Linguist George Lakoff Explains How the Democrats Helped Elect Trump

Democrats played into Trump’s hands, Lakoff says — and they won’t win until they learn how to frame the debate.


Author: Paul Rosenberg/Salon

Emphasis Mine

George Lakoff didn’t start off in the world of politics. He was a founding father of cognitive linguistics, starting with his 1980 book, “Metaphors We Live By (co-authored with philosopher Mark Johnson). The book showed how immediate, concrete experience — bodily orientation, physical movement, and so on — structures our understanding of more complex and abstract experiences via “conceptual metaphors” such as “Consciousness Is Up,” “Love Is a Journey,” etc.

Facing the rise of Newt Gingrich in the 1990s and bewildered by how he and other liberals could not make logical sense of conservative ideology (what do gun rights, low taxes and banning abortion have in common?), Lakoff found an answer in conceptual metaphors derived form two contrasting family models explicated by Diana Baumrind as authoritarian (“strict father” in Lakoff’s terms) and authoritative (“nurturant parent”), as described in his 1996 book, “Moral Politics.” His 2004 book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate,” drew on a wider range of cognitive science and gained a mass audience, but failed to fundamentally change how liberals and Democrats approach politics, as was richly illustrated by the recent election of Donald Trump.

But Lakoff is nothing if not persistent, and has penned an election postmortem like no other, “A Minority President: Why the Polls Failed, and What the Majority Can Do.” It rearticulates the arguments of his earlier books — including others like “The Political Mind,” Whose Freedom?“ and Philosophy in the Flesh — along with fresh analysis and new insights that push hard for opening up a new realm of possibilities, instead of retrenching, retreating or repeating strategies and tactics that have failed in the past. In it, Lakoff displays both an intimate familiarity with detailed examples and a broad-based visionary outlook.

Salon spoke with him to explore both, with an eye toward expanding the horizon of the possible on one hand, and avoiding potholes on the other. He’s talking with Chelsea Green about expanding the essay into a book, but the ideas in it really can’t wait. The Democratic establishment needs to be shaken up, and the rest of us need to be stirred.

Q: You’ve been writing about politics from a cognitive science perspective for more than 20 years. A lot of people have listened to you, but the Democratic political establishment as a whole has not, and that was reflected in the election of Donald Trump. As you note in your article, “The polls, the media, and the Democratic Party all failed to understand conservative values and their importance. They failed to understand unconscious thought and moral worldviews. While hailing science in the case of climate change, they ignored science when it came to their own minds.” So let’s start there. What do you mean by that, and how did it happen?

A: If you’re a conservative going into politics, there’s a good chance you’ll study cognitive science, that is, how people really think and how to market things by advertising. So they know people think using frames and metaphors and narratives and images and emotions and so on. That’s second nature to anybody who’s taken a marketing course. Many of the people who have gone into conservative communications have done that, and know very well how to market their ideas.

Now, if instead you are a progressive, and you go to college and you’re interested in politics, what are you going to study? Well, you’ll study political science, law, public policy, economic theory and so on, but you’re not going to wind up studying marketing, most likely, and you’re not going to study either cognitive science or neuroscience.

What you’ll learn in those courses is what is called Enlightenment reason, from 1650, from Descartes. And here’s what that reasoning says: What makes us human beings is that we are rational animals and rationality is defined in terms of logic. Recall that Descartes was a mathematician and logician. He argued that reasoning is like seeing a logical proof. Secondly, he argued that our ideas can fit the world because, as he said, “God would not lie to us.” The assumption is that ideas directly fit the world.

They’re also, Descartes argued, disembodied. He said that if ideas were embodied, were part of the body, then physical laws would apply to them, and we would not have free will. And in fact, they are embodied, physical laws do apply to them, and we do not have absolute free will. We’re trapped by what the neural systems of our brains  have accumulated. We can only see what our brains allow us to understand, and that’s an important thing.

So what he said, basically, was that there are no frames, no embodiment, no metaphor — none of the things people really use to reason. Moreover if we think logically and we all have the same reasoning, if you just tell people the facts, they should reason to the same correct conclusion. And that just isn’t true. And that keeps not being true, and liberals keep making the same mistake year after year after year. So that’s a very important thing.

Q: After “Don’t Think of an Elephant” was published, you got a lot of attention but your message really didn’t sink in. I think it was largely because of what you said above — what you were saying simply didn’t fit into the Enlightenment worldview that Democratic elites took for granted from their education.  

A: When I started teaching framing the first thing I would tell the class is “Don’t think of an elephant,” and of course, they think of an elephant. I wrote a book on it because the point is, if you negate a frame, you have to activate the frame, because you have to know what you’re negating. If you use logic against something, you’re strengthening it. And that lesson was not understood. So if people think in terms of logic — it’s a mistake that’s made every day on MSNBC — you go on there and you’ll get people saying, “Well, you know, Trump said this, and some Republicans said that and Jeff Sessions said this and here are the facts that show they’re wrong.” You just keep repeating the things that you’re negating. And that just strengthens them.

Did that happen in Hillary Clinton’s campaign?

That showed up there. The Clinton campaign decided that the best way to defeat Trump was to use his own words against him. So they showed these clips of Trump saying outrageous things. Now what Trump was doing in those clips was saying out loud things that upset liberals, and that’s exactly what his followers liked about him. So of course they were showing what actually was helping Trump with his supporters.

I tried to convince people in the Clinton campaign — early on, I wrote a piece called “Understanding Trump,” in March 2016, and it was sent to everybody in the Clinton campaign. Everybody at the PAC, for example, got a copy of it. It didn’t matter; they were doing what they were told to do.

Another problem was the assumption that all you have to do is look at issues, and give the facts about issues, and the facts about the issues supposedly show up in polls, and then they apply demographics. So there was this assumption, for example, that educated women in the Philadelphia suburbs were naturally going to vote for Hillary, because they were highly educated. They turned out also to be Republican, and what made them Republican was Republican views, like Republican views about the Supreme Court, abortion, things like that. So they didn’t all go out and vote for Hillary.

Or the campaign assumed that since Trump attacked Latinos, and Latino leaders didn’t like Trump, that the Latinos would all vote for Hillary, and many Latinos voted for Trump. Why? Because “strict father” morality is big in Latino culture. The campaign was not looking at values. They were looking at demographics, and they missed the role of values.

Q: Which you’ve been pounding on for a long time now.

A: Well over a decade. During the Bush administration, I talked to the Democratic caucus. I was invited by Nancy Pelosi, and I talked to them about “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” and the strict father/nurturant parent distinction, and I pointed out that one thing strict fathers can’t do is betray trust. It turned out that the Southerners in the caucus agreed strongly, and they wanted to have me work with them on talking about Bush betraying trust. But Nancy said, “Well, we should check with the polls first,” and she checked with one of the major pollsters who said, “Oh no, my polls show that people trust Bush, therefore we can’t use it.” And the idea is to follow the polls, rather than change them. And this is a big difference between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans try to change the polls, whereas Democrats try to follow the polls.

Q: There are other problems with polling you point out as well.

A: Yes. The next problem has to do with going issue by issue. This is happening right now. Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer went onto the Rachel Maddow show on the same day, and they said, “The American people agree with us, issue by issue, each case and we’re going to press Trump issue by issue, and we’re going to start with health care and go on to other things.” What they’re missing is values.

They’re missing the idea that many Americans who depend on health care, affordable health care, for example, have strict-father positions and voted for Trump against their interests. And this is something has been known for ages, that a lot of poor conservatives vote against their material interests, because they’re voting for their worldview. And the reason for it is that their moral worldview defines who they are. They are not going to vote against their own definition of who they are.

This is missed by the unions as well. Unions don’t really understand their function. Unions are instruments of freedom. Unions free people from corporate servitude. From corporations saying what hours they can work, what wages are possible, and so on. The argument against unions that has come in so-called “right-to-work” laws misses the fact that unions are instruments of freedom, and instead suggests that unions go against freedom. They go against your rights. And the unions don’t know how to argue against right-to-work laws. So that’s a problem with liberals working in unions.

There’s something more basic underlying all this, isn’t there? From “Moral Politics” on you’ve been hammering on liberals’ failure to claim and proclaim their own values.

All progressives and liberals have a moral worldview, what I described as the nurturant-parent worldview. When applied to politics it goes like this: Citizens care about other citizens, they have empathy for other citizens, and the work of the government is to provide public resources for everybody. Public resources, from the very beginning of our country, not only apply to each private citizen, but they also apply to business. From the very beginning we had public roads and bridges and public education, we had a national bank, and the patent office for businesses, and interstate commerce laws for business, and so on. And a judicial system that’s mostly used for business.

Since then the government has supported business even more, especially through the promotion of scientific research, the development of pharmaceuticals, computer science, support of public research and public universities. The Internet began as ARPANET, is in the Defense Department. Think about satellite communication — that was made possible by NASA and NOAA. Very important things we did. What about things like GPS systems and cell phones? Our government is maintaining not just our cell phones, but the world economic system which all uses GPS systems and cell phones.

People don’t see the role of public resources, which are there to run the world economy, to help you in your everyday life, to give you communications, like this interview right now. This is just something that’s never said. When I say this to progressives, they say, “Well, of course that’s true, isn’t that obvious?” The answer is no. It is not obvious, because the next question I ask is, “Have you ever said it?” And the answer is no. The question after that is, “Will you go out from now on and say it?” And I don’t get enthusiastic “Yes!” answers.

People need to know this and it needs to be said all the time. It needs to be said about every single business. The person who has done best at it has been Elizabeth Warren. When Obama tried to use the same message he got it wrong, he said if you have a business you didn’t build that, and then he got attacked and he dropped it. But in fact this is something that does need to be out there.

There are other things that need to be said that progressives don’t say because they don’t really understand how framing works. Framing is not obvious. People read “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” they got some of the ideas, but when they tried to apply it, it turned out it’s not so easy to apply. You need some training to do it, and you need some ideas.

 For example. Trump said we’re going to get rid of regulation, when there’s a new regulation we’re going to get rid of two for every new one that comes in. But what are regulations? Why do people have them? They’re there for protection of the public in every place. Why do you have environmental regulations? To protect against pollution and global warming and so on. Things that are harmful. Why do you have an SEC regulation? To protect investors, and protect people who have mortgages. Why do you have food and drug regulations? To protect against poisons. This is important. You’re protecting against corporate malfeasance. Corporate harm to the public. When they say, “We’re getting rid of these regulations, no one reports in the media, “They have gotten rid of protections, and they’re going to get rid of more protections!”

Q: You’ve pointed out how Trump has actually been clever in ways that liberals, Democrats and the media didn’t understand. You laid out a number of mechanisms. So can we go through a few of those?

A: First, let’s talk about how Trump’s tweets work. Trump’s tweets have at least three functions. The first function is what I call preemptive framing. Getting framing out there before reporters can frame it differently. So for example, on the Russian hacking, he tweeted that the evidence showed that it had no effect on the election. Which is a lie, it didn’t say that at all. But the idea was to get it out there to 31 million people looking at his tweets, legitimizing the elections: The Russian hacks didn’t mean anything. He does that a lot, constantly preempting.

The second use of tweets is diversion. When something important is coming up, like the question of whether he is going to use a blind trust, the conflicts of interest. So what does he do instead? He attacks Meryl Streep. And then they talk about Meryl Streep for a couple of days. That’s a diversion.

The third one is that he sends out trial balloons. For example, the stuff about nuclear weapons, he said we need to pay more attention to nukes. If there’s no big outcry and reaction, then he can go on and do the rest. These are ways of disrupting the news cycle, getting the real issues out of the news cycle and turning it to his advantage.

Trump is very, very smart. Trump for 50 years has learned how to use people’s brains against them. That’s what master salesmen do. There’s a certain set of things they do. The first is repeat. Advertisers know this. You turn on your TV, and the same ad comes on over and over and over. The effect on the brain of repetition is that when you hear something it’s understood through the neural circuitry in your brain; it has to become activated. The more it’s repeated, the more that circuitry is activated, and every time it’s activated the synaptic connections become stronger. What that means when they become stronger is two things happen. One, they’re more likely to fire — it’s easier to get those ideas out there if they’re firing — and two, if you hear them often enough they become part of what’s fixed in your brain. They become part of what you naturally understand, and you can only understand what your brain allows you to understand.

Repetition is a way of changing people’s brains. What Trump was doing all through the nomination campaign was that every day he managed to get on TV, and he would repeat different things that activated the same moral framework, and it really worked. In addition you have particular frames that were repeated: “Crooked Hillary,” “crooked Hillary,” “crooked Hillary,”  over and over. There wasn’t anything Hillary did that was crooked. But he kept saying it until people believed it. And they believed it because it was heard enough times to strengthen the neural circuitry in their brains. It wasn’t just stupidity. It’s simply the way brains work.

Another thing he used was grammar, as in “radical Islamic terrorism.” What does “radical” mean? Radical means not part of what is normal and healthy and so on, but something on the fringe, number one. Two, terrorists – people who are out to get you, right? If you modify terrorists, there are two ways in which you can do it. There are two forms of applying adjectives to nouns, and the classic example is “the industrious Japanese,” which assumes either that all Japanese are industrious, or that there are some and I’m picking out those. But the idea that they’re all industrious is activated.

In this case, the idea that all people who are Islamic are terrorists is activated. And they’re radical. If you say that, it’s not like you’re picking out the tiny proportion who happened to be terrorists and radical. You’re saying it about everybody. That’s part of grammar. He is using grammar to get his point across, to get his worldview across, and then criticizing Clinton and Obama for not doing it, as if not saying it is not recognizing the threat.

Q: What about metaphor, which is something you’ve written and talked about for years?

A: “Brexit” was an excellent example of that. It had to do with exiting, which is a general metaphor. Throughout the world, states of mind are understood in terms of locations. You go into your café, you get a cup of coffee, you go out of the café — you’re in the same location you were in before. Now apply that to states: You go into a state, and when you go out of it you should be in the same state you were in before. But that doesn’t work. It’s not true. With Brexit, the metaphor was that if you entered the EU at a certain point in time — with a certain state being true of England at that time — and then you exit, you should be in the same state you were in before. Absolutely false. Brexit was based on the false assumption that England could go back to some ideal state it was in before.

The same thing is true with “Make America great again.” The assumption is: This has been a great country before, and now we can go back to what it was before, as if electing Trump would not change it in the worst way, and as if you could go back to some idealized past. Which you can’t, for many reasons, like a technological revolution that’s gotten rid of lots of jobs, and international trade, and so on. The world is not the same as it was before. So you’re using that universal metaphor to convince people. And that’s important.

Q: Together, all you’ve just said makes a strong case that Trump’s success stems from approaching politics like a salesman, which ties back to your original point about how Republicans approach politics versus Democrats. In that sense, Trump is very much a realization of what Republicans have been moving towards for a long time. But there’s another sense in which he represents a culmination: his authoritarianism, rooted in strict-father morality.

A: Exactly. Except for gay marriage — he has friends who are gay — he has the whole strict-father thing, moral hierarchy. If you have strict-father morality what that says is it’s your concern alone that matters, reteaching individual responsibility. That means responsibility for yourself, not social responsibility. Not caring about other citizens; that’s weak. You should care about yourself; that’s strong. That is how he sees that the world naturally works. There is a hierarchy of morality because the strict father in a family gets his position of strength because he supposedly knows right from wrong, and in that there is an assumption that those who are most moral should rule.

So how do you tell who’s most moral? You look at who has come out on top. You have God above man, man above nature, conquering nature, so nature is there for us to use. Then you would have the rich above the poor — they deserve it, because they are disciplined. And the powerful above the non-powerful — they deserve it, they’ve become powerful. And you have adults above children. So in 21 states children in classes and on teams can be beaten by the teachers and coaches if  they don’t show proper respect and obedience.

Western culture above non-Western culture, and so you get all the stuff on Breitbart about white Western culture. Of course Islamists are not in Western culture, Mexicans are not in Western culture, Asians are not in Western culture, etc. America above other nations: We should be great again, we should rule everybody, we should be able to intimidate everybody. And then other ones follow. You have men above women, whites above nonwhites, Christians above non-Christians, and straights above gays.

So you have this moral hierarchy in Republican thought for a long time; it’s not like this is new. Here it is bold, right out there, as strong as you can get, and you have the ultimate “strict father,” who wants to be the dictator of the country, if not the world.

Q: At the very end of the article you get into what people can do in response, how people can fight back, and I wanted to give you some time to talk about that. There is a very real potential there that you talk about: It can be harder to break through to elites, but easier to reach ordinary people whose lives are directly affected. You have talked about the importance of reaching out to people you call “bi-conceptuals,” including conservatives.

A: There is within conservatism this idea of in-group nurturance, taking care of your own. This happens in churches; you go to a bigger evangelical church and they have the free babysitting and investment advice and will help you if you’re down on your luck and so on. If you go to the military, which is a strict -father thing, but also in a military base you’re going to get free schooling for your kids, a place to live, cheap goods at the PX, etc. In the military you never leave a wounded brother behind; they’re a band of brothers. See, you have in-group nurturance there. You also have it in conservatism as an institution. One, of the major think tanks in Washington built a large state-of-the-art media center, but also put in a hundred apartments for interns who couldn’t afford Washington prices. So they live together, get to know each other, become friends and they’re taken care of.

A lot of conservatives see their in-group as their local community or their neighbors, and then they will do all sorts of things. If there’s a flood they’ll be out there swinging the sandbags, if there’s a fire they’ll be out there on the lines with the hoses to protect their neighbors’ homes. That is the powerful community version of in-group nurturance, and that is real nurturance, it’s real care.

That can be appealed to, and we need to find ways of talking about that in terms of regulation and protection. What protections are being taken away from the people in your community? That needs to be said over and over again. Are we going to get bad drinking water? Are you going to get poisoned foods? Are you going to get drugs that haven’t been adequately tested that could make you terribly ill?

And many other things: Are you going to lose your health care, but not have something else to replace it? Are you going to lose your Medicare? If you look at those red states and ask, “What about those small towns in those red states?”, a lot of them are like that.

Q: What else needs to be done?

A: Well two things. First, a citizens’ communication network. We have social media networks now, but people need to have feeds on their Facebook and Twitter pages, of things to say on particular days, and let’s do it from the point of view of the American majority. We’re the majority; here are our values. Let’s make our values clear, let’s have a little handbook about what our values are, and why those things are recommended, and the rationale for putting it out there. We need a website that can be used as a basis for a citizens’ communication network, and I’m going to be involved in starting something to do that.

The other thing is serious training of the NGOs — the foundations and other groups that are there for the public good — in how to talk about these things, how to frame their message and not make mistakes and not help the other side, and to do it always from the point of view of what’s positive. Not attacking Trump implicitly, but by saying what’s good for the public and why it’s good and then, by the way, this goes against everything that Trump is doing. But the main thing is to frame it in terms of public good.


Paul H. Rosenberg is senior editor at Random Lengths News, a biweekly serving the Los Angeles harbor area.


How Trump Brought the Republican Establishment to Its Knees

As Trump nears the nomination, GOP leaders are running out of ways to stop or control him.


Author:Robert Kuttner/American Prospect

Emphasis Mine

We keep hearing that the Republican Party is on track to suffer an epic split over the presumed nomination of Donald Trump. But what exactly does this mean? What happens once the 2016 election is over?

On one side are traditional business conservatives, devoted to government-bashing, low taxes, and pro-corporate globalization—coupled with dog-whistle appeals to racism. This establishment has delivered all recent GOP nominees, despite the Tea Party takeover of much of the congressional Republican Party—until this year when the party elite was upended.

Since Reagan, the business right has papered over the cracks in a coalition that used social conservatism to win votes of a suffering working class. Now, Trump has demolished that phony alliance. Over the weekend, Trump made it clear that he was not interested in any deal with House Speaker Paul Ryan and suggested that he might challenge his roles as convention chairman—and Ryan said Monday that he’d respect Trump’s wishes.

Trump’s brand of right-wing populism is anti-tax but not anti-government, and is occasionally anti-business. In place of government-bashing, Trump substitutes a crude form of political and economic nationalism. He has turned voter wrath against the financial elites in the GOP who have been calling the shots.

But what recourse do traditional conservatives have if they want to trump Trump? For starters, they could just withhold their support, as the Bush family is doing. Or they could withhold money.

The trouble, however, is that this is the year when the usual suspects have been revealed as politically impotent. The Bushes are history. It doesn’t matter to most conservative voters that the Bushes aren’t backing Trump. If it did matter, Jeb Bush would not have performed so pitifully.

As for the billionaires, some, like Sheldon Adelson, are already sucking up to Trump. There are so many very rich people involved in politics today that Trump is likely to get all the money he needs, even if he’s too cheap to dig into his own (somewhat exaggerated) fortune.

Some Republican leaders will even go so far as to vote for Hillary Clinton. And there is also talk of some kind independent conservative Republican insurgency, as a kind of ad hoc third party to divert votes from Trump.

Technically, an independent could still qualify for ballot listing in all states, according to Richard Winger of Ballot Access News. The deadlines are as early as June in some states and as late as September in others. But all require petitions with thousands of signatures, and a campaign would need to get its act together soon.

A traditional conservative might also try to run with the Libertarian Party, as a way of getting on the ballot. However, former New Mexico Republican governor Gary Johnson—a genuine libertarian—already has that ballot spot and would be difficult if not impossible to dislodge in favor of an orthodox conservative.

The Libertarian Party convention meets in just three weeks, over Memorial Day weekend. Its delegates tend to be purists; they are libertarians because they reject the traditional GOP. They are not about to help the Republican elite out of a jam.

As part of his libertarian creed, Johnson not only supports legalization of marijuana—he’s a pot entrepreneur and former CEO of a startup called Cannabis Sativa. Smoke that, Karl Rove!

This leaves the rather pathetic alternative of a write-in campaign. That would divert a few votes from Trump—maybe a few million votes—and increase the likelihood of a Clinton win.

But this may be just what lot of Republican leaders want. A write-in effort will allow them to help Hillary without having to endorse her. Then, when Trump goes down in flames, they (and not he) can pick up the pieces of their party.

Just as the GOP in Congress relentlessly blocked Obama at every turn, they will try to make Clinton look like a failed president. And just as the Republicans gained large numbers of seats in both houses two years into Obama’s first term in 2010, the Republicans can hope for big pickups in 2018, setting them up to take back the White House in 2020.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, fully 22 Democratic Senate seats are in play in 2018, many of them in usually red states, such as Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, and West Virginia. So even if Democrats take back the Senate in 2016, they could well lose it two years later.

So my bet is that there will be no coming together between the Republican establishment and Trump, and that efforts by Republican leaders to block Trump’s election to the presidency will only intensify.

However, the story does not end there. Even if Hillary Clinton is the next president, the emergence of Trump (and Sanders) in 2016 reflects vast unease and legitimate pocketbook grievances in America. There is no sign of that abating.

The scale of change it will take to restore the economic prospects of the young and the working class makes Bernie Sanders’s proposals look puny. If Clinton fails to make real progresswhether due to Republican blockage or the limits of her own imagination—the anger will only fester and grow.

Trump may well be blocked in 2016, but we haven’t seen the last of Trumpism.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and a visiting professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School. His latest book is Debtors’ Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility.



Robert Reich: The Real Reason Democrats Lost Big on Election Day

The Democratic Party has less than two years to change course. They better start now.

Source: Robert Reich’s blog, via AlterNet

Author: Robert Reich

Emphasis Mine

The President blames himself for the Democrat’s big losses Election Day. “We have not been successful in going out there and letting people know what it is that we’re trying to do and why this is the right direction,” he said Sunday.

In other words, he didn’t sufficiently tout the administration’s accomplishments.

I respectfully disagree.

If you want a single reason for why Democrats lost big on Election Day 2014 it’s this: Median household income continues to  drop. This is the first “recovery” in memory when this has happened. Jobs are coming back but wages aren’t. Every month the job numbers grow but the wage numbers go nowhere. Most new jobs are in part-time or low-paying positions. They pay  less than the jobs lost in the Great Recession.

This wageless recovery has been made all the worse because pay is less predictable than ever. Most Americans don’t know what they’ll be earning next year or even next month.  Two-thirds are now living paycheck to paycheck.

So why is this called a “recovery” at all? Because, technically, the economy is growing. But almost all the gains from that growth are going to a small minority at the top. In fact,  100 percent of the gains have gone to the best-off 10 percent. Ninety-five percent have gone to the top 1 percent. The stock market has boomed. Corporate profits are through the roof. CEO pay, in the stratosphere.

Yet most Americans feel like they’re still in a recession. And they’re convinced the game is rigged against them.

Fifty years ago, just  29 percent of voters believed government is “run by a few big interests looking out for themselves.” Now,  79 percent think so.

According to Pew, the percentage of Americans who believe most people who want to get ahead can do so through hard work has plummeted  14 points since 2000.

What the President and other Democrats failed to communicate wasn’t their accomplishments. It was their understanding that the economy is failing most Americans and big money is overrunning our democracy. And they failed to convey their commitment to an economy and a democracy that serve the vast majority rather than a minority at the top.

Some Democrats even ran on not being Barack Obama. That’s no way to win. Americans want someone fighting for them, not running away from the President.

The midterm elections should have been about jobs and wages, and how to reform a system where nearly all the gains go to the top. It was an opportunity for Democrats to shine. Instead, they hid.

Consider that in four “red” states — South Dakota, Arkansas, Alaska, and Nebraska — the same voters who sent Republicans to the Senate voted by wide margins to  raise their state’s minimum wage. Democratic candidates in these states barely mentioned the minimum wage. So what now?

Republicans, soon to be in charge of Congress, will push their same old supply-side, trickle-down, austerity economics. They’ll want policies that further enrich those who are already rich. That lower taxes on big corporations and deliver trade agreements written in secret by big corporations. That further water down Wall Street regulations so the big banks can become even bigger – too big to fail, or jail, or curtail.

They’ll exploit the public’s prevailing cynicism by delivering just what the cynics expect. And the Democrats? They have a choice.

They can refill their campaign coffers for 2016 by trying to raise even more money from big corporations, Wall Street, and wealthy individuals. And hold their tongues about the economic slide of the majority, and the drowning of our democracy.

Or they can come out swinging. Not just for a higher minimum wage but also for better schools, paid family and medical leave, and child care for working families.

For resurrecting the Glass-Steagall Act and limiting the size of Wall Street banks.

For saving Social Security by lifting the cap on income subject to payroll taxes.

For rebuilding the nation’s roads, bridges, and ports.

For increasing taxes on corporations with high ratios of CEO pay to the pay of average workers.

And for getting big money out of politics, and thereby saving our democracy.

It’s the choice of the century.

Democrats have less than two years to make it.

Robert B. Reich has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He also served on President Obama’s transition advisory board. His latest book is “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future.” His homepage is


Paul Krugman Divulges the Real Reason Why the ‘Wrong About Everything’ Party Won

Source: NYtimes, via AlterNet

Author: Paul Krugman

Emphasis Mine

 “Politics determines who has power, not who has the truth,” Paul Krugman says in his Friday column. That is his summing up of the midterm election results this week which delivered a huge win to Republicans. “Still, it’s not often that a party that is so wrong about so much does as well as Republicans did on Tuesday.”

Just to review, the Republicans have been demonstrably wrong on the following issues, Krugman writes.

First, there’s economic policy. According to conservative dogma, which denounces any regulation of the sacred pursuit of profit, the financial crisis of 2008 — brought on by runaway financial institutions — shouldn’t have been possible. But Republicans chose not to rethink their views even slightly.  They invented an imaginary history in which the government was somehow responsible for the irresponsibility of private lenders, while fighting any and all policies that might limit the damage. In 2009, when an ailing economy desperately needed aid, John Boehner, soon to become the speaker of the House, declared: “ It’s time for government to tighten their belts.”

Time has proven all of this wrong. And cutting taxes on the rich to drive economic growth has not worked wither. Just ask Kansas.

Not that any of this real life evidence has gotten any Republicans we know of to admit they were wrong.

Second on Krugman’s list of Republican wrongheadedness is health reform. Everything Republicans said would happen did not happen, including low enrollment, loss of coverage and skyrocketing costs. Reality stubbornly refused to deliver on all these hysterical and disingenuous predictions. More people than ever have insurance and health spending is down.

The biggest lie of them all is climate change. The Republicans are now a party of climate denialists, who claim that it’s all a left-wing hoax concocted by, what, stunt scientists? A mere six years ago this was not so, Krugman points out. “Senator John McCain  proposed a cap-and-trade system similar to Democratic proposals.” Not going to happen anymore. This is devastating, and is likely to push us past the point of no return in terms of the damage that will be wrought on the Earth.

Time for Krugman’s analysis of why voters would give this group such a victory. It’s not pretty, and none too flattering to voters.

Part of the answer is that leading Republicans managed to mask their true positions. Perhaps most notably, Senator Mitch McConnell, the incoming majority leader,  managed to convey the completely false impression that Kentucky could retain its impressive gains in health coverage even if Obamacare were repealed.

But the biggest secret of the Republican triumph surely lies in the discovery that obstructionism bordering on sabotage is a winning political strategy. From Day 1 of the Obama administration, Mr. McConnell and his colleagues have done everything they could to undermine effective policy, in particular blocking every effort to do the obvious thing — boost infrastructure spending — in a time of low interest rates andhigh unemployment.

What was bad for America, proved to be good for Republicans. Voters did not get that it was the dysfunctional legislative process that was failing them, they just punished the sitting president for the failure to deliver prosperity.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.