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Monday Morning Quarterbacking

Governor Dean probably made progress yesterday on Meet the Press. But something has been bothering me all day and I finally realized what it is.

Election coverage is about electability and polls but governing is about what is good for the majority of the people. (OK, most conservatives don’t buy that premise, but that’s the sorry state that creeping suffrage has got us to, guys. Deal with it.) So the challenge that someone like Howard Dean faces is that the questions he’s asked are about the things the media cares about–ratings–rather than the things the people care about, which is how the government might deliver reasonable services at a reasonable cost without curtailing our right to create our own prosperity and to enjoy our lives (that pesky “pursuit of happiness” concept that people just won’t let go of).

So, if I were to offer the good Governor any advice, I’d advise him to use a little of Dubya’s strategy: if you don’t like a question, answer another one. Naturally, We the People hope you have better answers.

Playing the Doctor Card

Governor Dean properly invokes the success that he has had in steering Vermont on a healthy course, but I’d suggest that there are times when he ought to play the Doctor card. A good reason to play the doctor card is that each of us formed our sensibilities very early in life and, though we’d like to think we’re quite sage and objective, we each carry a lot of infantile preconceptions around.

Doc Searls keeps reminding us to read and listen to George Lakoff for a good reason.

If the Democrats want to win in ’04, George Lakoff points the way…You really need to get the book-length version of the essay: Moral Politics — What Conservatives Know that Liberals Don’t.

Lakoff is a conceptual linguist, a guy who looks at the words that people use and the metaphors they invoke and sees why some mental images are more compelling than others. Here’s the quote Doc wants us to remember, based on the strict father model:

Life is seen as fundamentally difficult and the world as fundamentally dangerous. Evil is conceptualized as a force in the world, and it is the father’s job to support his family and protect it from evils — both external and internal. External evils include enemies, hardships, and temptations. Internal evils come in the form of uncontrolled desires and are as threatening as external ones. The father embodies the values needed to make one’s way in the world and to support a family: he is morally strong, self-disciplined, frugal, temperate, and restrained. He sets an example by holding himself to high standards. He insists on his moral authority, commands obedience, and when he doesn’t get it, metes out retribution as fairly and justly as he knows how. It is his job to protect and support his family, and he believes that safety comes out of strength.


Our idealized Dad is our reference when we elect a President. Sure, we go off on a tangent sometimes when we choose a Kennedy or a Clinton, but those are aberrations. Mostly we want someone like Dad to guide us.

No authority in our lives trumps Dad as the force to be reckoned with. But we each learned early on that there was one (and, often, only one) person whom Dad always deferred to, willingly, in whose presence Dad seemed suddenly meek and submissive, as before a true superior and a moral authority. That person was the family doctor. I’m sure that Howard Dean’s handlers exhort him to only play the Doctor card when talking about health care or abortion, but I wonder if George Lakoff might urge him to go for it–to employ linguistics as skillfully as the conservatives. If he did, Maybe this is how he might have responded to Tim Russert on Meet the Press.

Even Tim Russert respects Doctors

(Russert’s the guy who caused all the trouble on election eve 2000 when he said it would come down to “Florida, Florida, Florida”)

Russert: Why do some Democrats fear his nomination? Where does he stand on the issues? We’ll ask him… Doctor Howard Dean. And tomorrow, Doctor Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont plans to formally announce for President.

Yep. Cognitive Linguistics at work. There were a couple of challenges that Dr. Dean answered well, but might have done better as a physician. Tim Russert felt it was important for Dr. Dean to know how many people there are in the military, Dean said he thought there are between 1 to 2 million people at arms. I wonder how that vague answer would play in Peoria. Here’s a good place to play the Doctor Card. Imagine this exchange:

Russert: Don’t you think, as a Presidential candidate, that you should know how many people are in our armed forces?

Dean: One thing I know for sure is that one soldier is being killed every day in Iraq, and that’s more important than knowing how many others we have left to sacrifice. But let’s talk about facts, Tim. I’m an Internist. If you came to me with a cardiac arrhythmia, do you think I should treat you myself or refer you to a cardiac specialist? In medicine, the facts are so important that we don’t pretend that any one person can know them all.

I learned the names and function of the 206 bones in the human body without much difficulty. Do you really think I’ll have trouble learning the facts that matter to the presidency?

Moreover, Tim, do you honestly believe that George Bush, whether or not you like his radical Republicanism, has the mental equipment to master the important facts and subtleties of government? Even if he knows how many soldiers we have, he doesn’t seem to know when to use them and why.

The Doctor is in, he doesn’t like idiots, and he hates what they’ve done to the country while we were concerned with other terrorists!

11:09:06 PM    comment [c
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