It’s now or never on RTW…change the conversation, change the vision for the future!

The only Senate hearing on “corporate greed” and “wage theft” legislation is underway. Conservative Republican legislators (and Democratic legislators) continue to evoke the powerful conservative metaphor of “right to work.” To Senator Wirch’s (Democrat – Kenosha) credit, in early hearing questioning of Senator Fitzgerald (Republican – SB 44 Author), he asked Fitzgerald about it being “wage theft legislation.” Fitzgerald paused and did not respond. Literally refused.

There is always hope – to change the conversation and present a completely different vision for people to identify with and believe. It is something we MUST ACCOMPLISH if we are to avoid living out the Albert Einstein definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. The current defensive template playing out on Corporate Greed and Wage Theft Legislation (SB 44) is identical to Act 10.  It’s not too late…here’s what progressives need to begin communicating to their State Senators and Representatives on both side of the aisle. Critical points are highlighted.

This is fundamentally about two critical truths, which must be effectively communicated to people. First, there is the basic truth about the relationship and roles of corporation and worker. Second is the basic truth about The Public.

1. A private corporation is a form of governance created and existing for one reason – the pursuit of profit. Beyond that, there is no moral mission that it serves. To that end, the corporation hires workers to create profit for the corporation. The workers of Wisconsin are the profit creators. Take away the workers, and you take away the ability of the corporation to generate a product of service from which they profit. It’s that simple – “Workers are profit creators.”

A union, therefore, is the democratically elected representation of those workers who have a MORAL right to receive a living wage portion of those profits – which they create. The union protects and empowers the profit creators as their voice, making certain that they receive that living wage portion of the profit which they have created. Without the union, the profit creators will be subject to corporate greed, never receiving their fair portion of the profits they have worked to create. This truth ought to be the basis for a general strike in Wisconsin!

Any legislation which takes away the right of the profit creators to receive a living wage portion of profit, opens the door to corporate greed and servitude, and contributes to Wage Theft.

2. The Public (government), unlike corporations, exists with a moral mission to protect and empower the people it serves. Legislation which does the polar opposite of that mission represents a betrayal of trust on the part of legislators who support such a measure. Why? As shown in point 1 above, such legislation opens the door to corporate greed and wage theft, and impedes the right of the profit creators to receive their fair portion of profit.

Most importantly, it is critical to communicate an honest vision of what is happening in Wisconsin. Extreme conservative ideologists are pushing on Wisconsinites a corporate form of governance. In direct contrast to Public governance, Corporate Greed and Wage Theft legislation represents one step closer to a corporate form of governance where the sole mission is profit.

The Public is all of us, acting together to protect and empower each other, expand freedom and opportunity for everyone, and calls on us to take responsibility for each other. Unions are consistent with that model, democratically elected and representative to protect and empower private sector profit creators. Every worker who creates profit for their employer is helped by a union. Conservatives would have you believe that The Public (which is all of us) is evil, immoral, and that it must be destroyed. This belief guides every one of their policies – including Corporate Greed and Wage Theft legislation.

Since when is it immoral for people to come together, take responsibility for each other, and help expand freedom and opportunity for all? If you value and want that for your family, why not everyone else? And why do you want to destroy the institutions (The Public and Unions) that empower and protect people from corporate greed and servitude?

These are the questions to ask of Republicans. This is the vision to change the conversation and the status quo.

Conservatives and “Right to Work” – It’s a trap!

(This article also appears at www.ForwardInstituteWI.org)

Conservatives have set a linguistic trap for progressives – and they are taking the bait. The trap is the metaphor “right to work,” which even progressives are using again and again. As we know from cognitive science research, even negating the “right to work” metaphor will reinforce the conservative message and entire frame, thereby strenghtening it in public discourse. Here’s an example from Michigan that unconsciously reinforces the conservative frame:

When we use the term “right to work” or “job creator,” it activates the conservative frame physically present in your brain, without you even knowing it. The critical moral principle in this frame is that of personal success through pursuit of self-interest and profit gained from being disciplined. Anyone who is not successful deserves their punishment (poverty or unemployment) as a result of being undisciplined, and is therefore immoral. The “Market” itself is considered a moral actor, the ultimate decider, where the wealthy and successful are the most moral. The Market punishes those who are undiscliplined, and unions and The Public are immoral in that they interfere with the pursuit of one’s own self interest (profit). One can see how “right to work” directly evokes the conservative frame of economics.

In the conservative frame, corporations (and the wealthy) have the moral right (liberty) to employ, pay, and fire whomever they see fit, with no regard for anything but their own pursuit and maximization of profit. A profitable, successful business is moral in the conservative frame. Labor unions and The Public (government) are immoral, as they inhibit the pursuit of profit. “Right to work” is about the “rights” of corporations, the “job creators,” to maximize their pursuit of profit – considered to be moral in the conservative frame.

Conservatives hide and ignore the truth that without The Public, our private prosperity and freedoms would not be possible. Consider everything we do through government (all of us) for each other, providing us all with greater opportunity as “We the People.” Granted, we have a long way to go…

As progressives, we must find effective language to evoke OUR frame of the economy instead of always evoking and reinforcing conservative ideas. Here’s how:

Start with a simple, fundamental truth about our economy that is systemic. “Workers are profit creators.”  No one is hired by a business or corporation who does not create profit for that business. Jobs are not created out of thin air. People are employed because businesses have the opportunity to increase profit from the work performed by employees. This is 100% true! Say it over and over again.

As profit creators, workers deserve (and corporations have a responsibility to pay) a fair, living wage portion of those profits they helped to create! Further, unions provide those workers protection from greedy corporations, and provide workers with a way to organize and negotiate for their fair portion of profit. Without a union, the individual worker is functionally a serf, having no power to negotiate – especially in a down employment economy. A corporation will always minimize the workers’ portion of profit without a union!

A more important truth about unions, is that the rights they protect and freedoms they provide apply to everyone. Consider the 40 hour week, overtime pay, fair wage standards, protection to uphold standards, etc. Our state and communities are far better off with unions who can fairly and democratically represent the profit creators, so they have a fair, living wage to pursue a prosperous and happy life. So that workers and communities are protected from corporate greed. Just as the Public is necessary for freedom and democracy, so are unions…so say it and express it effectively!

What do we call this pending legislation then, so as not to reinforce the conservative frame?

Never say “right to work” again! Call it what it is. It’s a “corporate greed and servitude bill.” It’s also a “wage theft bill,” in that it takes away the right of the profit creators to receive a fair wage portion of profit they helped to create!

Say these things in interviews, letters to the editor, to your friends and neighbors, to get it into public discourse –

Workers are profit creators!

This is a corporate greed and servitude bill!

This is a wage theft bill!

Consider how much more powerful this FRED graph is, in the context of the “workers are profit creators” frame of economics:

The above graph now demonstrates a morally intolerable situation, where the workers who are creating the huge spike in profits (red line), are denied a fair living wage portion of those profits as wages (blue line) because of greed. How can we tolerate legislation that would further encourage corporate servitude, greed, and wage theft!

These values-based principles and ideas are critical to get into public discourse now! It will take a concerted effort from anyone active on this (and every) issue, as they are all connected.

Why Wisconsin State Revenue Matters, and what conservatives are hiding…

This week the Wisconsin Department of Revenue released the long awaited, actual State Revenue numbers from 2013. The most reliable, non-partisan analysis came from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau at the request of State Senator Jennifer Shilling, ranking minority member of the Joint Finance Committee. The bottom line – revenues were over $280 million short (-2%) of Walker Administration projections. More telling, corporate tax revenue was down by over 9%, while personal income tax revenue was down 2.5%. Wisconsin is facing a possible budget deficit of well over $100 million in 2015.

There was immediate response from both Democrats and Republicans. The Democratic message was consistent with the current gubernatorial campaign message – the Walker plan is failing, and Wisconsin is falling behind. Republicans were taking a victory lap, proclaiming that this is proof of a growing economy.

Both parties’ messaging on this critical economic issue is lacking, but for different reasons. For Democrats and progressives, there is no communication of the deeper “WHY” these revenue numbers are important, or “WHY” people should care. For Republicans and conservatives, their message is intentionally hiding a fundamental truth. Which, if progressives communicated effectively, would make conservatives extremely vulnerable, and undermine their own message. Let’s look at the conservative message frame first, which will lead us to what progressives should say, and why that matters.

Why would conservatives be celebrating such dismal state revenue numbers? Especially a 9.2% drop in corporate revenue collections? The answer lies at the core of the conservative frame (moral worldview). The core of the conservative frame of “The Public” (i.e. government) is that it is immoral. The public is immoral in the conservative moral frame because it impedes pursuit of one’s own self interest, and most importantly, the personal pursuit of profit in the market. Therefore, to conservatives, a drop in state revenue collections means that things are working exactly as they should. Corporations and the wealthy, specifically, are able to keep more of their money – a moral imperative. The Public is not impeding their pursuit of profit – again, a moral imperative. 

While conservatives are consistently expressing this in their messaging on this issue (and all others), progressives are not countering this effectively. There is a fundamental truth which is being intentionally hidden by conservatives in order to preserve their own frame. If progressives started communicating this truth effectively, it would completely undermine the conservative message. What is this truth? 

In Wisconsin, as in America, private enterprise and prosperity depend on The Public.

We are the Public. We all come together as The Public with a moral purpose to empower and protect each other as ourselves; and expand freedom and opportunity for everyone. Without that core value, we cannot function as a state, nation, or even society. Think about it…all of the things we do for each other, ourselves, our communities through The Public make us strong and prosperous – and provide opportunity for everyone:

Public Schools

Roads

Bridges

Sewers

Health Research

Science Research

Communications Infrastructure

Power Infrastructure

Court Systems

The list goes on and on. Most importantly, the corporations and people who are benefiting the most from The Public are now, in Wisconsin, getting a free ride at OUR expense. 

The tragedy of these state revenue figures is the fact that it is The Public (all of us) being dismantled and destroyed. None of the things listed above that provide all of us, and our communities, the freedoms and opportunities necessary to prosper will exist if this trend continues. We have an obligation to communicate this to the people of Wisconsin – or else conservatives will continue dominating public discourse on this, and every other, issue.

When someone expounds the virtues of conservative policy, and how wonderful the revenue news is, remind them of this:

Without all of us, acting as The Public, our opportunities and freedoms to pursue a prosperous and happy life do not exist. 

Then bring up all the things we do together, as a community, to provide those freedoms for each other. It is all fundamentally true and necessary for any society, nation, state, or community to function. And conservatives a trying to hide that fact…

It is up to us to shout this truth over and over again – for our future’s sake.

Walker Betrayal of Trust revealed – truth needs to be framed, then repeated…again and again

Unless you were living under a rock, or completely ignoring all local and national news outlets (not to mention Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, etc.), the release of court documents by Federal Appellate Court Judge Frank Easterbook  today shed much needed light on the conduct of Scott Walker, his campaign, and conservative allied groups leading up to the launch of the John Doe. Read Exhibit C of the released documents – which provide valuable insight into the campaign coordination that went on at a national level (read the links for in depth coverage). Perhaps the most revealing email exchange is from Scott Walker to Karl Rove on May 4, 2011:

Bottom-line: R.I. helps keep in place a team that is wildly successful in
Wisconsin. We are running 9 recall elections and it will be like running 9
Congressional markets in every market in the state (and Twin
Cities.)

This case before the 7th Circuit is the real deal. Judge Frank Easterbrook is no political hack, unlike Judge Rudolph Randa. Easterbrook is a University of Chicago graduate (JD) and senior lecturer, appointed by Ronald Reagan. Of Easterbrook, Dean of the U of C law school says:

Easterbrook is an important influence on legal education through his judicial opinions. Course after law school course has changed for the better as Judge Easterbrook’s opinions have made their way into the curriculum. So long as he decides cases, and decides them in a way that cuts to the heart of an issue with such skill and pressure, no area of law can be dull.

According to Wikipedia, another of Easterbrook’s colleagues calls him “the world’s greatest living jurist.”

The facts are clear – Walker coordinated with allied conservative groups at a national level during the recall election, and was answering to national conservative powerhouse Karl Rove. As we all know, the facts are not enough and are easily ignored. So how do we frame them effectively…so that even moderate conservatives will understand the significance of these activities?

For the sake of argument, let’s say that Walker et al walked the fine line just this side of the law. Why? Because conservative dominance of the courts means that decisions after Citizens United will err on the side of “money = speech.” What is more important are the moral implications of his (and the organizations’) actions. What is really important is the fact that Walker betrayed the trust of everyone who voted for him.

In the conservative moral frame (see previous posts and “Resources” page for detail), the worst thing the strict father can do is betray the trust of the family. The family metaphor applies to the state, and what Walker has done is (metaphorically) cheated on his Wisconsin family with powerful ideologues like Karl Rove. Worse, he is answering NOT to his Wisconsin constituents, but to Karl Rove – someone much more powerful and wealthy than the typical Wisconsinite. Walker has betrayed the trust of the people. 

This frame cascades to every issue in this campaign – who has reaped the benefits of the current administration’s economic policies (and who has been harmed)…who has benefited from his education policies (and who has been harmed)…the give away of our state’s natural beauty to powerful and wealthy profiteers…the list goes on and on.

In greater detail, the public (government) and those who serve the public have a moral obligation to protect and empower those they serve, to the best of their ability. In the progressive moral frame, that means acting on our empathy to be responsible for others as ourselves, and expanding freedom and opportunity for as many people as possible without impinging on the freedom of others (responsibility for others – and again, the mere pursuit of wealth through greed is not a freedom). Even in the conservative frame, there is the idea of accountability to the tenets of being faithful to one’s family – metaphorically, the state.

The way to make these truths about Walker exposed in the John Doe resonate with both progressives and conservatives – say WHY it matters:

Walker betrayed the trust of  Wisconsinites who elected him with people more powerful and rich than they are…

Then say how.

Then say it again.

And again.

And again.

By doing so, you can cognitively change the way people think about this (and every other) issue, and it will have an impact far beyond any single election.

Marriage Freedom Fighters show the way…in messaging

Way behind on blogging to current events and progressive messaging right now,  and I have promised education and environment issue framing blogs to some folks…

But the recent ruling by Federal Judge Barbara Crabb overturning Wisconsin’s ban on marriage freedom is a perfect example of how powerful framing is – if done correctly. The rapid paradigm shift in public discourse on the issue provides a lesson and opportunity for progressives to continue moving public discourse forward on other issues just as rapidly. It has to do with education, the environment, and every other issue. So while we continue to follow this story and celebrate with people who continue to struggle against oppression and phobia, a lesson in neural power.

First, it is critical for us to understand why, for conservatives, marriage is a moral issue. Conservatives actually believe their position on gay marriage is moral, just as progressives believe they are moral on the issue. Why? It has everything to do with the metaphorical basis of the conservative ideology – the “strict authoritarian father.”

In the conservative moral frame, the strict father is the highest authority (see previous posts for more detail about the conservative frame). This means authority “over” the family, and the metaphor extends through a hierarchical structure to everything in the conservative moral frame. This is critical, as much of what progressives consider to be overtly racist, sexist, or homophobic is a natural function of the hierarchy in the conservative frame. The hierarchy is highly metaphorical, embedded, and everywhere: father over the family, men over women, man over nature, rich over poor, whites over non-white races, Christianity over all other religions, United States over other nations, and of course – straight over gay people. The hierarchy must exist in the strict authoritarian father frame, and as you instinctively know, it is everywhere. For conservatives, it is part of their moral frame.

For progressives, it is a moral issue as well. Fortunately, a little over one decade ago, the leaders of the pro-marriage freedom progressives in California recognized the morality of the issue – and framed it as such. While he was in Madison recently, George Lakoff conveyed the story.

Prior to a decade ago, as many in the LGBT community will recall, the issue of gay marriage was a “gay rights” issue. Professor Lakoff, cognitive scientist at UC-Berkeley met with the organizers in California. The organizers had conducted extensive research on how to message the gay marriage issue, and Lakoff encouraged them to do what they instinctively thought was effective framing of the issue. Lakoff encouraged them to stop talking about “gay rights” and “gay marriage” (the issue) and focus on why the issue is moral (values). Fortunately, they followed their hearts – literally.

The issue of “gay marriage” in the progressive frame is about love and freedom. That is how public discourse was changed so quickly. People, even those who consider themselves conservative in one way or the other (unless they are sociopaths), are capable of empathy for others. Communicating over and over again about “love” and “freedom,” in the context of gay marriage, reinforced and activated the progressive moral frame – and inhibited the conservative frame – in millions of people across the country. This is, quite simply, how public discourse changed. It is also how progressives can continue actively changing public discourse in Wisconsin.

The progressive value of freedom applies to every issue, and needs to be talked about again and again. Quite simply, we want our communities and our state to expand freedom, not impinge upon freedom. We want communities where we care for (love) all of our neighbors. Through the Public (government), we must all act together to empower and protect everyone’s freedom in Wisconsin to…(insert issue i.e. get a great public education, marry the person they love, enjoy and protect our pristine land and water, etc.). And “expanding freedom” cannot mean impeding other’s freedoms for personal greed (sorry Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce).

By following the example set so beautifully by “Marriage Freedom Fighters,” we can work together to change public discourse and move Wisconsin Forward again!

 

 

Your donation will help keep this critical work going in Wisconsin…

 

Economics and Inequality – Changing Public Discourse

It has taken a groundbreaking book by French Economist Thomas Piketty (“Capital in the 21st Century”) to bring media and pundit attention to a problem which all legitimate economists have been concerned about for years. Pikkety very elegantly points out that income inequality is not only systemic, but it has systemic effects on virtually every aspect of life. This is something conservatives are keenly aware of; and a large reason, I believe, that in the current campaign term conservatives have jettisoned social issues for broader expansion of Friedman School market economic policy.

The problem for progressives in Wisconsin is that while all the macroeconomic data and facts about income inequality point to progressive solutions for our economic woes; the conservative frame of economics dominates policy, media, and language used by even the most progressive economists and policymakers. This is a critical problem. As we know from cognitive science research, trying to counter the conservative frame of economics by merely stating counterfactuals in their frame will only reinforce their frame. This is known as “negation.” Only by expressing economics in the progressive frame and providing context for the facts can this shift be achieved. So how do progressives do this in Wisconsin? First – understand the conservative frame of economics. Second, understand how to frame economics as a progressive. Finally, always frame economic facts in the progressive frame…again and again.

The conservative frame of economics is structured and expressed through the strict father metaphor of family (think James Dobson). The basic moral system goes like this: The strict father is the highest authority in the family, and as such is the highest MORAL authority. To be successful, one must be disciplined, and therefore moral. If one is not disciplined, you must be punished (usually inflicting physical pain) in order to become disciplined, and until you are disciplined, you deserve your poverty. Once you are disciplined, you will be moral, and therefore successful. While this is a complex moral system metaphor, it is easy to see it imprinted across conservative policy.

In addition, the conservative moral view of democracy is such that pursuit of one’s self interest is paramount. As such, the Public (government) and any other impediment to the pursuit of self-interest is immoral. So what does this say about economics and inequality from the conservative frame? Everything…

In order to be successful, you must be disciplined and therefore moral. If you are poor, it is because you are undisciplined and deserve your (physically painful) punishment in the form of poverty. When you become disciplined, you will be able to “pull yourself up” and be successful. It is immoral for you to receive help which you do not earn (via the Public), as that will prevent you from becoming disciplined.

Moreover, in the conservative frame, the market itself is moral, and functions as the strict father – punishing those who are undisciplined, and rewarding those who are disciplined. To conservatives, the market is the decider, making moral decisions on who prospers, and who gets punished. For this reason, the Public has no moral basis for impeding the market. The market economy is, in essence, a moral actor in the conservative frame.

The language evoking the conservative frame in economics is everywhere. It has culturally evolved over 40 years to be accepted by even progressive economists such as Paul Krugman. We know that this will continue to reinforce the entire moral frame of conservative economics – remember – all politics are moral. Here is an example from the current Wisconsin Gubernatorial race, demonstrating that even the Democratic Party candidate Mary Burke reinforces the conservative frame of the economy.

Mary Burke led the European Division at Trek…creating good jobs right here in Wisconsin. She took the same private sector approach as Secretary of the Department of Commerce... She’s the only candidate in the race to have created jobs in the private sector, and the only one to have started her own business. (Mary Burke Campaign website)

“I think we can have that sort of transformational difference — from government providing all the answers to where it empowered a partnership with employers, particularly small businesses, and created an environment for more jobs.” (Scott Walker Campaign website)

Remember, all politics are moral. We learn morality through deeply embodied metaphors which exist physically in our brains through decades of repetition and experience. Note that both candidates have “job creation” as the core of their economic platform. The Democratic candidate does not offer a contrasting view of the economy and employment. The phrase job creation evokes and activates the conservative moral frame of economics, and therefore the entire conservative moral frame as described above. How?

Using the term “job creation” accepts and reinforces the concept of the market, corporations, and wealthy individuals as moral (since they are successful, authoritarian “fathers” who rule by punishment). As such, it is only they who have the moral right to decide who is sufficiently disciplined and deserves a job. Under this moral system, if you do not have a job, it is your own fault for being undisciplined, and therefore you are immoral and deserving of your unemployment. The market and corporations are moral, it cannot be their fault. Again, this imprints onto every conservative issue, as one can easily observe. By evoking the “job creation” part of the frame, it activates the ENTIRE conservative frame, unconsciously reinforcing the entire conservative moral structure. This is a critical problem well beyond any political campaign. What to do…how do progressive reframe economics?

We have to start with a fundamental economic truth which comes out of the progressive frame, and is denied by conservatives – “Private enterprise and prosperity are impossible without the Public (all of us).” There are no successful businesses or individuals without the investment we all make in each other and our communities. The progressive view of democracy says just that – democracy is caring citizens acting through the Public (government – all of us) to expand freedom for everyone. The core of this frame is simple - EMPATHY. We must start talking economics in the frame of empathy and progressive freedom.

Another key is to understand and express the fact that corporations employ people because they will generate more profit. Therefore, WORKERS ARE PROFIT CREATORS. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be hired. There are no magic jobs creators who do so out of goodwill – profit is the motivator. This says a tremendous amount when we frame economic inequality this way:

It is workers who create profit for the wealthy and corporations. As such, those workers deserve a fair portion, as a family supporting living wage, of those profits for their work. This in turn will increase economic freedom and opportunity for more people, as it will increase the wages (share of profits) people will have to buy more goods and services. The cycle will be perpetual, bringing about greater income equality and access to capital for more and more people.

Further, the prosperity a private individual or corporation experiences is not possible without the public. The more wealth and capital one has, the more public resources and services they use – courts, infrastructure, government services, finance system, etc. It is their moral and patriotic duty to pay their fair share of taxes, as an investment in the Public which supports their prosperity. Hiding revenue and lobbying against progressive taxation is a betrayal of Public trust, immoral, and unpatriotic. It is greed, plain and simple, and this needs to be said!

When economics is considered in this frame, it takes on a very different meaning. It evokes a frame where there is economic freedom and opportunity for everyone, not just the wealthy and privileged. Where corporations gladly pay a progressive and fair share of taxes to support the investment we all make in them through public education, infrastructure, court systems, financial system, and public servants – instead of lobbying to destroy the Public.

It also evokes a moral frame where all workers are valued as profit creators, and therefore receive a fair share of those profits, to live free from fear of want now and in retirement. It evokes a sense of freedom, opportunity and fairness for everyone – not only the well connected and privileged.

These things need to be said ALL THE TIME when framing economics:

1. Private prosperity and enterprise are not possible without the Public (all of us)

2. Democracy is caring citizens acting through the Public to expand freedom for everyone.

3. Workers are profit creators, who deserve a fair, living wage share of those profits.

4. Empathy – we have a responsibility for others as ourselves.

Finally – reject the idea of the “job creator” and NEVER acknowledge it again. It is a fiction, which denies fundamental truths about a systemic economy where we are all connected, and are reliant on each other.

I am expecting a great deal of discussion and questions on this topic, as this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are deep, primary metaphors; moral hierarchies in the conservative frame; and deeply embodied frame structures at work here. To achieve a paradigm shift, we have to start being aware, and communicating effectively in our progressive frame.

Time for a “New Enlightenment” in Wisconsin

The time has come for the return of Badger Democracy, and for the emergence of a “New Enlightenment” in Wisconsin politics and policy. This new blog will focus on how, as progressives, we can focus our neural and cognitive power collectively to bring about a paradigm shift in Wisconsin politics – and it starts with the real grassroots, not a political party.

That is what our “Wisconsin Freedom Campaign” is about, and the momentum is building. Based on the work of scientists like George Lakoff, Antonio Damasio, and Giacomo Rizzolatti, we are using recent science to change messaging and communications to harness the neural power we all have – to effectively express our progressive values about issues. With all of us working together, we can create a paradigm shift, and bring about a New Enlightenment in Wisconsin.

This blog will address current issues, election, and campaign messaging. If you need or want more detailed information about the science, see the “Resources” page of this blog. I will break current messaging down for you, how it influences public discourse, and give you ideas of how to change public discourse to become more progressive. I also welcome your feedback, questions, and constructive comments on the “Contact” page. Let’s go…


Messaging in the Race for Governor

On April 15, in advance of the official Walker re-election announcement,  the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW) issued a memo to communications leaders statewide. The title of the email was “#ScottWalkerFailed: Rapid Response Talking Points,” and it outlined the messaging strategy for defeating him. From the perspective of cognition and effective messaging, it is a disaster. Here’s why, and what we as progressives should be doing and talking about (again, if you need a review of the science basics, see the powerpoint on the “Resources” page):

1. Using the standard campaign model “talking points” will not work. We must use positive, progressive, and proactive messaging – even when undermining conservatives…here’s why:

  • When you say “Scott Walker” over and over again, you increase name recognition. Also, since Scott Walker embodies the conservative frame, you unconsciously activate and reinforce that entire frame.
  • To “fail” is not a bad thing. You can try to do something morally right and beneficial to everyone and fail miserably. A great leader will get up and try again – and the people will rally behind and support the underdog who has failed.
  • Combining “Scott Walker” and “fail” is a messaging disaster. It unconsciously reinforces Scott Walker as the authoritarian figure acting morally to do something difficult; and that he is deserving of public support to try again. This entire “Scott Walker fail” campaign functions as an ad for Scott Walker, and puts him in a moral light.

Placing a list of facts as to why Scott Walker has failed, after reinforcing his moral frame, only reinforces the conservative, pro-Walker frame.

2. Instead of using the same, negative talking points, here is what to do – create a positive message expressing progressive values, and use it on EVERY issue in EVERY campaign! Start with understanding these core truths:

  • We the People ARE the Public, with a moral responsibility to protect and empower our fellow citizens.
  • Private enterprise and prosperity are not possible without the Public.
  • Democracy is only possible when caring citizens act on their empathy through the Public to expand freedom for everyone.
  • Without the Public, there is no democracy, and no freedom.

3. Build positive, progressive messages on every issue that evoke the progressive frame BEFORE you cite facts. This will give facts the context necessary to be accepted, connect issues through values, and will inhibit activation of the conservative frame. Here are 5 important issues:

  • Fiscal Policy
  • Private enterprise and prosperity are not possible without the Public (our investment in each other).
  • There can be no prosperity when the Public (all of us) is being systemically destroyed!
  • Our (progressive) economic policy is all about expanding freedom for everyone!
  • Conservative economic policy impedes people’s freedoms.
  • (Follow with facts to back it up!) 
  • Education
  • Public Schools provide opportunity and freedom for every child to learn necessary skills and knowledge.
  • Without public education, there is no democracy, and no freedom.
  • We have a responsibility to invest in our future through public education.
  • Public Schools are the heart of the community.
  • Private prosperity not possible without the Public (Education)
  • (Follow with facts to back it up!) 
  • Labor Unions
  • Do NOT say “collective bargaining” – this evokes the conservative frame. Say “negotiate for fair portion of profits”
  • Unions stand for the freedom of people to organize in a democracy.
  • Unions empower people to be free from want and fear through living wages, adequate benefits, and humane labor practices.
  • Corporations will not pay your worth without a union – your labor has higher value with a union than as individual.
  • Workers are “profit creators.”
  • Wages must be a fair portion of profit created.
  • Public workers are public servants.
  • Private enterprise and prosperity are not possible without the Public (servants/employees/workers).
  • (Follow with facts to back it up!)
  • Voting Rights/Voter Suppression
  • Voting is necessary to democracy and freedom!
  • Any legislation to restrict voter access is anti-freedom!
  • Our state/nation has a long history of voting rights’ expansion – current legislation impedes on the basic freedom to vote.
  • Support voting freedom by fully funding early voting statewide.
  • (Follow with facts to back it up!)
  • Environment
  • Do NOT say “resources” – this is in conservative language (resources are to be used) – talk about “the land,” “our water,” “our air,” etc.
  • Private prosperity for all depends on the Public (land, water, air, etc.).
  • To be free, we must have clean water to drink, air to breathe, and land to enjoy and live on.
  • Recent mining laws are anti-freedom – corporations are stealing our land, water, and pollute our air to line their pockets.
  • Rich and powerful corporations are polluters and privateers of OUR land, water, and air. (“Privateers” are corporate profiteers who get rich with public assets –for privatizing a formerly public service like education or public land and water)
  • (Follow with facts to back it up!) 

4. Contrast the positive message by using this positive, progressive frame of democracy to undermine Walker (do NOT say “Scott Walker” or “Governor Walker” any more) and the conservatives:

  • Walker has betrayed Wisconsin – for people richer and more powerful than you. (or “Walker doesn’t care about people like you”)
  • Walker has taken out a balloon mortgage on our kids’ futures, just to give more money to the rich.
  • Walker is giving our future investment in education to privateers who are getting rich at our kids’ expense. (“Privateers” are corporate profiteers who get rich with public assets –for privatizing a formerly public service like education or public land and water)
  • Walker is giving our money to big corporations that aren’t accountable to us, for a few to get rich.
  • Walker is giving corporate privateers our land to get rich off of and it won’t be there for our kids to treasure.
  • (Follow with facts to back it up!)

                 5. Use progressive language and values to positively frame and express an issue, undermine your opponent, and to put your facts into context. Always answer or respond to a question or attack in the progressive frame. Don’t respond in the conservative frame. Learn to “pivot” – that is, answer the question YOU want to answer. 

For example: 

                You are asked: “Are you for or against voucher school expansion?”

First, think about the fundamental progressive moral frame (what progressive freedom and democracy are from #2 above), and don’t answer in the conservative frame. If you talk about “voucher expansion,” you have reinforced the conservative frame!

Second, reframe – Start with something like, “Public schools are the heart of our communities, and we have a responsibility to invest in the future of our communities. Without great public schools, we have no future prosperity, and no democracy.”

Third, follow up with a short fact“Public subsidies for unaccountable private schools are systemically destroying our great Wisconsin community schools.” (There is a great deal of research to support this statement)

Finally, you can undermine Walker“In fact, Walker is giving our future investment in education to privateers, unaccountable to us, who are getting very wealthy from it. This is a betrayal of trust. Our responsibility is to give every child the freedom and opportunity to learn necessary skills and knowledge. This is only possible through public education. ”

It takes about 20 – 30 seconds to pivot the frame, with practice. This is about expressing your core values effectively, and activating the progressive, empathetic values that exist in almost everyone – even people that are conservative!

Activating that frame, or neural circuitry, will inhibit activation of the conservative frame, and strengthen the progressive in people. Doing this repetitively will literally change brains – and public discourse.

Stay tuned for more…and your questions, comments, and feedback are welcome (as are contributions to support this crucial work)!