How Progressives Can Win

Twelve Traps to Avoid
by George Lakoff and the Rockridge Institute
Published on Monday, September 18, 2006
at CommonDreams.org

For progressives to succeed in taking back this country, we need to stay true to our values and communicate them effectively. To accomplish this mission, we need to be aware of the traps that have often tripped up progressives in the past.

In this preview of the new book, Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision, A Progressive’s Handbook by George Lakoff and the Rockridge Institute, we present twelve traps to avoid as we make our case to restore an America that is true to its best principles.

Twelve Traps to Avoid
(Excerpted from Chapter One of Thinking Points)

1. The Issue Trap

We hear it said all the time: Progressives won’t unite behind any set of ideas. We all have different ideas and care about different issues. The truth is that progressives do agree at the level of values and that there is a real basis for progressive unity. Progressive values cut across issues. So do principles and forms of argument. Conservatives argue conservatism, no matter what the issue. Progressives should argue progressivism. We need to get out of issue silos that isolate arguments and keep us from the values and principles that define an overall progressive vision.

2. The Poll Trap

Many progressives slavishly follow polls. The job of leaders is to lead, not follow. Besides, contrary to popular belief, polls in themselves do not present accurate empirical evidence. Polls are only as accurate as the framing of their questions, which is often inadequate. Real leaders don’t use polls to find out what positions to take; they lead people to new positions.

3. The Laundry List Trap

Progressives tend to believe that people vote on the basis of lists of programs and policies. In fact, people vote based on values, connection, authenticity, trust, and identity.

4. The Rationalism Trap

There is a commonplace-and false-theory that reason is completely conscious, literal (applies directly to the objective world), logical, universal, and unemotional. Cognitive science has shown that every one of these assumptions is false. These assumptions lead progressives into other traps: assuming that hard facts will persuade voters, that voters are “rational” and vote in their self-interest and on the issues, and that negating a frame is an effective way to argue against it.

Read more.