On Fighting Bob Radio, George Lakoff gives Wisconsin some advice on how to save itself from the right-wing propaganda machine.
Listeners to Fighting Bob Radio on August 9 heard how to fight a conservative takeover of policy debates by framing the issues in reality and telling the truth about democracy. That shouldn’t be difficult to comprehend, but as a Fighting Bob Radio guest said: “Liberals are trapped in the existing language” and have surrendered to using a vocabulary contrived by conservatives.
For example, “Mining is a ‘nature destruction system’,” and should be called that when Gogebic Taconite (GTAC) and the Wisconsin Mining Association renew their attempt to rewrite Wisconsin law by speeding up permits and denying Indian Nations and other residents participation in the decision making process.
Guests on Fighting Bob Radio are hosted by Ed Garvey and Eric Schubring, of WOJB-FM Radio, Hayward, online at 11 a.m. Thursdays in Wisconsin. Guests on August 9 were George Lakoff, professor of linguistics at the University of California-Berkeley, and Al Gedicks, director of the Center for Alternative Mining Development Policy and a sociologist at UW-La Crosse.
Lakoff discussed his latest book, The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic. He said conservatives set the terms of policy debates by co-opting the very language used to describe the issues. Barack Obama “was terrific in 2008 because he talked about empathy over and over again,” Lakoff said. But the president, among others, has since been intimidated by the conservative vernacular and even adopted it.
Progressives must state the moral basis of their policies and reveal “deep truth” in order to be credible, Lakoff said. “Instead of saying “tax breaks for the rich,’ they should be called ‘paying off their rich friends’.”
During the current campaign, Lakoff noted, Obama attempted to state a truth but didn’t do it very well when he said, “If you’ve got a business – you did not build that.” More clearly, Obama might have said: “You can’t start a business or even lead a decent life without the things provided by the public,” including teachers, highways, and many other government services.
Garvey asked Lakoff for his view of the 2011-12 Wisconsin Uprising.
Democrats and union leaders in Wisconsin, said Lakoff, “Were using the language of self-interest rather than the language of morality,” which would have conveyed the message of democracy more clearly to more people. Other examples from Lakoff: instead of “right to work laws” call them “exploitation laws”; instead of a War on Women, “what it really has to do with is male privilege”; and instead of “mining,” name it “the destruction of nature.”
Democracy is based on moral principles including citizens caring about each other and creating a cohesive notion of the “public” that provides systems for a decent life or the ability to start a business.
Radio guest Al Gedicks will join a breakout panel on open pit strip-mining at the September 15 Fighting Bob Fest at the Alliant Center, Madison. He is a long-time activist and writer on “destruction of nature” matters.
Gedicks’ message on the radio emphasized a burning need to frame debates on life-altering issues like mining in real terms using real evidence. Given a “mining boom” in the Great Lakes Region, Gedicks pointed to Wisconsin’s Mining Moratorium Law as being unique in the nation for requiring mining interest to provide proof that a metallic sulfide mine in the U.S. or Canada hasn’t polluted surface and groundwater during or after mining. The “prove it” provision makes Wisconsin’s law a target for corporate interests, Gedicks said, “Because no mining company has been able to demonstrate a single case where they mined without polluting water.”
GTAC and the Wisconsin Mining Association tried to sidestep the moratorium law by writing their version of a law and came close to ramming it through the Legislature last year. Since then, Democratic lawmakers have been heard to make statements about favoring mining in Wisconsin, be it in the forms of low-grade iron ore (taconite) mining or silica sand mining for use in other states to extract natural gas through the hazardous and polluting hydraulic fracturing method.
The GTAC mine as proposed, Gedicks said, “Would produce an unprecedented amount of waste.” Air and water pollution, now or later, would shift costs back to local communities devastated by the mines.
On the radio show, Gedicks described a widely-recognized “resource curse”: the paradox that countries and communities having abundant “natural resources” have less economic growth than countries and communities without those resources. Witness Appalachia and coal, the Ozarks and lead, the Upper Peninsula and iron and copper.
The mining industry’s, and Scott Walker’s, claims that mining produces jobs for generations is an example of the conservative co-option of language. Among its deceits would be irreparable damage done to sacred wild rice beds of the Bad River Ojibwe Tribe, whose oversight the mining industry’s proposal would deny out of hand.
More information from the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council is available online at wrpc.net. Don’t forget to see Gedicks in person on September 15 at the 11th annual Fighting Bob Fest, where thousands will gather to speak, listen, learn, eat, drink, and have fun.
August 12, 2012
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David Giffey is a freelance journalist and FightingBob.com contributing editor who lives in Arena. He is the author of "Long Shadows: Veterans’ Paths to Peace" (Atwood Publishing), "Struggle for Justice: The Migrant Farm Worker Labor Movement in Wisconsin," and "The People’s Stories of South Madison."