The Corner

Lakoff’s Triumph

I was reading today’s editorial. It begins:

The Democrats have gone all the way. They have nominated arguably the most left-wing major party presidential nominee ever, certainly the most left-wing since George McGovern.

Obama’s victory is a repudiation not just of the Clintons personally, but of Clintonism. Bill Clinton won the presidency based on the Democratic Leadership Council model of a new kind of Democratic politics that pivoted toward the center. Obama not only has had no Sister Souljah moment, he initially embraced his Sister Souljah (in the form of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, introduced to the American public in videotaped rants). He has made no creative policy departure on par with Bill Clinton’s advocacy of welfare reform in 1992 — in fact, has made no creative policy departure at all. He is the old wine of McGovernite liberalism poured into the alluring wineskin of “hope” and “unity.”

And it hit me. Obama’s nomination is the purest vindication of George Lakoff. Recall that George Lakoff is the intellectual huckster who so wowed the Democratic party and the lefty blogosphere for a few years ago. A linguistics professor, Lakoff calls himself a “metaphor analyst.” His central intellectual schtick was to argue, over and over again, that liberals are right about everything but Democrats are saddled with the wrong labels and terms to describe their views. So, Democrats must come up with news labels to describe the same old agenda. Trial lawyers? Call them “public protection attorneys.” Don’t talk about “environmental protection” talk about “poison-free communities.” Don’t call it “socialism” call it “sharing.” Okay, I made the last part up, but you get it. And for this brilliant insight, known to political hacks since the Roman Empire, Howard Dean dubbed him “one of the most influential political thinkers of the progressive movement.”

Well, who’s laughing now? There is almost nothing whatsoever that is new about Barack Obama. He reflects no break with liberal orthodoxy, save perhaps at the flimsiest edges (and who thinks a President Obama won’t get rolled by a Democratic congress on things like teachers unions anyway). He is a Ted Kennedy liberal, a McGovernite, and the least triangulated politician we’ve seen in years. But he talks pretty. He sounds new. He certainly looks new. He’s the triumph of Lakoffian repackaging. And, so far, it looks like it will keep working. Congrats to Dr. Lakoff.


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