Moral Frames & 2012 Election issues
How is it that intelligent, rational, well meaning adults can look at the same set of facts on an issue and come to entirely different conclusions? The insight that George Lakoff had on this question in his book Moral Politics was that liberals and conservatives are viewing those facts through a moral framework where the facts are filtered and understood beyond rational thought. He identifies two main frameworks, related to parenting styles, for understanding the conservative / liberal divide. Strict Father Morality emphasizes authority, self-discipline, and competition. Nurturant Parent Morality emphasizes respect, empathy, and cooperation. The frameworks are extended from the family to the nation, where the nation is a family and the government is the parent. Politicians use the frameworks to help appeal to voters and guide the debates over issues like Iran, abortion, and the auto bailout. The issue of Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons was debated several times during the 2012 presidential campaign. The conservative view holds that the United States, as the preeminent superpower, can and must act in its own self-interest, even declaring war unilaterally. The liberal view emphasizes that the United States is a member of the community of nations and should act in accordance with friends, allies, and established forums where appropriate. In the Vice Presidential Debate of Paul Ryan v Joseph Biden we saw the strategy laid out. Ryan argued that Iran, by continuing to pursue nuclear weapons, was a bad actor and subverting the authority of the United States. This is a failure of America’s natural status as global superpower. According to Lakoff’s analysis of Strict Father Morality, authority comes with responsibility. " The authority figure sets standards of behavior and punishes those subject to authority if the standards are not met … it is immoral for the authority figure to fail to exert authority, that is, to fail to set standards of behavior and to enforce them through punishment" (Lakoff 78). To correct Iran’s behavior they would have to be punished (sanctions) and threatened with greater force (military force). Without the real threat of greater force to punish them, this bad behavior would not be corrected. Referring to the Iranian leadership Ryan said, "They are not changing their mind. That's what we have to do, is change their mind so they stop pursuing nuclear weapons, and they're going faster" (Ryan - VP Debate). The primary failing of the Obama Administration, in Ryan’s critique, is that they have lost credibility and demonstrated Moral Weakness by “cutting defense”, “apologizing for our values”, “sending out mixed signals”, and “walking back” the [military] “options on the table” (Ryan - VP Debate). The Obama administration has failed to identify the Iranian regime as evil. That failure has led them to reduce America’s military strength, sympathize with those who criticize the United States, and believe that negotiation is a viable option. By pointing out these errors and holding a hard line Ryan is demonstrating Moral Strength, as described by Lakoff “Evil must be fought. You do not empathize with evil, nor do you accord evil some truth of its own. You just fight it” (Lakoff 74). Biden argued that when the United States acts in concert with the world community it is stronger. Acting alone would have had less of a substantive and moral impact. Talking about Obama Biden says, “This is a guy who's repaired our alliances so the rest of the world follows us again. This is the guy who brought the entire world, including Russia and China, to bring about the most devastating -- the most devastating efforts on Iran to make sure that they in fact stop” (Biden - VP Debate). The Liberal view holds that disputes over real issues are not a cause to break off relationships. Lakoff says, when talking about the work that relationships require, in Morality as Social Nurturance that,...
Cited: Lakoff, Geoge. Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. Chicago: the University of
Chicago Press, 2002. Print.
Ryan, Paul & Biden, Joe. Interview with Martha Raddatz. Vice Presidential Debate
October 11, 2012
Romney, Mitt. “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” New York Times November 18, 2008
Obama, Barack. Interview with Tom Brokow. NBC’s Meet the Press
December 7, 2008
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