Obama’s “Progressive Moral Vision”

Posted on February 15, 2013 by

During the gloomiest days of the Bush era, cognitive scientist George Lakoff explained how conservatives use language to “frame” issues. Republicans’ “values-based” vocabulary, he said, reaches for voters’ emotions to win their support.

His 2004 Don’t Think of an Elephant made the rounds among frustrated progressives eager to understand why our right-wing opponents were cleaning our clocks.

Now, Lakoff is crediting Barack Obama with mastering language which touches American voters where it counts.  Critiquing the State of the Union, he makes a few key points (which I’ve compressed):

  • President Obama, in this speech, created what cognitive scientists call a “prototype” – an ideal American
  • The president’s list of economic policies had a vital communicative function beyond the policies themselves, evoking – and thereby strengthening in the brains of most listeners – the all-American progressive vision
  • The president has changed public discourse at the level that counts; the deepest level, the moral level
  • John Boehner looked shamed as he slumped, sulking in his chair, as if trying to disappear; Marco Rubio’s response was stale and defensive as he talked in rising tones indicating uncertainty

Lakoff doesn’t ask or expect progressives to agree with Obama on all policy matters but encourages “adopting the president’s vision, thinking in his moral frames, and speaking out from that vision whenever possible.”

Even those on the left who bitterly disapprove of the president’s record can benefit from his redefinition of what it means to be an American.  Obama, according to Lycoff, is clearing a path for all progressive activists to fight for change.

Comments (4)


  1. ed stanak says:


    Hello from the Green Mountains of Vermont. Disagree with this neoliberal propaganda in defense of Obama’s immorality. Cornel West has an intellectually honest perspective at:



  2. nodrama says:

    I’m sorry but Cornel West is nothing but a LiberalCon. Anybody who uses the language that he uses to discuss ideas is not about clarifying anything. Its about obfuscation. And unfortunately, when it comes to our President he has a personal vendetta. He had expected that when the first Black President was in the White House, especially one that he had championed, he would be in the inner circle. He has been demonstrating since the first election why the President made a great choice by excluding him.

  3. Richard Slawson says:

    President Obama has dealt with the issues that average American working families deal with every day. Too many of the elites, both Reps and Democrats, what to discuss pie in the sky ideals, “going for the perfect rather than the good,” than to support what working families want and need. President Obama has hit upon the real problems that America faces – the decline of the middle-class, too few jobs, education fairness and its lack of availability to Americans dealing with a politically/capitalist created global competition, and our safety net.

    I want the Labor Movement to support the conversation that the President has begun, but we haven’t yet started to participate in the Media that is required in order to have a voice in the discussion.

    The AFL-CIO needs a National Advertising Program.

    Labor must fund television, radio and print media ads discussing the issues of the day in order to be a credible participant. Every Union member I know wonders why we don’t see AFL-CIO President Trumka participating in the ’round table’ discussions on “Meet the Press”, “Face the Nation” or the hundreds of other daily television programs where American workers’ issues are discussed every day. If Labor is going to expand its influence, and its membership then Unions need to fund its voice!

    Even today, with the 12,000,000 members that the AFL-CIO Union have, it would only cost $1 or $2 dollars a month from every Union member to bring in over $120 million a year or more. A 501(c)(3) can be established that would allow foundations, businesses and other wealthy progressive Americans who understand the need for a strong middle-class, to donate as well.

    President Obama can’t do what is necessary alone. When the Labor Movement regains a voice in the discussions of the day, he won’t be!

  4. Thomas J. Mackell, Jr. says:

    Richard Slawson’s recommendation for a national outreach program is an imperative.
    How do I get in touch with him,

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