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Don't think of an Elephant

George Lakoff

Title: Advocating Rational Reforms based on information

What is Lakoff saying about framing?

Background | Information | Essay | Argument | Conclusion | Lesson


Democrats lost the 1980, 1984, 1988, 2000, 2004 elections (Electoral college count).

Ronald Reagan and George Bush Senior were Republicans who opposed traditional conservation policies and thwarted reforms, unlike Richard Nixon.

Nixon, like Kennedy and Johnson supported environmental protection.

The need for bipartisan support for resource conservation policy is a long tradition that was overturned by Reagan, Bush and Bush.

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From Lakoff on "framing" the argument.

"tax relief" trumps conservation; family values trumps all competing concepts.

Metaphors are also a means to frame an argument, or a position on a matter of importance.

"This is a frame, it is made up of ideas like affliction and hero.The language that evokes the frame... "

p. 4

"The Conservatives had set a trap. The words draw you into their worldview."

That is what framing is all about. Framing is about getting language that fits your worldview. It is not just language. The ideas are primary--and the language carries those ideas, evokes those ideas."

The Supreme Court is hostile to an environmentalist "agenda."

Bush Administration "we do not ned a permission slip to defend America."

"Those are the kinds of questions you need to ask if you are to understand contemporary political discourse."

Governmentally speaking, policies emerge from this three sided process diagrammed as the iron triangle.

Iron Triangle, or cozy triangular relations of business and government agencies because of Congressional access lobbyists have in the legislative process.

Governmentally speaking, any person speaking on behalf of voters.

What is reform?

Sources of information on government.

Interest groups or NGO's or nongovernmental organizations:

  • Sierra Club,
  • Wilderness Society,
  • Environmental Defense,
  • National Wildlife Federation,
  • National Audubon,
  • Friends of the Earth, FOE,
  • Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC,
  • World Wildlife Fund,
  • League of Conservation Voters,
  • League of Women Voters,
  • Defenders of Wildlife,
  • Union of Concerned Scientists, UCS,
  • National Urban League

What Is A Self-Advocate?

A Self-Advocate is someone who is able to speak up on her or his own behalf in areas that could affect them, their health, or their conditions. Teens can use self-advocacy skills with employers, teachers, doctors, nurses, friends, partners, that is, with anyone with whom they have a relationship.
Being an effective Self-Advocates the first step to successful advocacy.

What Is An Advocate?

Quite literally one who speaks to a matter [by implication] for those who cannot (ad to, or toward, voca, voc, speak, vocalize, LATIN.) So, a person who uses words to speak in favor of their particular interest and against others who would harm those interests.

Teen advocacy, for example.


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To reform means to bring about a desired result, recognizably different from existing conditions.

Problem, an identifiable difference between an existing and a desired state of affairs.

These words are arranged in contrast to one another.

liberal conservative
radical reactionary
The Constitution
implied power explicit power
strict constructionist loose constructionist
judicial review
stare decesis judicial activism
sources of Legislative influence
constituency lobbyists
"K street"
Senate House of Representatives

six year terms


two year terms


Committees Committees
Vice President presides Speaker of the House
Other terms:

iron triangle

public interest



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Successful Advocates know:

  • Themselves, who you are & your limitations
  • Their rights
  • They are able to find the information they need through
    • research, reflection, discussion, and
    • investigative curiosity and determination.
  • Their choices, and the risks of a particular choice or decision
  • How to speak up
  • How to get support
  • agencies of government

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1963, Clean Air Act

1964, Wilderness Act

1965, President's Science Advisory Committee's Pollution Report

1966, Endangered Species Act

1969, National Environmental Policy Act

1970 Clean Air Act

1972, Clean Water Act

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"The land, water, air and living things of the United States are a heritage of the whole nation. They need to be protected for the benefit of all Americans, both now and in the future. The continued strength and welfare of our nation depend on the quantity and quality of our resources and on the quality of the environment in which our people live."

The Environmental Pollution Panel of the Presidents Science Advisory Committee. 1965

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Pressures on the land

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The best defense against tyranny is an educated public, Thomas Jefferson once argued. A more literate and better-educated national citizenry exists than at any time in our past, yet a palpable loss of liberty is apparent. Once extensive and sufficient wildlife refuges, national forests and parks of the public domain were adequate to meet our needs. But that protection is eroding now. These public lands’ legal protection has been compromised by water contamination and air pollution.

In recent years Congress (since 1994) has paid more attention to industry lobbyists in resisting efforts to bring the existing corpus of environmental protection legislation up to date with current scientific findings. Since the 1970s the atmosphere's loss of ozone, sharper rise in carbon dioxide content, and saturation with POPS or persistent organic pollutants threatens 100 years of accumulated wisdom about how to conserve our resources while protecting land, air, and water as the population grows.


The late President Kennedy, who called a White House Conference on Conservation, in 1962, warned that the protection of the common estate from those who would despoil it is a never-ending struggle. In those terms modern democracy really requires more than an educated public, it demands a vigilant vanguard or well-informed and motivated people to inform Congress and the public about recent and ongoing scientific discoveries that can be used protect the public domain and the common property resources that we all depend upon.

High energy society

The Pew Ocean’s Commission reported last year the loss of marine fisheries to exhaustion and coastal pollution -- largely from and due to fossil fuels for energy. A series of distress signals now show that the assimilative capacity of once inexhaustible resources is exceeded and approaching exhaustion. The oceans, called a global commons, are at risk. World climate, altered by air pollution, has changed. Can further unraveling of the ecological services we depend upon be far behind? The matter is not so much will the ecological life support system fail, but how and when the losses will adversely affect human populations?

(336 words)

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The problems we face today surpass the structural safeguards created in the 19th century to conserve natural resources for a growing population.

Bonn Protest

"Don't Sink the World: Stop Climate Change" reads a sign of protesters in Bonn, Germany.

The coalition of Republicans and Democrats that emerged in 1900 and grew in power during the 1930s and 50s achieved major changes in national conservation policy making it the basis of environmental protection in the late 1960s and 1970s.

The bipartisan coalition began to unravel in the 1980s and by the 1990s was on the defensive. The ideals of conservation today in protecting land, air and water resources are no longer shared by large segments of the population or Congress.

Unless a new image and a new vision emerge, the nation's natural heritage will be sacrificed by a further loss of wildlife, due to fragmentation of essential wild areas, persistent air and water pollution, and loss of sufficient outdoor recreational lands.

Federal Relief Agencies

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Carol Browner has suggested vision and reform based on science were long overdue five years ago. The pressing demands have only grown and the window of opportunity in addressing these matters is closing more rapidly the longer we wait. Like compound interest on debt, the longer we wait to reduce pollution, the harder it will be and the costlier it will become to reduce ever growing perils to air and water sources. Common sense solutions exist now and can be employed with no regrets.

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Delay is not an option due to the enormity of the problem caused by rising per capita pollution and the difficulty, due to resistance, in reducing nitrogen, carbon dioxide and mercury wastes from pervasive and persistent fossil fuel combustion.

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