November 16, 2008

What the Right Does Right

posted by Paula E. Kirman

Closing a conference can be more difficult than opening it. Heather-Jane Robertson is indeed a talented woman. She had the audience in fits of laughter telling her ideas about re-framing. When a Jehovah’s Witness showed up at her door one day and asked her what her source of great guidance was, she answered, “Wikipedia.”

Even the missionary laughed, and so did everyone at her session this afternoon.

Her topic was what we can learn from the Right. That may seem like an oxymoron to progressives. However, the Right has gained so much ground politically and economically in our society, that its rise to power has to exemplify some kind of correct doings.

For starters, we tend to stick with what is comfortable and familiar. We do it in our personal lives, and we can do it with our votes. The right has written off certain constituencies. They poll extensively (“Which candidate would you like to be stranded on a desert island with?”) to frame election strategy.

But they made a framing mistake as well: the snobs dressing up in finery to go to galas. That’s right – all of us whiners who disagreed with the cuts to Arts funding. Nothing could reverse that.

She showed the YouTube video Culture en Péril, featuring Quebec singer/songwriter Michel Rivard, as he tried to make himself understood to an arts funding council. The use of humour really hit the point across. We should not build frames we believe our permanent into structures that go deeper – our frames can be more transitory.

Back to what the Right is doing right (“right” meaning effective as opposed to moral). People who have stronger startle reflexes are more likely to be a Conservative – less tolerance for lots of stimuli. People tend to vote for people without facial hair or glasses. Of course, there are exceptions to this (Robertson’s partner startles easily, and so do I).

The left has not always done the best job of reaching people where they are at in terms of what is or is not working in their lives. Frames have not been laid properly – an example of a very well laid frame is motivational: Yes We Can!

We have to deal with negative frames and break them, then replace it with something we can relate to visually and motivationally – small bits we can hang on to. Up here in Canada we did not hear this sort of motivational framing – Layton did not inspire people as he could have. The immutable must seem mutable. Things must be possible for people. Robertson raises a lot of valid questions about how we, as progressives, can respond to the fences of the Right, and shift those paradigms.

I am not sure there are any easy answers, and a lot of change needs to be perpetuated on the parts of the candidates on the left to really inspire people to vote for them. And to try to get people to look at issues for the common good rather than their own comfort levels or self-interest.

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