Lessons in Anchoring and Framing From … George Clooney?

In a Time magazine Q&A, the actor gives a fascinating reply to the question “Are you disappointed in Obama?”:

I get angry at people who don’t stand for him, actually. If this were a Republican president, Republicans would say, “We were losing 400,000 jobs a month. We stopped it. We saved the car industry.” You could go down the list. Democrats should talk to Hollywood about how to posture some of these things. Say you’re about to get into tax loopholes. Instead of “loopholes,” say “cheating.” And then on the floor of the Senate, get up and say, “We’re not going to raise your taxes, but we’re not for cheating. Are you?” I just think Democrats are bad at that.

A few points: I assume the “people” he gets angry at for not standing for Obama are Democrats? If not … well … hard to imagine someone like Clooney getting angry at Democrats who didn’t “stand for” Bush.

Photo: csztova

Great point re the job loss and car industry! Perhaps not nearly 100 percent accurate, but still, a great point re how those accomplishments haven’t been framed as successes.

Should Democrats really “talk to Hollywood” about how to “posture” these things? My sense is that Hollywood is good at fleshing out fantasies and unrealistic narratives that we want to be realistic; to me, this is a different skill set than advantageously using framing and anchoring techniques.

But, on that last point — maybe I’m wrong! Because if Clooney can be said to represent “Hollywood,” then his take on the “loopholes” vs. “cheating” is as smart as anything any political consultant says.

Here’s the big question: are Democrats really just “bad at that” — i.e., using framing, anchoring, and loaded language to their advantage? I hear this meme more and more these days, including in a recent interview I did with Times editorial-page editor Andy Rosenthal for an upcoming radio program on media bias. Rosenthal, like Clooney, argues that Democrats are simply bad at fighting back against Republican efforts on something as simple as the “estate tax” vs. “death tax” argument. It’s not clear to me whether Democrats are supposed to be bad because they take the higher moral ground and refuse to roll in mud like this, or that they don’t have enough of a mean streak, or whatnot. But does anyone else here find this to be argument viable? Out of all the Democrats in the country, is there really no one who understands and is willing to successfully use framing, anchoring, and language tricks?

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  1. Peter says:

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  2. Quin says:

    Democrats certainly do use framing to press points on economic issues (“increase revenue” rather than “raise taxes”) and social issues (“pro-choice” is not really an accurate label since the other side is not “anti-choice,” just like Democrats are not “anti-life” — both sides try to frame the debate with their chosen term and neither can do so convincingly, which is why the NYT clunkily calls them “supporters/opponents of abortion rights” rather than using their preferred labels).

    That’s not to say that Dems are more or less effective at it as Reps, and Dems have Biden’s legendary mouth working against them too.

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    • BSK says:

      “…and social issues (“pro-choice” is not really an accurate label since the other side is not “anti-choice…”.

      They certainly are anti-choice. Folks who oppose access to abortions want to limit or eliminate the choices that women have one pregnant. They are opposed to women having that choice. They want there to be no choices: have the baby.

      And flipping it around doesn’t work. Almost all abortion rights supporters would prefer there be no abortions and no need for them. But they accept that that ideal is not realized (and probably never will be). They are not in favor of “death” or the ending of “life” because A) most do not recognize the fertilized egg as life and B) they do not promote the termination of pregnancies but accept or support the right of women to choose how to manage their bodies.

      There are plenty of legitimate arguments that can be made opposing abortion. But to pretend that arguments against abortion are not directly intended to limit the rights of pregnant woman and have an inarguable impact on the freedom for women to choose what to do with their own bodies is flat out wrong.

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      • Mike says:

        Just remember, every time you argue that, replace “have an abortion” with “dump your new baby in a dumpster.” From a pro-life standpoint, they are the exact same action. Nursing, feeding, and caring for a baby is every bit as much of a demand on a woman as carrying a child.

        If your logic still holds up regarding the restrictions on women’s choice, then you can say that pro-life people are anti-choice and against women’s freedom.

        I’m actually pro-choice, but it really irks me when other pro-choices don’t seem to really get why people could be the opposite, or not see themselves as restricting choice. At some base level, you do not consider an early fetus to be alive like a child, so you do not consider its removal murder. They do. No matter what the imposition on a women, no one has a right to choose murder.

        I don’t know that there’s any way to resolve those two standpoints, but can we stop talking past each other?

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      • Paul says:

        “I don’t know that there’s any way to resolve those two standpoints, but can we stop talking past each other?”

        Word, Mike.

        BSK: Your point here (at least to me) seems to be irrelevant/silly, but I’m going to respond to it with a silly response, also, since I see no reason that one should avoid being irrelevant/silly if one feels like it. For all I know, your reasoning is similar. If it matters, I’m pro-choice.

        1) The pro-choice movement isn’t anti-life from their own perspective, they’re anti-life from the perspective of right-wingers, who see them as permitting murder. And if permitting murder isn’t anti-life, pretty much nothing is (short of committing murder, I guess).

        2) In my mind, pro-lifers probably also prefer choice, and would prefer there be as much choice as possible and no need to restrict choice. But since some people want to commit murder, you gotta restrict that, they reason. They, similarly, do not favor restriction, just as pro-choicers do not favor death, they just see a need for it in particular cases for reasons unrelated to a general animosity towards people having choice.

        3) I mean, clearly this issue shouldn’t revolve around whether the fetus is “alive” or not. Like, plants are alive, right? I kill plants, so maybe I’m anti-life in that sense. If someone against killing plants was like “you’re anti-life because you end plant-life” I’d be like “yeah I guess so but maybe that doesn’t matter that much.” Or maybe very few people, not even cold-blooded murderers are anti-life, at best indifferent to how much life there is or isn’t in the world, and willing to kill people for ends other than a general position of being against life. Fetuses are probably alive, right, if like plants and ants and certain robots are? That’s ok, though, that shouldn’t really stop us from killing them, necessarily. I think being alive has to do with growing and developing and consuming, also reproducing, and I guess fetuses don’t reproduce, but. Anyway, I don’t really have a point.

        Um, sorry if my flippant tone has offended anyone.

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      • vimspot says:

        I like Paul and Mike’s comments. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a website that was composed only of people who had made public internet comments that proved they had the ability to understand opposing views?

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    • Rune C. Olwen says:

      The abortionforbidders ARE “anti-choice”, they try to enforce EACH pregnacy being carried to term – something impossible, even if you look only to those women who die in childbirth because of lack of health insurance.

      If there is abortionforbidding in the penal law, or a lack of abortion providers, it means we do not have any choice. My (Rawlsian) example is always the rape victim: either abortion or she is forced to sacrifice ANYTHING to the rapist for the rest of her life.

      The question “who decides?” is the basis of the whole discussion, we do not force anyone NOT to have children. Is it more clear this way?

      Of course the NYT term is a possible way to describe the respective groups in political discussions, albeit functional in writing only; and it does not work in context of personal discussions, something everyone should do in puberty.

      And I am “for dying” in the euthanasia discussion, there the opposite sides are for “dying slowly, painfully and, if health system allows, prolonged by machines” OR “dying quickly, painless and, if necessary, shortened by simple measures like the plastic bag”!!!

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      • David says:


        I am unaware of any groups who advocate putting abortions out for bidding. Needless to say, I am pro-life but I think both sides can all agree that putting such a private matter out to open bidding is terrible. I support free-markets as much as possible, but allowing open bidding on performing abortions is macabre.

        Oh wait, you mean forbidding abortions, not abortion for bidding.


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  3. vanderleun says:

    I think the point is, “Why would democrats become “good” at advanced lying and bias when they have the media and Hollywood to do it for them?”

    It’s not as if the popular democrat memes don’t already have wide and deep penetration into the society. They do.

    You write, “My sense is that Hollywood is good at fleshing out fantasies and unrealistic narratives that we want to be realistic.”

    I’d say you need a lot more of the unreality and the fantasy pored over the heads of the credulous. Remember how successful “Hope and Change” were. You don’t need realism. You need a popular new fantasy.

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  4. Jerry says:

    No they are lousy at it. The Republicans have been better for years (remember the Swift Boat-ing of Kerry).
    You can be upset that the economy isn’t better, but the Obama administration has done a poor job of highlighting their successes, esp. given the hand they were dealt.

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  5. Chris says:

    Not necessarily Hollywood, but a liberal Frank Luntz perhaps. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Luntz

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  6. JJ says:

    I would assume democrats wouldn’t use “tax cheating” because it goes against the corporations who fund their campaigns. Or these highly educated people are just dummies.

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  7. Steve says:

    You make a good observation and comment on your statement: “Should Dems talk to Hollywood?”
    “My sense is that Hollywood is good at fleshing out fantasies and unrealistic narratives.”

    You you end with open question that begs your analysis: “Out of all the Democrats in the country, is there really no one who understands and is willing to successfully use framing, anchoring, and language tricks?”

    1. Of course, Dems know how to frame an issue. They are liberal, not ignorant.
    2. As to the why they don’t… you can’t take a definitive stand on anything, because you are held responsible for the consequences of your actions. ie… the not-so-Supercommittee’s “failure” has no consequences until 2013… another year… lifetime away… kick the can down the road… and each side can blame the other. It’s too hard to face the issues and make real and unpopular decision.

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  8. Eric Morrow says:

    Couldn’t agree more. I wish the liberals weren’t afraid to get together on some clever framing.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 16 Thumb down 12