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]

The Skill of Framing

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We’ve had requests for lists of well framed messages on specific issues. Not to say we won’t provide examples of effective framing, but we will resist a catalog. A list doesn’t tell you why we take the positions we do. A list must be consulted or memorized. A list does not empower you to generate well framed messages when you need them.

A list does not help you internalize the skill of framing. A clear understanding of the interrelated values that make up our worldview empowers you to self generate messages on any issue old or new.

The skill of framing also takes the focus off facts and puts it solidly in the realm of morality. Think about your voter contact experiences -neither of you can ever know all the facts about every issue. Each of you is afraid the other knows more and that your ignorance will be revealed. Both of you feel a great deal of anxiety about this and want to end the conversation as quickly as possible. When you are skilled at framing, however, your conversations become values conversations and everyone can talk about what they believe.

Framing our values gets voters inside our worldview for a moment. When you connect with a voter on a shared belief, you provide a catalyst that opens the door to an entirely new way to look at things.

Effective framing is also strategic.

If each of our messages evoke our worldview (consciously or unconsciously), then they reinforce each other. Over time our worldview is strengthened in voters’ minds and the pendulum of public opinion swings back in our direction. Importantly, we lay the foundation for our candidates to express our values proudly and without penalty. “Moving right to win” would no longer be necessary.


Going Negative

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]In learning about framing our core progressive values, you might conclude that there’s a prohibition on exposing the excesses, hypocrisy and “alternative facts” of our opponents. To be sure, there are times when going negative can hurt; research suggests candidates who go negative hurt themselves more than their opponent. The science behind framing also tells us that, rather than spending time talking about your opponent, you should use most of your time to talk about who you are, what you stand for and why people should support you, your candidate or your issue. 

Though we should spend most of our time communicating who we are and the moral basis of our beliefs, we’d also do a disservice to voters if we did not talk about the very real dangers of extreme conservatism. You can go negative, but proceed with caution!

There is effective framing to be done that does not necessarily evoke our values. An example: At the time of this writing, President Trump seems ever closer to being removed from office (quite likely in a straight jacket), but a President Trump was the inevitable result of four decades of damaging Republican, propaganda that drove a huge wedge between citizens. Besides Trump’s obvious failings, there is not much daylight between the President and Republicans on policy or the use of propaganda and when he goes, they need to go with him. A simple frame ties the two together: replacing the word Trump with “the Republican President” as often a grammar allows ties his failure to theirs.


You can go negative and evoke our values. One way is by using a term that evokes opposites. By painting your opponent as irresponsible you suggest that you are responsible. If you accuse your opponent of taking something away, say healthcare, you are seen as giving it. Back in 1980 conservative strategists created a list of things to say about liberals called the GOPAC memo that used this very strategy. The GOPAC memo marks the turn from civility and creative legislating in Congress to the hyper-partisan obstruction and incivility we now see in the nation. All from a simple list of words.

A caution: conservatives use framing any way that works without regard for truth. Like any other technology, cognitive science can be used for good as well as evil. Framing can be done with integrity if it’s done with honesty. Truth matters.

When it becomes necessary to go negative, it is very important to be careful about what you say. Anger, the urge to hit back, the satisfaction of debunking and exposing hypocrisy clouds judgement. Also, do not mistake clever phrasing with effective framing. “Common sense gun laws are pro life” is certainly a clever way to talk about guns, but as framing, it fails spectacularly:

  1. Is the statement an attempt to gain support for gun laws or make you feel self righteous about tweaking conservatives?
  2. “Pro-life” is a conservative frame. Repeating it strengthens neural connections for that frame.
  3. Pro-gun and anti-abortion are NOT seen as hypocritical within the conservative worldview.
  4. The statement mixes gun safety with abortion, lighting up two huge constellations of frames, confusing the voter and preventing an anti-abortion voter from agreeing with you on gun safety.
  5. What could have been a conversation about common sense now includes an intractable and highly charged conversation about abortion.
  6. The better frame for gun laws is protection, but that possibility becomes poisoned by the link to abortion. For many, the protection of a fetus will map quite easily onto protection of lives using a gun.  

The statement does succeed by describing gun laws as common sense. It could succeed much further with the liberal frame of protection (without the baggage of abortion): Common sense gun laws save lives.

Going negative has it’s place, but liberals have relied almost exclusively on pointing out what’s wrong with the other guy. Our long term strategy of creating a foundation of liberal values in the political narrative will fail if we don’t spend the great majority of our time talking about who we are, what we believe and why.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Two Brains

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Researchers and others have known for a long time that we don’t have just one way of thinking. We are more often guided by our emotions and past experience than by cold rational analysis.

Humans seem capable of rational thought, but that ability didn’t exactly evolve to help us put people on the moon or delve into quantum mechanics. As with other evolutionary adaptations, our ability to perform some kind of reasoning kept us alive long enough to reproduce.That reasoning is not quite formal reasoning: If I see a polar bear eat my brother, then I will likely survive if I avoid a grizzly. However, I might also avoid a koala. That’s an irrational reaction, but I pay no evolutionary price for it. Our everyday “reasoning” is quite often not strictly rational and not consciously guided by us as much as we’d like to believe.

Researchers an d others have long posited two ways of thinking and there have been a number of “two brain” models that for the most part are similar:

For us aging boomers it was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance with its Classical and Romantic.

Way before that was Yin and Yang.

Daniel Kahnemann talks about System One (in the moment and intuitive) and System Two (deliberative and rational) and describes the interplay as a psychodrama between the two. His book Thinking Fast and Slow is about the best reading on this (and other subjects about our brain’s gifts and flaws).

My favorite is Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of the rider and the elephant.  The elephant is our largely unconscious reactive brain: the rider, our rational brain. The elephant lumbers along attracted by the next shiny object and making snap decisions based on emotion and previous experience. The “rational” rider is capable of rational thought (and therefore capable of pulling the elephant back to a more rational path), but is lazy and actually seems more content to rationalize what the elephant has already decided!

The image above has some useful suggestions for dealing with these two.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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