Frame Around Arnold
wisdom on the recall misses the pointAmericans are
voting their identities and their fears, not their self-interest
Newspaper and TV reporters require a story. Each story requires
a frame. How was the election of Arnold Schwartzenegger
framed? Here is a selection:
Revolt: Gray Davis was such a bad governor that the voters
justifiably ousted him and voted in the representative of
the other party.
Great Noncommunicator: Gray Davis governed as well as possible
under the circumstances, but was so bad at communicating
with the electorate that he could not communicate his real
accomplishments, nor could he communicate the role of the
Republicans in the states problems. The public thought
Davis was worse than he was and wanted a communicator, so
they voted him out and chose an actor.
Kooky Californians: People in California are so weird that
they voted a politically inexperienced bodybuilder-actor
into office to replace a governor they voted for just last
People Beat the Politicians: When the people win, politics
as usual must lose (Schwarzeneggers acceptance speech).
a Celebrity: People dont understand politics and just
voted for a celebrity.
by his Bootstraps: Coming here as an immigrant, Arnie worked
and worked to become a champion bodybuilder, then a millionaire
actor, and finally achieved his dreambecoming governor.
a general finding about frames that if a strongly held frame
doesnt fit the facts, the facts will be ignored and
the frame will be kept. The frames listed above dont
do very well at fitting the factsthough each has a
grain of truth. Lets look at what each frame implies
and the facts that each hides.
Voter Revolt frame legitimizes the recall. It assumes
that Davis was incompetent or corrupt, that the voters correctly
perceived this, that it outraged them, that they spontaneously,
righteously, and overwhelmingly rose up and ousted him,
replacing him with someone they knew to be more competent.
Democracy was served and all is well. We should be happy
about the result and things will be better.
frame hides the national Republican effort over several
years to make Davis look bad by hurting the California economy.
It hides the fact that energy deregulation was brought in
by Republican governor Pete Wilson. It ignores the fact
that there was no real energy crisis. It resulted
from thievery by Enron and other heavy Bush contributors,
thievery that was protected by the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission run by Bush appointees. The Bush administration
looked the other way while California was being bilked and
went to great lengths not to help California financially
in any of the many ways the federal government can help.
Arnold had had a meeting with Ken Lay and other energy executives
in spring 2001 when Lay was promoting deregulation, but
denies any complicity in the theft. Arnold is now promoting
energy deregulation again.
ignores the fact that Californias Republican legislature
also went out of its way to make Davis look bad, refusing
to support reasonable measures for dealing with the budget
problems. It ignores the fact that the recall petition was
paid for by a wealthy conservative legislator and that signature
gatherers were paid handsomely and that some signatures
were from out of state, which is illegal. And it ignores
the enormous amount of money and organization put into the
Schwartzenegger campaign by Republicans. This was no simple
popular revolution. Most of all, the Voter Revolt
frame does not explain why Schwartzenegger should have been
the candidate chosen.
Great Noncommunicator frame implies that the one
and only problem was Gray Davis inability to communicate.
It assumes he was a competent governor and a responsible
administrator with that single fatal flaw, that people want
communication so badly that they recalled Davis because
he couldnt communicate his achievements. The implication
is that the recall and Schwartzeneggers election had
nothing to do with anything outside California or anything
broader, and that the problem just was Davis.
has a lot of truth to it. But it too hides all the sustained
Republican effort, and it also hides the fact that it is
not just Gray Davis, but rather Democrats in general, who
cannot communicate effectively.
Kooky Californians frame says the recall was irrational,
that Californians cant tell the movies from reality,
that a movie action hero cant govern a great state
in trouble, that Arnie is a political incompetent and that
chaos will ensue.
frame does not explain any of the above. The Republicans
long-term, carefully structured anti-Davis campaign is hidden.
It is as if there were no politics at work here at all.
People Beat the Politicians frame is Schwartzeneggers
attempt to impose his own frame. The context is that Arnold
will have to deal with a majority Democratic legislature.
This frame casts himself and the Republican politicians
as the people and the Democrats as politics
as usual, which the people voted against.
frame hides the fact that the Republicans have been playing
politics with the state finances for years in an attempt
to beat Davis. It hides the fact that the Schwartzenegger
team run by former governor Pete Wilson will be just as
much politics as usual, and that the Democratic
representatives in the legislature numerically represent
more of the people than do the Republicans.
Just a Celebrity frame implies that there was no
partisan politics in this election and that any celebrity
at all could just as well have won.
frame ignores all the above political factors, and also
cannot explain why this particular celebrity won. Jay Leno
supported Arnold; Jay is just as much a celebrity, but Jay
Leno could never have been elected governor.
Up by his Bootstraps frame attributes Arnolds
election principally to Arnold himself, especially to his
hard work and ambition. Arnold got to be governor because
he deserved it. He deserved it because he worked hardat
body-building, acting, and campaigning.
Bootstraps frame also ignores all the politics involved
and doesnt explain why other movie actors who pulled
themselves up by their bootstraps didnt run and wouldnt
have been elected.
framings hide other important facts as well. They dont
explain why a lot of union rank-and-file members ignored
their unions support for Davis and voted for Arnold
against their self-interest. They dont explain why
a great many Hispanics voted for Arnold instead of Bustamante.
They dont explain Arnolds popularity with women
despite the revelations against him of sexist behavior.
going to offer a very different account of the Schwartzenegger
victory, based on my book Moral Politics. Since the book
was written in 1996 and updated in 2002, the account Ill
be giving is a general one, based on a general understanding
of American politics, not on the special facts about this
election. My resulting claim is that much of what occurred
in the recall election is the same as what has been going
on for some time in American politics. The Schwartzenegger
election, I propose, should not be seen as an entirely unique
event, despite having unique elements, but rather part of
the overall political landscape.
Politics, I suggested that voters vote their identitythey
vote on the basis of who they are, what values they have,
and who and what they admire. A certain number of voters
identify themselves with their self-interest and vote accordingly.
But that is the exception rather than the rule. There are
other forms of personal identificationwith ones
ethnicity, with ones values, with cultural stereotypes,
and with culture heroes. The most powerful forms of identification
so far as elections are concerned are with values and corresponding
cultural stereotypes. The Republicans have discovered this
and it is a major reason why they have been winning electionsdespite
being in a minority. Democrats have not yet figured this
Moral Politics discovery is that models of idealized family
structure lie at the heart of our politicsless literally
than metaphorically. The very notion of the founding fathers
uses a metaphor of the nation as family, not as something
we think actively about, but as way of structuring our understanding
of the enormous hard-to-conceptualize social group, the
nation, in terms of something closer to home, the family.
It is something we do automatically, usually without consciously
thinking about it.
politics are organized around two opposite and idealized
models of the family: the strict father and the nurturant
nurturant parent family assumes that the world is basically
good and can be made better and that it is ones responsibility
to work toward that. Accordingly, children are born good
and parents can make them better. Both parents share responsibility
for raising the children. Their job is to nurture their
children and raise their children to be nurturers. Nurturing
has two aspects: empathy (feeling and caring how others
feel) and responsibility to take care of oneself and others
for whom we are responsible. These two aspects of nurturance
imply family values that we can recognize as progressive
political values: From empathy, we want for others protection
from harm, fulfillment in life, fairness, freedom (consistent
with responsibility), open two-way communication. From responsibility
there follows competence, trust, commitment, community building,
and so on.
these values, specific policies follow: Governmental protection
in the form of a social safety net and government regulation
(as well as the military and the police), universal education
(competence, fairness), civil liberties and equal treatment
(fairness and freedom), accountability (from trust), public
service (from responsibility), open government (from open
communication), and the promotion of an economy that benefits
all and functions to promote these values. The role of government
is to provide the infrastructure and services to enact these
values, and taxes are the dues you pay to live in such a
civilized society. In foreign policy, the role of the nation
should be to promote cooperation and extend these values
to the world. These are traditional progressive values in
conservative worldview is shaped by very different family
strict father model assumes that the world is and always
will be dangerous and difficult and that children are born
bad and must be made good. The strict father is the moral
authority who has to support and defend the family, tell
his wife what to do, and teach his kids right from wrong.
The only way to do that is painful disciplinephysical
punishment that is to develop by adulthood into internal
discipline. Morality and survival jointly arise from such
disciplinediscipline to follow moral precepts and
discipline to pursue your self-interest to become self-reliant.
The good people are the disciplined people. Once grown,
the self-reliant disciplined children are on their own and
the father is not to meddle in their lives. Those children
who remain dependent (who were spoiled, overly willful,
or recalcitrant) should be forced to undergo further discipline
or cut free with no support to face the discipline of the
this onto the nation and you have the radical right-wing
politics that has been misnamed conservative.
The good citizens are the disciplined onesthose who
have already become wealthy or at least self-reliantand
those who are on the way. Social programs spoil
people, giving them things they havent earned and
keeping them dependent. They are therefore evil and to be
eliminated. Government is there only to protect the nation,
maintain order, administer justice (punishment), and to
provide for the orderly conduct of and the promotion of
business. Business (the market) is the mechanism by which
the disciplined people become self-reliant, and wealth is
a measure of discipline. Taxes beyond the minimum needed
for such government are punishments that take away from
the good, disciplined people rewards that they have earned
and spend it on those who have not earned it.
affairs, the government should maintain its sovereignty
and impose its moral authority everywhere it can, while
seeking its self-interest (the economic self-interest of
corporations and military strength).
these distinctions, there are the natural complications
of real people. But these models are there in the synapses
of our brains. When we vote on the basis of values and cultural
stereotypes, what determines how we vote is which model
is active for understanding politics at the time.
have both modelseither actively or passively. Progressives
who can understand an Arnold Schwartzenegger movie have
at least a passive version of the strict-father model alongside
the active- nurturant model that defines their politics.
Conservatives who can understand the Bill Cosby show have
at least a passive version of the nurturant model.
many peopleoften enough to decide electionshave
active versions of both models that they use in different
parts of their lives. There are strict fathers in the classroom
who have progressive politics. There are strict fathers
on the job who are nurturant parents at home. Many blue
collar workers are strict fathers at home, but nurturant
toward their coworkers. Union employees tend to be strict
toward their employers and nurturant toward union members.
Women tend to have active nurturant parent models, but a
significant number accept the authority of the strict father,
are strict mothers, or may have some significant fear. Fear
triggers the strict father model; it tends to make the model
active in ones brain.
conservatives have learned about winning elections is that
they have to activate the strict father model in more than
half of the electorateeither by fear or by other means.
The Sept. 11 attacks gave the Bush administration a perfect
mechanism for winning elections. They declared an unending
war on terror. The frame of the War on Terror presupposes
that the populace should be terrified, and orange alerts
and other administration measures and rhetoric keep the
terror frame active. Fear and uncertainty then
naturally activate the strict father frame in a majority
of people, leading the electorate to see politics in conservative
the Terminator!the ultimate in strictness, the tough
guy extraordinaire. The world champion bodybuilder is the
last word in discipline. What better stereotype for strict
father morality? That is the reason that it was Arnoldnot
just any celebrity like Jay Leno or Rob Lowe or Barbra Streisandwho
could activate a strict stereotype and with it conservative
is peculiar to California is Arnold and the culture of the
movies. But the same mechanism lay behind the Republican
victories in the 2002 electionand in elections around
the country since the days of Ronald Reaganbut especially
in the last decade when Republicans have mastered the art
form of activating the strict-father image in the minds
of voters. Arnies popularity has the same source as
Bushs popularity with the Nascar dads: identification
with strict father values and stereotypes. Moreover, Davis
inability to communicate strong progressive values is hardly
unique to him. Democrats nationwide have a similar inability
to effectively and strongly communicate their values and
evoke powerful progressive stereotypes.
Davis made the bad mistake of accepting the Democratic Leadership
Councils metaphor of campaigning as marketing. In
the DLC model, you look for a list of particular issues
that a majority of people, including those on left, support.
In the last congressional election it was prescription drugs,
social security, and a womans right to choose. If
necessary, you move to the rightadopt
some right-wing values in hope of getting centrist
voters. Davis, for example, favored the death penalty, tough
sentencing, and supported the prison guards union.
Its a self-defeating strategy. Conservatives have
been winning elections without moving to the left.
a laundry list of issues, Davis and other democrats fail
to present a moral visiona coherent identity with
a powerful cultural stereotypethat defines the very
identity of the voters they are trying to reach. A list
of issues is not a moral vision. Indeed, many Democrats
were livid that Arnold did not run on the issues. He didnt
need to. His very being activated the strict father modelthe
heart of the moral vision of conservative Republicans and
the most common response to fear and uncertainty.
Arnolds victory is right in line with other conservative
Republican victories. Davis defeat is right in line
with other Democratic defeats. Unless the Democrats realize
this, they will not learn the lesson of this election.
indeed, conservatives are busy trying to keep Democrats
from learning this lesson. There is an important frame we
havent mentioned yet: The Right-Wing Power Grab frame.
Davis used this at the beginning of his campaign, and Clinton
and the Democratic presidential candidates who supported
Davis echoed the frame. This frame does accurately characterize
many of the facts as we have discussed them. But Davis was
unable to communicate this frame effectively and it fell
from public sight. The day after the election it was one
of the few frames not mentioned by the mainstream media.
It has been dropped by the Democrats but kept alive by the
Republicans, who are using it to taunt and delegitimize
Democrats. They are using the Voter Revolt frame to argue
that the Right-Wing Power Grab frame was inaccurate.
how the argument goes. The Right-Wing Power Grab frame implicitly
accuses the Schwarzenegger campaign of deception, of failing
to admit connections to Karl Rove and the national Republican
apparatus and of misrepresenting the factsmany of
which we have discussed above. A power grab
is illegitimate, using either illegal or immoral means to
attain power. The Republicans manipulated the media using
some of the frames we have discussed to hide facts and create
false impressions. From the perspective of the facts we
have discussed, the election does seem to fit the Right-Wing
Power Grab frame.
wake of the election, the Republicans have grabbed onto
the Democrats previous use of the Right-Wing Power
Grab frame, arguing from the Voter Revolt interpretation
of the election to claim that there was no power grab at
all, that the election simply expressed the will of the
voters. The very fact that Arnold got a strong pluralityand
near majorityin the election is used as prima facie
evidence that the Voter Revolt frame is the correct way
to interpret the election. But as we have seen, that frame
hides exactly the facts that the Right-Wing Power Grab frame
Democrats ignore the power of framing at their peril.
George Lakoff is a senior fellow at the Rockridge Institute
and Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of
Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California