Don't Think of an Elephant!

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Don't Think of an Elephant! is the definitive handbook for understanding what happened in the 2004 election and communicating effectively about key issues facing America today. Author George Lakoff has become a key advisor to the Democratic party, helping them develop their message and frame the political debate.

In this book Lakoff explains how conservatives think, and how to counter their arguments. He outlines in detail the traditional American values that progressives hold, but are often unable to articulate. Lakoff also breaks down the ways in which conservatives have framed the issues, and provides examples of how progressives can reframe the debate.

Lakoff's years of research and work with environmental and political leaders have been distilled into this essential guide, which shows progressives how to think in terms of values instead of programs, and why people vote their values and identities, often against their best interests. Don't Think of an Elephant! is the antidote to the last forty years of conservative strategizing and the right wing's stranglehold on political dialogue in the United States. Read it, take action--and help take America back.

In the first of his three debates with George W. Bush, 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry argued against the war in Iraq not by directly condemning it but by citing the various ways in which airport and commercial shipping security had been jeopardized due to the war's sizable price tag. In so doing, he re-framed the war issue to his advantage while avoiding discussing it in the global terrorism terms favored by President Bush. One possible reason for this tactic could have been that Kerry familiarized himself with the influential linguist George Lakoff, who argues in Don't Think of an Elephant that much of the success the Republican Party can be attributed to a persistent ability to control the language of key issues and thus position themselves in favorable terms to voters. While Democrats may have valid arguments, Lakoff points out they are destined to lose when they and the news media accept such nomenclature as "pro-life," "tax relief," and "family values," since to argue against such inherently positive terminology necessarily casts the arguer in a negative light. Lakoff offers recommendations for how the progressive movement can regain semantic equity by repositioning their arguments, such as countering the conservative call for "Strong Defense" with a call for "A Stronger America" (curiously, one of the key slogans of the Kerry camp). Since the book was published during the height of the presidential campaign, Lakoff was unable to provide an analytical perspective on that race. He does, however, apply the notion of rhetorical framing devices to the 2003 California recall election in an insightful analysis of the Schwarzenegger victory. Don't Think of an Elephant is a bit rambling, overexplaining some concepts while leaving others underexplored, but it provides a compelling linguistic analysis of political campaigning. --John Moe

Customer Reviews:

  • A Short & Sweet Book on Political Science
    I just finished reading "Don't Think of an Elephant" and I must admit I am impressed. George Lakoff is a professor at the University of California and teaches cognitive scientist and linguistics. These concepts are very tangible in the context of this book. There are many terms used, such as "Wedge-In Issues" and "Hypo-Cognition" that really offer a lot of insight in the realm of political science, despite party association.

    Lakoff is obviously on the left side of the fence, but isn't too much of a fanatic when speaking about his liberal/progressive beliefs. However, there are some moments that he is implying notions such as "never" and "always" to describe the Republican Party. When you are a cognitive scientist/linguist you have to be careful what word choices you select. Why, because nothing in life is "always" or "never".

    "Don't Think of an Elephant" is very much a book that could be used in a college class, just for the terminology and intellectual style, despite the fact the book is aimed more towards the Democratic Party. Nevertheless, Lakoff is an extremely intelligent individual and I might not have agreed with everything in this book, but prone to read another one of his works.
    ...more info
  • Understanding Political Preferences
    _Don't Think of an Elephant_ by George Lakoff is likely to give you new insight on politics in the United States.

    Lakoff, a linguist, says that each of us has "frames," mental structures that, unbeknownst to us, shape the way we view the world. A common metaphor giving rise to some of these frames is that the nation is a family. (We speak of "founding fathers," for example.) The main models of idealized family structure are the "strict father" family, where children are taught to be obedient, and the "nurturant parent" family (gender neutral), where children are encouraged to find fulfillment. Although each of us is aware of both models, one is likely to dominate. Sometimes a different model dominates in different situations, such as at home and at work.

    Lakoff makes the case that these disparate models of the family underlie the difference between the political left and right, between progressives and conservatives, between Democrats and Republicans. Furthermore, these models -- or frames -- shape our values and affect which policies we support. They determine what we accept as "common sense." When we encounter facts that are contrary to the frames we live by, the frames predominate and the incompatible facts are disregarded. People tend to vote in accordance with their values and their identity, even when that means voting against their own self-interest.

    The title of the book is taken from Lakoff's assertion that in order to successfully counter an opponent's platform, the issue must be reframed -- the terminology must be changed. In fact, the subtitle of the book is "Know Your Values and Frame the Debate." When a person is told "Don't think of an elephant," it is difficult to think of anything else. Likewise, when an issue is attacked without being reframed, the original message is reinforced. We "think of the elephant."

    _Don't Think of an Elephant_ is a very accessible book, less scholarly than some of Lakoff's other works. It is likely to help readers understand why they -- and others -- believe as they do, and it might help them to more effectively articulate their views....more info
  • A great book for swing voters and those who don't vote despite their eligibility
    Normally, I could only look at politics in black and white but this book has helped tear down the notion that people are either conservative or liberal with only 20% of the voters being swing. Given the record of the conservatives' total control for the past 5 years, Lakoff's arguments of "Strict Father morality" code of conservatives whose ideology is "You're on your own buddy" unless of course you have lots of money versus the liberal's "nurturing parent" code of taking care of oneself and each other is becoming even more glaringly true.

    The truth is when you take all the important issues and even dash in the social hot button issues, you'll find that at least half the electorate that does bother to vote and most non-voters actually have a mixture of both codes. Aunt Sally may not support the idea of a woman's right to an "abortion" but will gladly support economic liberalism because she can be guarenteed a far better chance of economic equality and justice than politically "conservative" economics of letting Wall Street economically mug Main Street.

    Lakoff makes it crystal clear that rather than wasting time trying to win over staunch "conservatives" by moving to the "right" and then calling themselves "centrists" or "moderates", Democrats should instead spend time activating the "nurturing parent" side of swing and otherwise non-voting voters while at the same time taking the conservatives' political ammunition and using it against them by building progressive thinktanks and organizations and building progressive unity from all the issues instead of treating the issues as a burdensome laundry list....more info
  • Insightful. A Must-Read
    Spend just 30 minutes with this volume and all the weirdness of the politcal landscape in the last 20 years will suddently start to make sense.

    Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science at UC Berkeley explains the two organizational paradigms or frames that the brain uses in understanding societal structure 1) the authoritartian frame and 2) the nurturing frame. People view family and political life through these frames. And one's political outlook tends to correllate strongly to which of these frames one relies on most in interpreting the world.

    Frames are the networks of ideas or mental processes to which words, sentences, statements, propositions appeal in our brains. When statements cannot be interpreted inside a frame, the mind simply ignores them. This explains how we make sense of things, by filtering out clutter. But it also explains how magicians and politicians use misdirection to fool us about what is happening.

    Lakoff suggests that the far right has cleverly hijacked our use of language to prejudice our views by applying Orwellian frames. Clear Sky Initiative, for instance, is Bush language for a body of law that makes it less expensive for a number of industries to pollute the air. He has also anylized the political actions of the right and he presents a precis of their 'strategic initiatives,' issues, and tactics. He explains how these make sense inside the authoritarian frame. He suggests a few initiatives for progressives and some wise methods for restoring language usage so it is no longer divisive or misleading.

    Anyone who is confused or frustrated by the quality, tone, content, or usefulness of political discourse at any time since 1980 must read this book. Highly Recommended....more info
  • Now I Know the Reasons for the Great Political Devide
    Lakoff, a brilliant linguist, has applied his specialized knowledge to analyze the ascendance of the tremendous power of the small Radical Right Reactionary movement.

    To say that it is all about money and power is too obvious. If the Liberals and Progressives knew how to manipulate public opinion as well as the Right does, I have no doubt that they would do it, too. However, the Right has been investing hundreds of millions into learning and applying linguistic persuasion techniques for over 40 years.

    The book leaves me with one big question. Will the Progressives and Liberals learn enough, fast enough, to head the Right off before they have complete and permanent control of all aspects of American government and most of the assets of the USA?
    ...more info
  • Frames vs Ideas. Both are needed but frames ultimately have greater control
    at least over the direction a party decides to go in terms of ideology. Matt Bai earlier this year argued that Democrats need to have ideas before they can frame them. While somewhat true, Lakoff corrects this notion by pointing out that time and again, the party takes the idea and then drops it because some, especially the centrists, have the tendancy to go along with the conservatives' language and with or without realizing it move to the "right". And as far as ideas go, both Democrats and Republicans can have the same set of ideas but the way they frame these ideas ultimately lead to their differences in ideology and opinion. Hence, even if some idea were originally Democratic, the way Republicans frame it for their own benefit makes it almost feel like a different idea altogether. Interestingly, Lakoff points out why voters like us keep getting misled by the conservatives for cloaking their notorious policies with nice names. It's one thing to have ideas. It's another to make those ideas stick if you have the correct set of frames and that's what this book sets out to explore....more info
  • Absolutely necessary for every American
    This could change the world...if everyone read, how great it would be if we would learn to communicate better....more info
  • A way to get out from underneath the media of the neocons
    Finally a book that truly describes the media "Blitz" the neocons have been working on for years and how to combat it. ...more info
  • short introduction to debating in a conservative dominated country
    According to Don't Think of an Elephant the concept of frames can be used to explain a lot about how our national debate shapes itself. Frames are the context your words place you in. The author states that Republicans have dominated our national debates by framing the issues. For example they have framed the debate about taxes by getting people to believe the issue is about who can do better with your money you or the inefficient government. The author points out that much medical reasearch is funded by the government and also that the money for paving roads comes from taxes. The author argues that progressives should try to reframe the debate by pointing out that the government does make good use of tax money as it does the above mentioned things. The author points out that progressives can be divided into many different sub groups but that all share a nurturant view of government while the Republicans focus on a strict father model. In the nurturant view the people have more say in what goes on in the government and internationally other countries have a say in what goes on. In the strict father model authority is focused on one person, the President, and the United States goes it alone internationally disregarding the opinions of other nations. While the author is definitely on the progressive side of things he does point out that not all conservatives are ultra conservatives and that some conservatives are quite reasonable. All in all I think this is a good start to understanding progressive ideals and debating techniques....more info
  • Read it NOW
    This is really required reading for anyone who is involved with the Process. It should have been read before the 2006 Election. And now that the balance of power seems to have shifted, it's even more important.
    Thank you Mr. Lakoff!...more info
  • At last an answear to why the right strikes out at social issues
    Perhaps one of the greatest mysteries is why someone of high intellect can be "Built to low to the ground son, I keep pitching them, but they keep flying over you!"- Foghorn Leghorn. So along comes this book, which does indeed hit the strike zone. Also a couple of good companion books that help in his analysis are: On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins and section 3- The infected mind: a devil's chaplin by Richard Dawkins. Mystery solved. Thats a wrap King....more info
  • Good framework for framing
    This is a book by one of the world's pre-eminent linguists about the way current political issues are framed by the parties. Republicans, Lakoff asserts, are much better at framing the issues, thanks to years of well-funded think tank work, skillful planning and organization. The model he uses to describe the underlying belief systems of the Republican and Democratic parties are based on types of parenting. The GOP philosophy is based on the "strict parent model," where the father of a family protects the family in a dangerous world, supports the family, teaches them right from wrong, and enforces punishment when necessary. The Progressive metaphor is that of the nurturant parent, who believes that the world is basically good and that it and people can be made better through cooperation and empathy.

    I was a bit skeptical at first when Lakoff set up this metaphor. It seems like a stretch as the overarching narrative of our political system, but it fits the debates as he lays them out. What I found more interesting and useful, however, was when he gets into specifics. He makes the point that, counterintuitively, people do not vote in their self-interest. They vote their identities. This is why you have poor rural people in Kansas voting for candidates who hurt them economically--because they identify with that candidate's beliefs.

    In terms of the issues, Lakoff gives examples of how specific issues have been framed so that in discussing them, with the language we use, the debate is already slanted in favor of conservatives. For instance, tax cuts sound like a good thing. Who wouldn't want less taxes? That's because we speak of them as tax cuts. Why not, instead speak of it as an investment in our future? After all, that's money that goes to building our infrastructure, maintaining our healthcare system and educating the people who will one day run this country. He also points out that tax cuts are one of a number of conservative strategic initiatives--issues that affect other issues. Because by cutting taxes, you're basically starving progressive programs--education programs, homeless initiatives, environmental programs, for example--of funding. Taxes is an issue that is stacked for conservatives. Conversely, alternative energy is a potentially great progressive strategic initiative, because along with it come jobs, environmental protection, and a decreased dependence on foreign oil and big oil corporations.

    Lakoff covers all the major issues and discusses the current framing and how those frames can be shifted. He also gives good concrete examples of how these issues have played out in recent politics. Because the book is a collection of essays, it is at times a little disjointed and repetitive. But overall, what he's saying makes a lot of sense. And although it is written for progressives, and Lakoff is himself a progressive, it felt fairly non-partisan considering our current political environment. You get the impression that, had he wanted to, Lakoff could have just as easily written a guidebook for conservatives.
    ...more info
  • How progressives can return America to greatness
    This book explains what the neocons have done to get to their present position of power. It also outlines how progressive liberals can counteract the problems created by the neocons and what positive steps can be taken to restore this country to greatness from which it has fallen badly during the reign of the neocons....more info
  • Triumph of ideology over intellect
    The author's core neural linguistic premise is interesting and potentially quite useful in understanding the very difficult task of engaging voters and delivering messages in the political environment.

    However, the author is so far left that many of the arguments devolve to almost conspiracy theory levels undermining the central tenants of the book.

    I am not generally considered a "progressive" but I am most certainly NOT a proponent of the Focus on the Family crowd. It is just too black and white for me!...more info
  • A interesting political book.
    The book inspires the liberals to fight back for their country. And it terrifies the conservatives, as they're secret's now out. Its Explains how to trick and confuse the masses, without parlor tricks. And it delights the mind with amusement the entire way. It's a wonderful read, and an inspiring idea.

    By the Gaidzik Press...more info
  • Thinking Outside THE Box
    I was one of millions of people who watched Faux News only-just 'for fun'.

    Now I understand why 9 million dollar salary of Bill O'reilly worth every penny....more info
  • If you've been framed in life and even more so often, this book's for you.
    Often times, most of us are used to the assumption that if you just tell the truth, people will understand and support you. Not necessarily so as Lakoff proves. You've probably come across a lot of knee-jerk conservative commentaries who arrogantly argue that "Framing is as easy as turning a door knob." What they won't tell you is what Lakoff unravels. The conservatives know that they can't afford the truth. But to be able to freely spread their ideas of lying and hate, conservatives realized that they had to frame their ideas as acceptable to the voters while at the same time framing progressive and liberal ideas as somehow unacceptable. The next time you see Democrats being correct but Republicans still winning because they're somehow credible even if they're obviously wrong, you'll see why after reading this book.

    I would also like to reply to an earlier post where someone talked about the framing incident in high school. This is the same kind of framing that's done everywhere. Bush may have been academically worse than Gore or Kerry but none of that counts in winning elections. Voters could care less about which candidate has more intelligence just like they could care less about who is actually correct as long as the candidate can deliver the feeling to the voters that "Yes, he or she is one of us." Critics of the book also misunderstand Lakoff and his take on facts. He's not saying that the Democrats or for that matter the rest of us should resort to the typical conservative Republican strategies of spinning lies as acceptable if not true. We all get framed in a lot of situations be it accusations, being talked down, mislabelling, etc ... The trick to getting people to accepting the facts is to not just tell them but to frame and deliver the message in a way that people can get an acceptable feeling that "Yes, this candidate is indeed credible." If you find yourself being controlled or manipulated in a debate or for that matter any discussion, reframing can help you take back control. The idea of reframing has never been discussed in most books about speeches which is why this book deserves to be read along with any book on speech training....more info
  • A must read for the prograssives (or Liberal crowd) especially volunteers for the DNC!
    I didn't understand why John Kerry win 3 out of 3 debates and lose the election till I read this....

    It's all about the languages used in the debate......

    and Framing is one of them....the other is use of fallacies....(not in this book)

    a good book for any debater or law school students....more info
  • Stimulating, but with some fuzzy thinking...
    I just finished this book by George Lakoff. Not the type of book I would normally read. It's by a liberal-progressive telling other democrats-liberals-progressives how to frame their rhetoric so that they can take back the lead against the republican-conservatives in America. He talks about the issue of framing the issues and how the conservatives have done a very good job over the past 25-30 years (compared with the progressives) of creating clear frames.

    For example, when George Bush talks about "tax relief," the idea that "taxes are something that we need relief from" is already framed in those words. If the general public and even the progressives then accept the expression "tax relief," even if they are arguing against a cut in taxes, they have already accepted the frame that "taxes are something that we need relief from." In contrast, the progressives/liberals have not framed taxes as "an investment in our country, our infrastructure, and our future." They have not gotten into the general publics' mind (just as part of the background that is not noticed, but has a profound effect) the idea of "tax investment," as it might be called (that is my term, not Lakoff's suggestion).

    Lakoff makes that claim that when facts seem to contradict an accepted frame, then the frame always trumps the facts. The facts are ignored or explained away. It is very easy for me to see this here in China with regard to the issue of divorce. "Divorce" has a frame of being bad for husband and wife and bad for the children, regardless. And, for most Chinese, presenting them with facts to the contrary will have no effect on their belief, because they live inside the frame that "divorce is bad."

    Last night I was visiting with my friend Christina who is 37, happy, and divorced. She was telling me about an MSN chat with a Chinese man on the Internet who could not believe that she could be happy without being married.

    Lakoff claims that all conservative frames are built around "strict father model," whereas the progressive frames are built around the "nurturant parent model."

    Although I think the book is quite stimulating and insightful in many ways, Lakoff talks about how "framing" is set up to cancel out any facts that might conflict with a particular frame. Then he proceeds in this book to describe (frame) the "strict father model" in a way which not many conservatives would agree with (regardless of its accuracy) and then describe (frame) the "nurturant parent model" in way, which almost anyone would find attractive. I doubt that many will see this inconsistency that, if they did, would bring into question, "How many important facts are will ignoring here in considering EITHER of these world views?" If Lakoff were of some other political persuasion (other than progressive or conservative), perhaps his presentation would have more integrity for me. (Lakoff himself is a progressive.)

    Another way he glosses over some very important facts is by lumping the liberations in with the conservatives. Libertarians only align with conservatives on some economic issues or welfare issues, but are at a major odds with them over civil liberties and personal freedoms, where they share more with the liberals/progressives.

    This is Dwight GoldWinde, living in Shanghai, China, author of the book, "Courage: the Choice that Makes the Difference-Your Key to a Thousand Doors."
    ...more info
  • How the Republicans stole Family Values
    This is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the last 8 years or so of Republican propaganda and why it has been so very effective. Very scary and very reminiscent of Russian propaganda during the cold war....more info
  • A concise primer on what really makes political messaging work.
    This is a great primer on cognitive science as it relates to political messaging. Lakoff has done a lot of ground breaking work in illuminating how verbal metaphor dictates cognition. And here he presents this idea in simple, concrete language, with plenty of sharp examples, to explain how these same principles dictate how we perceive political messages.

    Some have posted negative reviews of this book by criticizing its politics, which are unabashedly liberal and progressive. But the value in a book like this lies not in whatever its political message might be, which is really quite vague, but rather lies in the insights it provides anyone into how a prospective audience will receive a message, and how best to construct a message to gain broad acceptance.

    Lakoff "decodes" the value politics of the past several decades to show how conservative politicians, by employing the right verbal metaphors to "frame" their objectives, have had great success. While liberal politicians have largely failed to appreciate how these "frames" create and manipulate the values that voters will support.

    Buy and read this book if you want to be a more responsible and informed citizen voter in a message saturated political environment....more info
  • Overrated, but Helpful
    George Lakoff's book helps raise awareness of the importance of using language in the political context. The Republicans have mastered that art, while the Democrats have lagged behind. Lakoff is right to show the importance of framing issues.

    I am not so sure that his dichotomy of Republicans and Democrats is accurate, however. To refer to Republicans as the "father" party and the Democrats the "mother" party is a bit simplistic. It's an ironic example of how framing works, however, because many readers of Lakoff's book will readily buy that dichotomy.

    Even so, Lakoff is right to point out that "Language matters." Yes, it does, and it always has.

    The difference between the rhetorical approaches of Democrats and Republicans that I see is that Democrats appeal to the mind and reason, with appeal to Enlightenment values, such as democracy, human and civil rights, progress, science, and improvement of the human condition, while Republicans go for the emotion, fears, and "values" of those realms, centering on the more fundamentalist religious context, sacrifice, apocalypse, salvation, good versus evil, tradition, and the irreversible fall of man.

    For those who think Lakoff's writing on this topic is revelatory and new, however, they are mistaken. This trend has been very evident for political observers since 1994 at the latest, with the GOP Contract With (On?)America, as rhetorical device and theme, conceived and implemented by Newt Gingrich and his pollster, Frank Luntz. The Republicans have been masters of message and theme development, otherwise known as "framing," since the 1968 campaign of Richard Nixon for president, when Roger Ailes took command (yeah, that guy who calls the shots at Fox News Channel).

    Still, I applaud George Lakoff for giving progressives a primer for carefully using language in a political context. That alone will not "save the day," however. There must be substance behind the language, steak with the sizzle. An integral approach to politics is required for success, which includes message development, of course, but also organizational work, which the Republicans have done relentlessly, recruiting and developing talented candidates, utilizing the internet, and most important of all, standing for something on the relevant issues of the day.

    I recommend this book....more info
  • is george lakoff stupid?
    progressives can't frame a debate? they don't use emotionally charged language to circumvent the facts? what about terms such as "tax cuts for the rich", "a woman's right to choose", or "he lied about sex"?
    only conservatives use orwellian speech? "neocon"? "radcon"? sounds alot like newspeak to me.
    eighty percent of the "talking heads on television" are conservative? apparently mr.lakoff only watches fox news.
    the "voter revolt frame" ignores the fact that california's problems began during a previous republican administration? blaming the 9/11 attacks on the bush administration ignores the fact that bill clinton was aware of osama bin ladin and did nothing to stop him.
    conservatives believe that "once grown, the self reliant, disciplined children are on their own, and the father is not to meddle in their lives"? what's so bad about that. at least conservatives believe that we should be free to choose to ride in "cars without seat belts", to smoke, or eat food containing "poisonous additives".
    i don't disagree with many of mr. lakoff's points, i just think he would be far more credible if he didn't present progressives as helpless victims of cruel, sharp tongued conservatives.
    so, is mr. lakoff stupid? no, he just knows how to frame his argument....more info
  • Framing, or is that manipulation?
    Of course people have values and cognitive frames, which are used in speech and understanding. The author makes the rather startling claim that progressives are somehow deficient in these areas. He contends that the explanation for the rise of so-called conservative political forces is their greater attention to packaging values within frameworks that appeal to their supporters. The book is also a follow-up to his previous work that suggests that the moral stances of "the strict father" versus the gender-neutral "nurturant parent" account for conservative, liberal alignments. Frames exist within the context of those two basic models.

    One can appreciate the insightful construction of the moral models without buying into the "progressives are deficient" notion when their ideas and values are being expressed. Frankly, the quality of the ideas being expressed by the two moral camps could easily lead one to the opposite conclusion. The conservative appeal seems to be based on simplistic and incomplete thinking, short-term focus, and manipulation. The propaganda and spin that is constantly spewed from the conservative side are types of framing, not worthy of emulation. A progressive stance of dealing with complexity and long-term and widespread consequences is far preferable to the construction of pleasing frames that conceal as much as they reveal.

    A democracy must rely upon the wisdom of citizens and the full discussion of ideas and not their subversion through pleasing packaging, which certainly seems to be a use for "framing." Progressives need to get out their ideas, quit pandering to the right, and not waste their time trying to find the right codes or frames for their ideas.
    ...more info
  • Finally, I Understand!
    Excellent, easy to read, and helpful in understanding the differences between progressives and conservatives....more info
  • One of the best books to help unravel the conservatives' anti-American ideology.
    If you ever wondered why in the hell the rightwing Republicans have been winning for the past 35 years while the Democrats have been falling for their bait, this book is for you. Instead of reacting like a bunch of angry "liberals", the Democrats could take sound advice from George Lakoff and be prepared to tear down the fascism that is now dragging America to the ground. In case you haven't noticed, the conservatives misuse tragedies to advance their destructive agenda no matter how unacceptable and bankrupt it gets because they know how to frame each event and issue lay blame on anything they don't like. For example, after Hurricane Katrina and now after gas prices continue to rise, these same conservatives framed environmental, worker safety, labor, fair wage, and sane foreign policy as the culprits of rising gas prices even when it was clear that greedy oil executives coupled with the conservatives' destructive agenda created all this crisis. This is the same trick the conservatives used to misuse the 9/11 tragedy as an excuse to invade Iraq and possibly Iran which had nothing to do with 9/11 and where there were no weapons of mass destruction. The 9/11 tragedy was also misused to show their even uglier side of making it legal for government to spy on Americans regardless. Funny that it was these same cons who falsely proclaimed themselves to be against government intrusion only before 2001. The problem with Democrats and progressives is instead of reframing the debate and forcing the real culprits to surrender, they'll keep reacting or worse, play go along with the GOP and the conservatives. No wonder our base gets turned off and then is forced to pick candidate based on their personal/cultural preferences rather than on life-critical issues. Read this book, reframe the issues and help take back America before it's too late ! Let's help rebuild the Democratic party by putting in honestworthy leaders who will actually frame the issues and debates and fulfill their promises rather than emptying them after getting elected and pandering to the GOP !...more info
  • Don't Think of an Elephant
    Excellent insight on the mechanisms used to win agruements and good suggestions on how to deal with them.

    Very helpful to me and will effect my conversations with persons who hold vastly different views from my own in a positive way.

    Good insights into the tricks used by those presently in governemtal power and how to combat them...more info
  • A political book worth reading
    Plus Side: Great ideas, nails it on the head - the way you can win debates is by framing the argument so your opponent is at a significant disadvantage before you even start. (Pick a Fox News show, and why the left looks so weak on them). Chapter seven is the best succinct conservative belief system description I have ever seen.

    Down Side (of this book): Makes a lot of references to moral politics, Lakoff's other book - so it sometimes feels like you should be reading that book. Sometimes repetitive, since he patched previously written articles to form a lot of this book. Sometimes a little too brief in his explanation of very complicated topics (what do you expect from this thin of a book?)

    Despite this, it's worth reading to think about what are the real underlying issues/values of American politics today....more info
  • Miced reception...
    Overall, I love the intention and content of the book. However, George Lakoff seems to be too snug and arrogant in unfolding his theories. Some of the frames he comes up with, like the "Dirty Skies Act," sound more awkward than convincing and just don't seem to carry the same allure their counterparts do, and others sound plain radical-liberal. Overall, however, I would recommend to any progressive who is interested in understanding why his or her republican friends just can't seem the to grasp the reality of matters, since it has helped me in my discussions so far, but it's also a goood read for any pedagogical mind or anyone unfamiliar with linguistics.
    It's short and it's written for the everyman, so there's not much to get confused about in here....more info
  • Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate
    Lakoff's book is truly a guide for progressive values in the United States. His diligent work as a linguist really informed me of the concerted and deliberate efforts of the ultra conservative politic right to control the debate, messaging, and election outcomes. I am a moderate and was shocked into action after reading this book, and more than once. It is a quick, informative, and provacative statement on what we as individuals need to do to get this country back on track and in alignment with the Bill of Rights and The Constitution. Lakoff educated me and it has had a profound impact on my life and involvement in our democracy....more info
  • Fake conservatism via strict father morality and what you can do to combat this political disease
    I was once a conservative turned independent who always tried to figure out "How do these guys really do it?" I left the conservatives after I realized that nothing they did was really conservative but simply outright destructive. The old conservative ideal was that of the wise father figure who was charged with the power in society and would do the right thing for his national family. In fact, it resembled the "nurturing parent" model Lakoff talks about. This did not mean gutting infrastructure and slashing and burning the nation to dysfunctionality. It meant to act as the wise moderator, balancing the family's needs with the means of the nation. Conservatives used to be moderators, not the kind of lie and hate extremists you see in today's Republican party. They were not radicals who sought to take the nation and launch it this way or that. Exactly the opposite, they sought to conserve the traditional institutions and social structure. Actions should be taken to fix things as needed, but minimally. Don't create drastic new programs, but don't drastically trash the existing ones either. Just because a family's (i.e. nation's) financial situation goes down a bit, you don't stop feeding the baby and let the roof leak through. A paternalist wouldn't care more about corporate profit than his child getting asthma or wife getting emphysema. A paternalist wouldn't agree to a war for oil. A paternalist wouldn't thrash the school system for tax cuts for the wealthy.

    When social and cultural issues such as civil rights, abortion, guns, God, gays, and other social upheavels did not sit well with these conservatives, the fake radical conservatives used political correctness and framed the issues via the "strict father morality" model Lakoff accurately describes to gradually convince conservatives to replace moderation with extremism. However, even as the newer conservatives were winning, older conservatives who still believed in moderation had a mixture of "strict father" and "nurturant parent" models in them. These are what Lakoff accurately describes as swing voters. While many conservatives including myself have abandoned these radical conservatives, not all true conservatives left the building. Conservatives knew and still do know that to keep them in the party, deceptive framing, a.k.a. lies and propaganda, would be used to give older conservatives a false sense that these fake conservatives have a heart even when they're policies actually prove otherwise. Lakoff describes this behavior as faking nurturing all the while passing destructive legislation that follows the "strict father morality" model. For example, a bill that actually seeks to destroy forests would be mis-labeled "Healthy Forests Bill" by these fake radical cons on purpose. Just recently, Congress passed an energy where they falsely claim that we'll be able to reduce our dependency on foreign oil. Yet, the bill's contents give more tax cut incentives to gas guzzling versions of SUVs that will further plunder what's left of Earth's finite resources while at the same time giving little if any tax cut incentives to SUVs such as hybrids which would actually conserve and minimize usage of Earth's finite resources.

    A truly compassionate conservative would actually care to make it clear what is true and best for this nation. Lakoff is correct to point out that there are a lot of friendly old school conservatives who not only want respect but for others to recognize that they too have a heart.

    The key to success lies in being able to activate the nurturing parent model with voters such as I myself, once a conservative now an independent. This book also serves as a role model to help all of us take back public discourse....more info
  • Concept: four stars / Execution: two stars
    This is essentially just a poorly-written, watered-down version of Lakoff's "Moral Politics". If you're seriously interested in Lakoff's theory of politics, skip this and read "Moral Politics" instead. But, if you want just a brief summary of the highlights of Lakoff's theory, without having to read the (much longer and more in-depth) "Moral Politics", then this book will serve the purpose. However, I will warn you that it is not well-written at all. It appears to have been hastily thrown together and poorly edited.

    This book is aimed at progressives; and attempts to explain why progressives have struggled politically in recent decades while conservatives have had tremendous success. According to Lakoff, it has a great deal to do with differences in how conservatives and progressives communicate their ideas. Lakoff encourages progressives to adopt many of the same communications strategies that conservatives have been using. However, Lakoff's suggestions tend to lean toward abstract principles rather than practical advice. This is not a step-by-step "how to" guide for communicating progressive ideas and winning elections. It's really more of a "here's-where-we've-gone-wrong" critique of progressive campaign strategies. There are some useful insights here; but this is certainly not Lakoff's best work....more info
  • old ideas under a new banner
    While this book gets a lot of hype as a new idea in communication techniques, it is a rehash of what we all learned in psych 101. Read it if you don't know the difference between positive and negative communications. For example - drive safely - positive, or Don't get in an accident - negative. You will remember the last words and your subconscious will either make you save or in an accident.

    Since the Democratic party has adopted this as their bible, I guess none of them took psych 101....more info
  • Framing the issues and debates - It's not rocket science. It's how you apply what you learn.
    Want to know why the conservatives and libertarians and Republicans really keep winning despite the fact that everything goes from bad to worse when they're in power? It's all about framing. They'll be proactive about making themselves look like they're the heroes while framing the opposition as the culprit. For example, in the current race for governor in VA, Republicans are testing out their plans on blaming gas taxes for rising oil prices even when it's the companies themselves that did all the gouging. And of course, there's Congress and the president who's only plan is to reward these same oil price gougers more tax cuts and frame those who prevent these tax cuts for the cronies as the villians just like they did in 2001 and after one "tax cut" package for cronies after another. Don't be surprised if Republicans carry out this plan nationwide in the 2006 Congressional midterm elections even if Democrat Tim Kaine wins the gubernatorial race in VA.

    No doubt, blame shifting is more common with the Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians. Even now, Bush and the Republicans are doing all they can to make sure the Democrats who currently control the state and local governments in LA absorb the blame for Hurricane Katrina. What's worse is that these same people are already making it clear that rewarding no bid contracts to big business cronies like Bechtel and Halliburton, the same corporate cronies who won no-bid contracts to rebuild Iraq only to make Iraq worse and our country damaged to the point of no repair let alone reconstruction, to rebuild New Orleans for the elitists at the expense of bulldozing homes and small businesses of the working class is what constitutes spending taxpayer money wisely. Moreover, they don't mind that lobbyists get to control the Hurricane Katrina relief panel. However, when it actually comes to helping the residents out, they're response always happens to be "You're on your own buddy" and there's no doubt that this kind of response is the result of the "Strict Father Morality" framing of punishing whoever they feel can't help themselves while at the same time giving unlimited assistance to those who are already well off and in fact need no more corporate handouts. This of course is why corporate America, especially Walmart, will make a big deal about donating a large sum of money to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina to make the public forget that these are the same business convicts who were given total freedom from these same politicians to drive the working class off the cliff before and after the hurricane.

    While Lakoff describes liberals and progressives as the ones who are usually nurturant, he notes that amazingly they have abandoned the idea of nurturance while conservatives, libertarians, and Republicans are nurturant at the top level while imposing "strict father morality" everywhere else including the working class that voted them into office in the first place. What's amazing is that the Democrats and progressives do very little to fight back. Instead of putting themselves on the defensive by simply reacting to sound bites or even worse just giving up and playing rollover to the Republicans, libertarians, and conservatives, Democrats and progressives will have to build their own infrastructure, think tanks, organizations, etc ... Lakoff notes that even while there are very few progressive and/or liberal think tanks and organizations, most of them are built in a totally self-defeating manner because there is no ideological unity between them. Moreover, unlike the rightwing think tanks, there is no self-nurturance or attractive purposes built into them other than posing as helping the poor which any organization can invent as an excuse.

    If you want to avoid being manipulated by the Republicans, libertarians, and conservatives, take at the very least a few minutes every day to read this book and learn why they're controlling you despite their failed policies. Moreover, learn to fight back the Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians with your own frame of thoughts....more info
  • Not only useful in politics but also in everyday life matters
    While the author's primary goal is to help progressives think truly and deeply about the issues and ultimately override their "conservative" bullies with their own food for thought, this book is actually applicable to helping people deal with being framed and manipulated. You also want to avoid getting caught in a setup where your opponent tries to fix a game against you that you cannot play much less win. If you're forced into such a setup though, this book offers plenty of ideas on reframing so that you can force your opponent to go on the defensive. Great book for all people of all ages and you don't have to be into politics to understand what this book is all about.


    I recall in high school when a smart student was teased and joked around by less intelligent students with trivial sports questions. Sure, they knew she doesn't know the answers to those sports questions. Instead, as I finally realized after having read this book, they didn't care that she knew the answers but wanted to see how she'd react after they successfully framed her as somehow not smart based on sports trivia. Amazingly, she simply reacted by first giving a weak answer and then simply begging them to stop testing her sports knowledge but that only motivated the idiots to play with her feelings even more and totally embarass her. This kind of behavior called reacting is what Lakoff warns liberals and progressives not to do when responding to conservatives. Instead of reacting by begging or sounding too angry, the trick is to reframe. Coming back to the student who reacted, she should have reframed the issue by saying something like "I didn't realize that being cool meant knowing sports all that much. Go ahead and keep dreaming that I'm dumb just because I don't know your sports trivia." Like Lakoff would argue, if they can set up one against you, either be prepared to reframe or don't play if you don't want to lose....more info
  • Inconsistencies abound - no wonder Democrats are losing
    I was hoping for a more neutral discussion of frames and framing, and was disappointed to find a Progressive/Liberal "thinker" coaching his troops on how to win the day from the Conserviative/Right. On that basis, as well as the general inconsistency of the author, I give this book 2 stars.

    Despite a good beginning begining how "frames" such as 'tax relief' carry many images and presuppositions with them, the author spends the majority of his time coaching anti-Republicans on how to win the debates by thinking and speaking differently. Once he gets onto that theme, he becomes incredibly inconsistent. For example, he spends an entire page explaining how to "frame" taxes in terms of "paying your dues" for infrastructure: the roads, the judicial system, commerce departments, banking system. Fine. Then just a few pages later, he writes "The right is forcing the left to spend even more private money on what the government should be supporting." What is that? Social programs, funded by taxes in the form of income redistribution. And none of that, not one bit, was mentioned in his entire page on "why we pay taxes." Did he think we weren't going to notice?

    When he gets to talking about 9-11, he flip-flops again, and twice in one page. He starts off by listing six reasons why "they [Islamic radical terrorists] hate us so much", including cultural views of women, theocracy, holy sites, Western presence in Arab states, jihad, and martyrdom. No argument there. In the very next paragraph, however, he says that many would-be martyrs grew up in poverty, and have nothing to live for. "Eliminate such poverty and you eliminate the breeding ground for most terrorists." And in the very next sentence he flip-flops again, admitting that "though the Sept 11 terrorists were relatively well-to-do." He lets his presupposition that the real task is income redistribution and "elimination of poverty" overshadow the six real reasons why "they hate us" that fuel terrorism.

    If he is trying to coach Progressives and Liberals to be able to argue and win against "the Right", my recommendation would be "Physician, heal thyself!" and stop being so inconsistent.

    Liberals and Progressives may find comforting and exhortive words in this book, but beware, it won't help you much further down your road. Conservatives may find it enlightenting to see how deranged and illogical the Progressive/Liberal thought patterns really are.

    Overall, for me as a Conservative, it was a struggle to wade through his convoluted thought, analogies, and exhortations....more info
  • Republicans read this book
    George Lakoff is a master of the English language. I bought his book about moral politics thinking that it would be neutral. Early in that book he protrayed democrats as picking their baby up at night when they are crying, while republicans would allow the baby to continue crying. Framing is the subject of this book. It is a wonderful term that has the same meaning as manipulation. Democrats are much better at framing than republicans. If you are a republican this is a must read to prepare yourself for the new Democratic Party framing....more info
  • Must read for progressives and liberals
    I appreciated the way Lakoff provided a frame for progressive values. I purchased a copy for several friends and family members....more info
  • Worth Reading, But Light on Content
    The book explains the Progressives aims. Lakoff explains how the Progressives have been outgunned by the Conservatives, particularly through better framing and language. He advocates ways to counter Conservative argument. Writing style not too vibrant and ideas presented in a somewhat superfluous way. I hope this is not the best the left has to offer. Since reviews on this book are mostly read by Progressive supporters, I don't expect this review to be well received....more info
  • Intelligent and relevant, if a little light
    Don't Think of an Elephant is a booklet that purports to explain the difference between the minds of liberals and conservatives. Lakoff is a cognitive scientist, and focuses the issue on the mindsets that dominate each perspective. It's an intriguing premise, and holds true at least to a degree. It's a distillation of a larger work of his, Moral Politics, and Don't Think of an Elephant has a subtext as well: to help progressives retool and retake the language used in the political realm.

    The book is good, but feels a little light. The first half of the book is explanation of his ideas, and the second half is application to the world; really a playbook for political debate. I realize this is a book for the liberal fanbase who see no problem with buying into and using it, and I'm not saying it looks like it's an unsuccessful model, but I feel the book could have benefitted from some historical context and more stringent argument for his method. That information may be present in Moral Politics, his larger work, but anywhere from 5-20 pages in this book would not have bloated it, and would have given it more weight with those who cautiously agree with him as I do. It was definitely worth a read, and has made me want to look into his ideas more. I'd give it four and 1/4 stars, if that were possible....more info
  • Interesting
    I would give it 2 stars for effort. Don't really waste your money I'll summarize the book in two lines. The world is viewed in terms of metaphores. Conservatives, strict father, Progressives Nurturant Parent. Conservatives treat the world like their strict father view- beating children, etc. Progressives honest "open" two-way communications etc. The rest of the book is just analyzing and explaining the books own view of these two things, which this "metaphore" concept in and of itself is a creation of the book and has little realistic applicable value. It will tell progressives what they want to hear and reinforce their already held ideas, but it won't state the base argument for having such progressive values, the meat of the issue; if your looking for depth, you won't find it. Oh sure it gives a couple helpful hints about reframing issues, what is scarey is that progressive politicians didn't have the brain power to realize it in the first place. Litterally if your at all a thinker this book is written for the brain power of elementary school students, you may indeed find it insulting and unsatisfying. If your a thinker at all you likely could have written it yourself, and used a much higher level of argumentation. In my own humble opinion. ...more info
  • Absolutely love this Book
    I've read this book twice now, and each time I read it I gain a better understanding of my surroundings. Lakoff does a great job of first describing what he means by "framing" and how it applies to nearly every aspect of life. He then applies his idea of framing and cognitive dissonance to political affiliations. This book does an excellent job of explaining almost all the issues that ail our political system today. The book explains timeless dialogue between the left and right over the last 25 years.

    I've bought four or five copies now, and it's one of my favourite books to give to graduates. Definitely a must read!...more info
  • Tired of the conservatives and their inconsistent spew of lie and hate? The answers to their inconsistency and what you can do
    about it are in this book. I used to be a hardcore conservative until I realized that it wasn't worth my life so I've been a swong voter but I haven't voted for the past few years. I often wonder who I should bother voting for anyway since I can't support the endless spew of lies and hate of the conservative Republicans but still have a hard time supporting the Democratic Party because of their being a pack of cowards to actually oppose them. For the Democrats and those who wholeheartedly support them, I strongly suggest reading this well written guide so that you can broaden your support. If Democrats would learn from this author and think long term, they wouldn't be having such a hard time actually reaching out to swing voters. Better yet, maybe they could accidently convert wannabe conservatives into potential swing voters by getting them to look at the same issues in a non-partisan way rather than on the typical rightwing terms.

    Here's an example. Remember that "medicare bill" that used to be a Democratic idea but got passed by the Republicans in 2003? It's not that the Republicans simply stole their idea though they did of course. It's that the same idea was framed differently by the cons which is why the final version of the bill was actually different from what it was supposed to be though even Ted Kennedy took the slippery slope off the cliff by thinking that the Republicans accepted his idea when in fact they did nothing but frame and twist it differently so that all the remained was the name of the idea.

    I realize that the only people who badly hate this book are staunch conservatives as Lakoff correctly predicted you can't expect to convert. Lakoff make perfectly clear that you can't convert staunch conservatives no matter how much you pander to them but you can reach out to swing voters and win their support when you offer them a clear picture as to why you deserve their support. Make your ideas appealing and stick to your position or else people won't know who you are or what you really stand for.

    The one thing I like about this book is that I can finally be ready to start helping myself and others put staunch conservatives on the defensive. For example, now that a previous reviewer who hates the book reacted to Lakoff's ideas of actually winning the war on terrorism, let's see him answer this. We bombed innocent civilians while failing to actually deter the insurgents and terrorists in Iraq and Afganistan and yet there are more insurgents and terrorists in those Bush puppet regimes. Yes, we go to war when attacked but now there's no reason to stay the course. But if you say we supposedly won the war on terror, then why are we still at war struggling with the insurgents in Iraq and Afganistan and why is it that the Taliban and warloads in Afganistan have actually regained nearly all their control 4 years after they were supposedly eradicated? As Lakoff would point out, a staunch conservative would likely spew out that "We just have to keep going to war because we will never be safe" whereas a swing voter would wonder "Are we really accomplishing what we were told this or that war would help us accomplish? If not, what are we doing there right now and for whose cause are we fighting for anyway?"

    Like Lakoff would say, know your values and frame those debates. And don't be afraid to stick to your ideas and run with it just because some poll tells you that somehow people don't agree with your idea(s)....more info
  • Useful for everyone
    I bought this book based on the recommendation of a 'Democratic' friend of mine. What I found was an insight into how people's simple views on family such as strict or nurturing father can affect their political views and where they stand.

    Although that might seem a little bit simplistic, the case presented by Lakoff is compelling. Lakoff also points out that tags can be very powerful in shaping the policies in the public eye. Whatever party you may belong to -- or none, like me -- this book can be useful in understanding why people are so bent out of shape by some political issues.

    If you are a Democrat, and if you want to see a President of your party in the White House anytime soon, you definitely should read this book because it most possibly holds the key, or ticket, how to achieve that (The party doesn't seem to have a clue so get the rest, or as many, to read up on this.)...more info
  • new view
    I had heard of linguistics but I did not know it's uses. This book was very, very intriguing. It has caused me to read more books on the subject of linguistics. The content of this book is very powerful. I have recommended this book to my family and friends because I can see that it may change some of their minds and help focus others....more info
  • Don't even touch the elephant!
    A good book, thoughtful and on-target. Problem: The Democratic Party would do well to avoid emulating the Republicans in framing language. Yes, on the abortion question the Right to Choosers need to look at doing that, a la "Choosing an abortion is a matter of private autonomy," or something similar. As there is plenty of corruption in America, generally, framing concepts is but a different way of saying things. That's a given. What I would rather see is this author looking more deeply into recreating America into a country of ethics and honesty, without the malarky, with or without framing....more info
  • Can I give it 0 stars?
    Actually, I'll give it 1 star because it is important to try to understand how the radical left (who get passes in the media everyday) really think. This book is nothing but propaganda, BUT is surprisingly honest about the secular left's intentions, tactics, techniques, and procedures for undermining American culture and economy. If you're not concerned about creeping Socialism or secular pressure from the left, then read this book. It will be eye opening to finally see how the Michael Moore, Al Franken, Ward Churchill, Nancy Pelosi crowd REALLY think. Go to a library and check this one out. Then get out and fight these guys to the death (figuratively, of course). If you follow the pack mentality of the aforementioned clowns, then by all means buy this and feed your misguided preconceptions that the America that championed the world in battles vs communism, fascism, Nazism, slavery (you heard me right... Frederick Douglas, John Brown, the Quakers et al came from America (and England), NOT South Asia, Russia, the Ottoman Empire, Africa or Arabia- where eunuchs were still acceptable at the turn of the 20th Century BC) is an awful, immoral country. Oh that's right... Lakoff says us Americans are the terrorists. Or is it little Eichmanns? ...more info


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