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Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate--The Essential Guide for Progressives

George Lakoff; Howard Dean; Don Hazen

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Don't Think of an Elephant! is the definitive handbook for understanding what happened in the 2004 election and communicating effectively about key issues facing America today. Author George Lakoff has become a key advisor to the Democratic party, helping them develop their message and frame the political debate.

In this book Lakoff explains how conservatives think, and how to counter their arguments. He outlines in detail the traditional American values that progressives hold, but are often unable to articulate. Lakoff also breaks down the ways in which conservatives have framed the issues, and provides examples of how progressives can reframe the debate.

Lakoff's years of research and work with environmental and political leaders have been distilled into this essential guide, which shows progressives how to think in terms of values instead of programs, and why people vote their values and identities, often against their best interests.

Don't Think of An Elephant! is the antidote to the last forty years of conservative strategizing and the right wing's stranglehold on political dialogue in the United States.

Read it, take action—and help take America back.

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Review:

In the first of his three debates with George W. Bush, 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry argued against the war in Iraq not by directly condemning it but by citing the various ways in which airport and commercial shipping security had been jeopardized due to the war's sizable price tag. In so doing, he re-framed the war issue to his advantage while avoiding discussing it in the global terrorism terms favored by President Bush. One possible reason for this tactic could have been that Kerry familiarized himself with the influential linguist George Lakoff, who argues in Don't Think of an Elephant that much of the success the Republican Party can be attributed to a persistent ability to control the language of key issues and thus position themselves in favorable terms to voters. While Democrats may have valid arguments, Lakoff points out they are destined to lose when they and the news media accept such nomenclature as "pro-life," "tax relief," and "family values," since to argue against such inherently positive terminology necessarily casts the arguer in a negative light. Lakoff offers recommendations for how the progressive movement can regain semantic equity by repositioning their arguments, such as countering the conservative call for "Strong Defense" with a call for "A Stronger America" (curiously, one of the key slogans of the Kerry camp). Since the book was published during the height of the presidential campaign, Lakoff was unable to provide an analytical perspective on that race. He does, however, apply the notion of rhetorical framing devices to the 2003 California recall election in an insightful analysis of the Schwarzenegger victory. Don't Think of an Elephant is a bit rambling, overexplaining some concepts while leaving others underexplored, but it provides a compelling linguistic analysis of political campaigning. --John Moe

From the Publisher:

"Ever wonder how the radical right has been able to convince average Americans to repeatedly vote against their own interests? It's the framing, stupid! Don't Think of an Elephant! is a pithy and powerful primer on the language of American politics, and a vital reminder that he who creates the political framework controls the picture that's put inside. It's also a detailed roadmap out of the mess we are in. Lakoff shows how progressives can reclaim the political narrative—and, in the process, change our country and our world for the better."

—Arianna Huffington, syndicated columnist and author of Fanatics & Fools: the Game Plan For Winning Back America

"It's not enough that we have reason on our side. We also have to use words and images powerful enough to persuade others. Lakoff offers crucial lessons in how to counter right-wing demagoguery. Essential reading in this neo-Orwellian age of Bush-speak."

—Robert Reich, Maurice Hexter Professor of Social and Economic Policy, Brandeis University, and author of Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America

"Don't let anyone tell you that the words don't make a difference; they can evoke the best and the worst in us. Read this book and be part of transforming our political dialogue to support our highest ideals and speak to the hearts of Americans."

—Wes Boyd and Joan Blades, MoveOn.org

"Don’t Think of an Elephant! is a work of genius. As George Lakoff explains how the right has framed the notion of the political center, he presents both the most original and the most practical analysis of United States politics in many years."

—George Akerlof, University of California, Berkeley, and Nobel Prize winner in Economics

"Progressives have a lot to learn about persuading swing voters to our cause, and there's no better teacher than George Lakoff. This readable text couldn't be more timely; it should be read widely and put to work before November!"

—Daniel Ellsberg

"Are you tired of explaining to reporters why they shouldn't call Bush's clear-cut extravaganza ‘healthy forests’? Does it bother you that the power plants upwind from your community will keep on poisoning you with mercury in the name of ‘clear skies’? Do you wonder what ‘family value’ is advanced by shifting the cost of cleaning up toxic waste from polluters to victims?

"If you want to take back our country, you have to take back your community. If you want to take back your community, you need to take back the debate. This book, and the video that go with it, are your essential tools. What the Bush Administration has done for obfuscation, George Lakoff's work does for clarification."

—Carl Pope, Sierra Club

"George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant! is a wonderful example of what happens when you combine a linguist’s ear for the subtleties of language with an understanding of the complexities of modern politics and a commitment to progressive ideals. Whether you think of yourself as a liberal, a progressive, or simply someone with an interest in how political language works, this is a must-read."

—Geoffrey Nunberg, Stanford University

"I learned a lot from Lakoff. You will too."

—George Soros

"This is a pocket manifesto for those who still wonder how a small group of rich, powerful oligarchs tied together the shoelaces of the progressive movement. Read it once, and know why we are losing. Read it twice, and we can restore sanity to the world."

-Paul Hawken

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