I keep thinking about a line from that old Burt Bacharach song–“What’s it all about, Alfie?” After all, figuring out what it’s all about–framing the correct issues– could be the most important task humans face.
We don’t do it well.
I used to tell students that what three years of law school teaches is: “He who frames the issue, wins the debate.” It’s a maxim that the GOP clearly understands.
- Is the massive assault on trans children an effort to use a wedge issue to political advantage in our ongoing culture war? Or is it, as Republicans piously claim, an effort to “protect” children?
- Are the various efforts to prevent schools from teaching accurate history and/or providing thought-provoking reading material mechanisms to control the educational narrative, or are they intended to “empower parents”?
- Does “school choice” allow parents to select schools that are best for their children? Or are such programs a way to circumvent the First Amendment’s Separation of Church and State, so that tax dollars can flow to religious institutions?
- Are laws forbidding mask mandates efforts to protect our precious individual freedoms, or do they represent dangerous pandering to the GOP’s anti-science base?
- Are the gun nuts in the legislature really protecting Americans’ “2d Amendment” rights? (I can’t even come up with an alternate framing rooted in policy–in my view, lawmakers who want to protect kids from “inappropriate” books but not from being murdered by firearms are mentally disordered.)
- And of course, there’s the mother of all dishonest framing–abortion bans that will inevitably cause the deaths of large numbers of women masquerading as “pro-life” measures, rather than the anti-women efforts grounded in religion and misogyny that they clearly are.
You can probably come up with a number of similar examples of laws defended on the basis of X that are really expressions of Y.
I thought about the multiple examples of GOP excellence in framing when I read that Michigan’s Governor had signed a bill overturning that state’s brilliantly misnamed “Right to Work” law. Right to Work laws are one of the most successful examples of dishonestly “framing the issue” in order to win the debate.
On its face, who’d object to a “right-to-work” law?
By that token, and divorced from its substance, who wouldn’t be “pro-life”? Who quibbles with the assertion that “all lives matter,” or that markets should be “free”?
Right-wing activists have historically been good at branding, at characterizing even policy positions that restrict rights as postures of freedom and advancement.
“Right-to-work” laws are a seminal example of this marketing technique. They have nothing to do with guarantees of employment, but allow those in unionized jobs to opt out of paying union dues — while the unions are still required to provide services, like representation in disputes with management, even to those non-paying workers.
These laws have become the topic of national conversation, as Michigan is poised to repeal its version, the first state to do so in over 50 years.
The article noted the origins of the phrase and the trajectory of its subsequent marketing.
There is some dispute as to the phrase’s origins, but most point to anti-union Dallas Morning News editorial writer William Ruggles as coining the modern usage. In his 1941 Labor Day column, he called for a constitutional amendment to prohibit the “closed shop” or “union shop” — workplaces where unions can negotiate a contract that includes union membership as a condition of employment.
His column reportedly piqued the interest of Vance Muse, an avowed white supremacist who was working for various racist, anti-Semetic and anti-union campaigns — including a push for a “right-to-work” law in Arkansas (the name for the legislation courtesy of a Ruggles suggestion). That effort was successful: Arkansas became one of the first states to pass a right-to-work law, along with Florida.
“Opponents to unionism in the South discovered this brilliant rhetorical phraseology, and they began to propagandize on it,” Nelson Lichtenstein, a professor who directs the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told TPM.
From the beginning, this marketing campaign had a distinctly libertarian bent. It was meant to evoke the idea of individual freedom, that workers should get to pocket their hard-earned cash that would otherwise go to union dues.
Interestingly, states with right-to-work laws are almost all the same states that have outlawed abortion. As the article notes, advocates for both are extremely good at marketing themselves, and at getting their chosen rhetoric to be adopted by the mainstream.
Meanwhile, Democrats keep using slogans like “defund the police.” No wonder we have minority political control.