I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: everything you need to know about movement conservatives, you can learn by watching creationists (and admittedly, there’s substantial overlap between the two groups). Think about creationists, and then consider this column by Neal Gabler:
In their postmortems, liberals have placed blame on the way they frame their message, or on the right-wing media drumbeat that drowns out everything else, or on the right’s co-opting of the flag, Mom and apple pie, which is designed to make liberals seem like effete, hostile foreign agents.
It’s understandable that liberals prefer to think of their subordination as a matter of their own inadequacies or of conservative wiles. Theoretically, you can learn how to improve your message or how to match wits with adversaries, and a lot of liberal hand-wringing has been dedicated to doing just that. But it is becoming increasingly clear that liberals haven’t just been succumbing to superior message control, or even to a superior political narrative (conservatives’ frontier individualism versus liberals’ communitarianism). They are up against something far more intractable and far more difficult to defeat. They are up against religion.
…In short, what we have in America today is a political fundamentalism, with all the characteristics of religious fundamentalism and very few of the characteristics of politics….
As we are sadly discovering, this minority cannot be headed off, which is most likely why conservatism transmogrified from politics to a religion in the first place. Conservatives who sincerely believed that theirs is the only true and right path have come to realize that political tolerance is no match for religious vehemence.
Unfortunately, they are right. Having opted out of political discourse, they are not susceptible to any suasion. Rationality won’t work because their arguments are faith-based rather than evidence-based. Better message control won’t work. Improved strategies won’t work. Grass-roots organizing won’t work. Nothing will work because you cannot convince religious fanatics of anything other than what they already believe, even if their religion is political dogma.
Does this sound at all familiar? The only issue I have with Gabler is that he underestimates the role of the theopolitical right. Not only is there more overlap than he credits (Max Blumethal’s Republican Gomorrah details this overlap), but the mindset, whether ‘religious’ or ‘secular’, similar.
This is why framing is not the solution. As Sara Robinson notes in “Cracks in the Wall“, people will leave this ideological bubble only when faced with a very personal and intimate instance of cognitive dissonance, such as a betrayal or egregious injustice.
To be successful, we have to countermobilize. Is a clear message important? Sure. Do we want to avoid the unneeded use of ‘trigger words’. You betcha, although as the ‘death panels’ insanity demonstrates, the right will always gin up something. But you don’t react or respond to their attacks, you initiate your own.
This requires a political strategy that is much more than hoping to find the magical incantation of phrases that will somehow persuade social conservatives. Framing just isn’t sufficient.