The "What Are Americans Voting For?" panel discussion
Markos Moulitsas, Joan Blades and George Lakoff, et al.

U.C. Berkeley, October 26, 2006

On October 26, Markos Moulitsas, Joan Blades and George Lakoff appeared at a panel discussion in U.C. Berkeley's Wheeler Hall, entitled "What Are Americans Voting For?" (Robert Reich was also scheduled to appear, but had to cancel and was replaced by another Berkeley professor named Paul Pierson.) The panel was moderated by Bruce Cain, a professor in Berkeley's Political Science department.

This is what happens when you try to hold a camera still for a long exposure in a dark auditorium. But the "seeing triple" hallucinogenic effect actually gives an accurate impression of the evening's proceedings. From left to right: Joan Blades, Markos Moulitsas, Bruce Cain, George Lakoff, and Paul Pierson.

For the uninitiated: Joan Blades is the co-founder of (a powerful left-wing political activism group); Markos Moulitsas -- better known by his online nickname "Kos" -- runs Daily Kos, the leading liberal blog; George Lakoff is the author of several influential "progessive" strategy books and is considered the top Democratic philosopher.

The auditorium was full to capacity; I was so far back in the crowd I couldn't take video or clear pictures -- but I was able to capture audio recordings of each of the guests. On this page you will find six mp3 sound files from the "What Are Americans Voting For?" panel discussion. Click on the "play" button of each embedded mp3; below each sound file is an exact transcription of the speaker's words:

1. Kos: The Republican campaign strategy is an "Amway-style scheme."

Markos Moulitsas: What we're trying to do is we're trying to get people that care about the politics and wanna be engaged to actually do the hard work that it takes to get people to the polls. Republicans have been very, very good at this. And the use of churches, the use of a vast network of, uh, contacts and mailing lists to really reach their activists and get their activists to be essentially, be uh missionaries for the, for the Republican ballot line. And they've been very effective at this, uh. It's almost an Amway-style scheme where they try to get everybody to bring ten people to the polls, that every activist brings ten people to the polls, and if those ten people bring ten people to the polls, suddenly you have quite a few people. And those people weren't picked up in a lot of polls in 2004 -- we thought Kerry was gonna win. But we didn't see that, because they were organizing on the ground. They were gettin' people to the polls who weren't supposed to vote. And now we're doin' the same on our side -- finally.

Ah -- so, when the Democrats have a "get-out-the-vote" drive, it's admirable grassroots activism; but any attempt by the Republicans to get voters to the polls is a pyramid scheme. Nice.

2. Kos: We kicked Lieberman's ass out of the Democratic party.

Bruce Cain tried to get Kos to acknowledge the fact that his chosen candidate Ned Lamont may have won the partisan Democratic primary in the Connecticut Senate race, but was very likely to lose to a now-independent Lieberman in the general election -- resulting in a net loss of one Democratic Senate seat, thanks directly to Kos's promotion of Lamont. The most interesting part of his response is how, after bragging about his primary victory, Kos trails off to an inaudible mumble when it comes to facing up to what he has wrought:

Bruce Cain:...the grassroots and the attempt to sort of, y'know uh, to sort of change the party. And Leiberman was representative of somebody who really had supported the Bush administration's war. Isn't that a setback for the roots movement, or do you see a different message in this?

Markos Moulitsas: We got his ass out of the Democratic party. So we did our job. And, uh, [applause] and it would be great if we can see them in ten days or however long we have 'til the election. But really at the end of the day what we were saying is that he was not a real Democrat, and we won that argument. So what happens, ya know, from now on if Lamont were to win the Senate seat....[trails off].

Joan Blades: Yeah, I -- it's very important to communicate that a Senate seat is not a lifetime appointment and that when your views no longer are aligned with that of your base it's time for us to elect someone new, and I, I admit I'll be deeply disapp[ointed if Leiberman wins].

3. Kos: Nobody agreed with Bush on anything.

According to Kos, not a single person who voted for Bush in 2004 agreed with Bush on a single issue (except terrorism). He won by sneakily appealing to people's "values":

Markos Moulitsas: I mean, it's amazing: Nobody agreed with Bush on anything in 2004 except the terrorism issue. All across the board, people were with John Kerry except for the terrorism issue. Because they thought -- his {Bush's] whole 2004 campaign was "We wanna keep America safe. I'm gonna keep America safe. That's my value. I'm going to keep you safe." And then we'd say things like, "Yeah, but Iraq's a disaster." People'd say, "Yeah, but he wants to keep America safe. What -- you fault him for trying to keep America safe?" And we'd say, "Yeah, but now he's spying on you. Y'know, he's listening in to conversations." "Yeah, it's kinda creepy, I don't like it, but he's trying to keep America safe." And as long as people trust the values, they're willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on the issues.

4. Lakoff: Conservativism is caused by cruel daddies.

George Lakoff has built up a hugely successful career by analyzing -- in a rather shallow and insulting way, to be frank -- the collective psychological motivations behind political beliefs. One of his main theories is that conservativism is a sort of pathology caused by overly strict parenting, whereas liberalism is caused by loving family relations. Here, he touches on that theory, but assumes that everyone already knows and agrees with it:

George Lakoff: Uh, I got into this, uh, back around the 1994 election, when I picked up my copy of The Contract With America, and was [laughter] -- I, I do this out of civic duty. And I was mystified. I couldn't understand conservatives. Why would the same people who were, uh, you know, uh, against abortion, in favor of the flat tax, uh, or, uh, tort reform or against environmental regulations -- what do they have to do with each other? And then I asked myself: What do my positions, which are the opposite of those, have to do with each other? And got mystified. But I realized something interesting, which was -- this was a cognitive science problem, and that's my field. I'm a cognitive scientist and a linguist. And I went and I just did a study. And what popped out of that was something interesting. That what draws together, uh, conservatives who are on the right wing, and progressives, is a notion of the family. Two opposite notions of the family that turn out to structure nations. Now why do we understand the nation as a family? By the way, this is -- when did you first think of George Washington as father of the country and not wonder about it, just accept it? Right? You have the nation as family. We have the fatherland, uh, in Germany, Mother Russia, Mother India, around the world. Because, very simply, what is your first experience with governance? It's in your family. What we have in America is a split in family values that is echoed in our political system, and that is between the "strict father" understandings of the family and the "nurturant" understandings of the family. I won't go into that here, but, y'know, if you've read any of the stuff I've written, it's familiar to you.

5. Lakoff: Concocting euphemisms for the word "euphemism."

Lakoff's popular book Don't Think of an Elephant basically proposes that the Democrats, in order to win, must come up with better and more deceptive euphemisms than the Republicans. But he tries to dress up this thesis in fancy clothes, and goes to great lengths to avoid using the word "euphemism":

George Lakoff: Public discourse should not be dominated by conservatives and conservative ideas and conservative language. What we need to do is figure out exactly what we mean when we have progressive values. As it turns out, conservatives, when they say they're about family values, are right. If you go and look at, say, what James Dobson teaches about raising kids, he understands that that fits entirely with fundamentalist religion and with conservative foreign policy and so on. Conservative economic policy. They understand those connections. Our guys haven't done that. They haven't understood it. So our job at Rockridge [The Rockridge Institute] is to figure that out in detail. The first book I did was Moral Politics, uh, and out of that we set up Rockridge. And then, um, we had as a job to figure out four things. We wanted to find out how issues were framed. What does framing mean? It means how you think about them, and framing occurs at two levels. There are deep frames, which are your values, your general ideas, your general principles. And the surface frames, which are what goes along with the slogans, like "tax relief" and "the death tax" and things like that. And they have to fit the organization of the deep frames. If you just try slogans, uh, for progressives, they kind of fall flat. Because we don't have the deep frames out there to hook onto. So our job is to figure out how this worked. And the first product of that, uh, was Don't Think of an Elephant.

6. Cain: Introducing the speakers.

Just for the record, and to show that these people were all in attendance that night, and indeed said all these things, here's moderator Bruce Cain introducing the panelists at the start of the evening:

Bruce Cain: Uh, to my right, um, is Joan Blades, who is, uh, an author of a number of books, including the coauthor of The Motherhood Manifesto, which I suspect we'll hear something about. Uh, and the cofounder of Berkeley Systems, which is a software company known for the After Dark screensaver. Most importantly for the purposes of this discussion, she was a cofounder of and now a new organization called, which I know she will talk about. [Applause.] To my immediate right, uh, we have the blogger extraordinaire Markos Moulitsas, who, um, is coauthor of a book called Crashing the Gate, and I think it's fair to say the most popular blogger or the most read blogger on the Democratic side. Even I read the Daily Kos [laughter] and I'm over fifty. So, uh, you know, and, he draws twenty million visitors a month to his web site. I think, you take all the Cal professors and all the students that have come to Berkeley, we wouldn't get to twenty million, would we? So people are listening, uh, to Markos and we will tonight. [Applause.] To my left we have George Lakoff, known to many of us in the Berkeley community as a professor here of, uh, linguistics, um, but also an astute follower of politics. Um, and his books, many of them are books that you own, have been instrumental in the rethinking of how Democrats frame their message. And one of the things we'll want to know from George is whether they've been listening to the lessons in his book.

There was plenty of "product" out in the lobby as the crowd filed out.

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