the way they are and rolling back the modest protections of Obamacare.
A common conservative strategy is to target their message at our strongest point. Conservative strategists know they can’t win the argument on it’s merits, but winning a factual argument is not their purpose. The purpose is to sow doubt and confusion among voters by constantly claiming that the issue is not in fact settled, thereby elevating the credibility of their counter factual argument. We see this in any discussion of the Climate Crisis. They also know the media has largely given up investigative journalism in favor of pitting two sides against each other; the he-said-she-said only furthers their strategy. Even when they know they’ll eventually lose, the tactics can still delay action long enough to keep the gravy train going a little longer or stall action until a more favorable Congress comes to power (think tobacco companies) .
Of course, we take the bait every time and argue within the cost frame. It’s not wrong to say that our solution will cost less. It’s an important point. What’s wrong is that we don’t ever seem to break through the constraints of the cost frame –intentionally constructed by conservative strategists- to talk about the tragedies of untreated conditions, the anxiety of health insecurity, the financial ruin –the stories of real people that happen here, but not in other countries.
The point of lower cost is necessary, but not sufficient. Our response to the cost argument should be a constant stream of stories about how our broken health care industry breaks real people’s lives and costs most businesses more than taxes and how people are less protected and empowered when they have to worry if they can get treatment -or don’t get it at all.
Talking about these things is not being “in the weeds”. One of the most settled facts in cognitive science is that fact flinging is being in the weeds, because in general humans don’t make decisions by rationally weighing facts. A Nobel Prize was won for this insight. The proof is in the pudding: if it was a simple case of proving a fact, the argument would have been settled the very first time someone said “Here are the facts”.
After our workshops, local activists often form framing clubs to work on issues. Here is some nifty framing on health-care-for-all from the Rush City MN group.
Universal Health Care: costs less, everyone in – no one out, health care made easy
There are a few frames in here. They hit the cost frame -again, an important point, but not a value frame. What concerns real people about health care is the fear that they may find themselves without it. Everyone in and no one out evokes the frames of community, protection, empathy and even empowerment -strong liberal frames. You get a picture of an empathetic community gathering up others in a protective circle. We all do better when we all do better.
Now, I really like Health Care Made Easy. I have not heard this before and it is a really great frame. Everything about health care in the US is hard! Hard to get adequate coverage even if you have a job, hard to get through the maze-like system, hard to get treatment you need, hard on our wallets, hard on our economy, hard to afford coverage for employees, hard on the bottom line and hard to contemplate being financially ruined (or dead) if you are denied a preauthorization, exceed your coverage -or have none. Everyone feels anxious, frustrated and angry. “Health Care Made Easy” hits these real world feelings directly. Health Care Made Easy; you can almost hear the sigh of relief!
Health Care Made Easy also has the victim/villain/hero story:
Health care is hard on people and businesses (the victims).
The villain is the healthcare industry and conservatives who appear never to have had a plan other than to keep the system the way it is.
The heroes are liberals, health care for all advocates and liberal lawmakers who want to relieve the many burdens of the system. We want to make this easy.
Doesn’t all that light up more of the right brain cells than “Our plan costs less”?