Using the Freedom Frame for Healthcare

I love this article in Glamour that Virginia Stark sent me. It uses the freedom frame for healthcare.  The freedom frame can be tough to get right because it’s a “contested” frame -both sides use it and each has it’s own understanding of what the term means. It’s rare to see it used so effectively and in so many ways.

This one quote is a quadruple whammy -a freedom frame wrapped in a powerful emotional message using the future projection tool and calling on the listener to do the imagining of what the future would look like (rather than painting the picture for them).

“If you had guaranteed access to decent health care, what would you do differently with your life?”

What a great way to focus attention on the feeling of freedom to just be done with all this healthcare mess and live the life you choose.

I’ll quibble with only one thing mentioned in the article (and many others) “…the question of how it will be paid for remains a big one”.  I see no rational basis for this notion and no reason why anyone on our side would ever say it. It seems we’ve internalized the conservative frame.

First, health insurance paid by employers is earned income and that amount is huge ≈ 24K/yr for a family. That income could just go to employees as wages to cover any higher taxes needed to pay for universal. And second, if universal costs less everywhere it’s been tried, then there’s every reason to believe it should cost less here meaning workers get to keep some of that money. What to do with the savings seems more the question!

That’s a minor quibble with a truly fine article. Author Sarah Seltzer does an exploration of how a well chosen frame can expand to many effective messages that reach different listeners and her focus on how women’s freedom expands with healthcare for all is top notch. Give the article a good read and pass it around. This is framing done well!


Healthcare Made Easy

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]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”?[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Frame Constraints

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]When used with integrity, your frame gives the a listener a broader and more cohesive understanding of an issue grounded in our moral values. However, frames also create boundaries or constraints around a discussion. This can work to your advantage when choosing a frame for your message. But beware: it’s also used by conservatives and, to make matters worse, we often help them do it! A new page “Framing Constraints” in our framing menu delves into this important aspect of framing.


Framing Freedom

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]In our workshops we identify core liberal and conservative values, but there are values both sides share, such as liberty, responsibility and freedom. However what appears to be agreement is not. Each side has a different understanding of these terms; the same word lights up different frames in the conservative brain than it does in the liberal brain.

These “contested frames” need extra scrutiny before you frame your messages. George Lakoff, in this excerpt from Don’t Think of an Elephant, shows how. This excerpt is an interesting tour through the many facets of a single word. All are frames we and most other people share in their brains.  The freedom frame can be used in many ways that allow us to reclaim it as our own.

(We highly recommend Don’t Think of an Elephant for a foundational understanding of framing.)[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The Straw Man

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]It’s work to get our worldview across with well framed messages; work made harder when the opposition is intentionally misstating our positions and then arguing vehemently against them.

That technique is a specific propaganda trick known as the “straw man” and it’s the one employed most often by conservative strategists and conservative media types like one Wesley Pruden whose opinion piece creates a virtual army of straw men.

Here are a few examples and you can click to the article if you really want more:

” …“straight” folks and particularly straight white men, are so bad they’re not entitled to rights, civil or otherwise. Cops are all bad because they’ve set out to wipe out black folks, and therefore it’s OK to kill as many cops as possible.”

“…there’s no such thing as a Muslim terrorist, and besides, radical Islamic terrorism is a myth (you could ask Hillary), and Muslims wouldn’t be terrorists if they were not oppressed by Jews and Christians in the West. You could ask Bernie Sanders, who wants to bar believing Christians from holding public office. “

“An important Democratic message is that a woman has the right to choose when and whether she has an abortion, but she doesn’t have the right to choose not to have one.”

Liberals do not believe any of these things, but the trick is so powerful that many conservatives do believe these things about us.  For the record, we do not ever suggest that you use this, or any other propaganda technique in your messaging. We must frame our messages with integrity and honesty.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Blog at

Up ↑