Although the President should be applauded for his efforts in discussing a means of putting Americans back to work, he unknowingly reinforced a set of common “frames” used repeatedly by the radical right-wing and other advocates of the top .1% to convince us of a framed version of reality that supports the status quo of income inequality. It’s quite possible that President Obama’s advisors were not aware of the relevance of framing in shaping our understanding of the world around us when offering assistance in crafting his speech. More specifically, how the use of such frames trigger a specific mind-set in the observer, such that only the framing elements make sense, and all other relevant facts to the contrary are miraculously, and quite conveniently ignored.
The consequence of activating the radical right-wing frames is that more and more people are being “informed” of a world view that is causing the very destruction of our economy, our well-being, and the overall health of our nation. Let’s take a look at how Obama has been framed!
President Obama acknowledged the following frames. There is wasteful spending in Government. Regulations are putting an unnecessary burden on businesses. The corporate tax rate is the highest in the world. Businesses need certainty in order to hire again. We need to help the job creators. We need to get our fiscal house in order. We need to cut taxes, and Free-trade agreements will help us create jobs and save our economy.
Let’s take a look at a few of the frames he activated, and discuss how they are contributing to the status quo of income inequality, and what this means for all of us.
1. First and foremost is the issue of cutting taxes. The common frame with respect to taxes is that we need to provide businesses (big businesses) and people (really rich people) “tax relief”. As George Lakoff pointed out, when these words are used in conjunction, tax relief assumes there is an affliction that requires some sort of relief. Take hurricane or disaster relief for instance. Obviously, an area hit by a hurricane would require some sort of disaster relief, as in aid to the victims, relief from suffering, etc. So, the words “tax relief” creates the frame of taxes are bad, and anyone who provides relief from taxes is the savior and deserves praise. Likewise, anyone who attempts to raise taxes, which does not fit the frame, is viewed as inflicting pain, or responsible for causing the affliction.
In reality, taxes are the responsibility of everyone in this country to ensure the safety, protection and empowerment of us all. High tax rates on the top .01% are what helped build our nation through times of war and uncertainty, and helped sustain what are known as the commons that we all have come to love and depend on in daily life, such as roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, fire and police protection, and of course, the internet. The commons are what make us unique. The knowledge that we can send our kids to school to receive a descent education, that we can receive care when we get sick, and most importantly the thought of knowing that we all pitch in to ensure everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is comforting to us. As the President rightly pointed out in his speech, “No single American built this country on their own”.
2. Regulations basically fit the same profile as mentioned above with taxes. According to this frame, regulations are bad, and anyone who implements them is preventing businesses from creating jobs. This ties into another classic frame of “Let’s get Government out of the way” so we can help the private sector solve our problems.
In reality, regulations offer all of “us” protections from the exploitative practices “they” engage in through the corporations they own; including ignoring safety standards (BP oil disaster), polluting our air, water, and land via toxic chemicals released into the atmosphere (Co2 emissions, not to mention the more devastating Nitrous Oxide and methane greenhouse gases) fracking for dirty energy, and other means of ignoring regulations that were put in place to prevent “them” from poisoning our communities.
3. “Wasteful spending in Government” and “Getting our fiscal house in order” frames inform us that Government is inefficient and spends money frivolously, and that we have a “Spending problem in Washington” (a related frame soon to be discussed in a separate post)
Together, these frames assume that the Government is literally incapable of doing anything right. This frame has become so prevalent that the common tendency when discussing anything related to the Government is regarding how slow or inefficient it is, how easy the jobs are, or how brainless the people are who work in any Government capacity. This is a result of a concerted long-term strategic effort to “frame” Government as inefficient and wasteful in order to convince us that the private sector is the answer. The advocates of the top .1% even go as far as hiring people who are diametrically opposed to the Government agencies they are tasked with running. Thomas Frank wrote about this in his book, The wrecking crew.
In reality, the waste in Government is in programs that are or have become partially privatized. Our healthcare system is a prime example. We are the ONLY industrialized nation on earth that has a for profit, privatized healthcare system that benefits the top .1% at our expense, literally!! All other industrialized nations have realized that healthcare is a right not a privilege for those who can afford it. In fact, it is illegal in these other countries to profit from someone else’s pain and suffering. After all, the only way to profit is if coverage and care is denied. One more useful fun fact is that 33% or “waste” in our healthcare system goes straight to the top .1% in the form of executive compensation, big fancy offices, private jets, and bonuses, of course.
The bottom line: In the framed version of reality, the Government is the problem and is preventing businesses and the private sector from helping all of us achieve the American dream. If only we can get Government out of the way and reduce the burden on businesses by eliminating agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and other obstructive Governmental over-reaching regulations, and implement Free-trade policies to create jobs and to enhance economic growth. Government should lower the personal and corporate tax rate on the job-creators, and since Government is inefficient and wasteful, privatizing everything is the way to get our economy moving in the right direction, and to ensure prosperity for all.
So, you see, all of these frames tie together and paint a picture or a specific mind-set (framed version of reality) that supports the radical right-wing ideology and further leads to the implementation of policies that favor the rich at our expense. The goal of this framing effort is to convince us to assist them in eliminating any and all social protections and regulations that currently prevent “them” from exploiting “us”, to permanently lower taxes on the super-rich, to maintain lasting and deep cuts to our social safety net, to continue outsourcing our jobs to those who are most easily exploitable, to reduce and eventually phase out pension plans completely, and to implement many other rigid policies and programs that support the status quo of income inequality.
Bottom line: By acknowledging and repeating the language of the common frames used against us, we are essentially advocating for this world-view ourselves. A world-view that ensures we all feel pain, so they can enjoy social and economic gain.