View Full Version : Elections Frameshop: The Winning Frame has Emerged

09-13-2008, 08:36 AM
I found this website called Frameshop that talks about the stuff I know several of us here know full well, but I can't ever get those folks to talk about the race in these terms. That sort of high level analysis sans the horse-in-the-race bias.

I've noticed a bit more willingness from a few of the regulars to talk a bit more openly at this level lately, so I thought I would share this story.

Might be gibberish to many, boring to others, but this is the sort of backroom discussions the campaign's strategists have going on inside their war rooms every day.

I find this stuff fascinating.


September 11, 2008
Frameshop: The Winning Frame has Emerged

In the wake of John McCain's 'pig' ploy scandal, I wanted to draw attention to a new frame that is taking shape at break neck speed in the debate.

I call this the 'Solve Real Problems' frame and it has the potential to set the stage for Democrats to win the election.

Sometimes, people think of framing in Presidential elections as a tug of war. We set our frame, they set theirs--whichever side pulls the hardest wins.

In fact, the more accurate metaphor is that of a chess game. Each side sets out to establish a broad, opening frame, but through a series of middle ground debates, the election ultimately arrives at an end frame--a final, compelling way to re-establish one side's opening frame, and which ultimately captures enough people's imagination to win the most votes.

In 2004, we saw this when Bush's 'Ownership Society' emerged as the 'It's Your Money' frame.

'Solve Real Problems' is a pragmatic end frame emerging right now (for a full discussion of 'pragmatism' see the conclusion of Outright Barbarous). If activists recognize it and push it hard, we have the potential to turn the gains in this campaign into an election victory in November.

Opening Frames: 'American Dream' and 'Hope'
The 2008 election started out with multiple competing frames from Democrats and Republicans. The largest opening frames, however, came from the Clinton campaign and the Obama Campaign.

From the start, Clinton set the idea of restoring the 'American Dream,' and idea that was fundamentally economic. During the course of the primary, Clinton arrived at a new way to express her opening frame by talking about 'the invisible.' It was a very convincing idea, particularly as the economy went south. Despite the ideological statements of the Republicans, a majority of Americans felt that the economy had left them behind and that nobody cared about their troubles. The 'American Dream' frame became 'the invisible' and Hillary Clinton won millions of votes as a result.

The Obama campaign offered a different opening frame in the idea of 'Hope.' In many ways, 'Hope' was a much stronger frame than 'American dream' because it spoke to larger questions about the future of the country as a whole. By talking about 'Hope,' Obama was talking about American idealism beyond the mechanics of building family wealth. 'Hope' was also a more forward looking frame because it implicitly acknowledged new challenges that Americans face--such as global warming, conservation, technology, international interdependence, and so forth. The 'American Dream,' was more nostalgic. The problem with 'Hope' as we discovered in the primary, was that it was difficult to re-emphasize in terms of the economy when that became the key issue in the primaries. The middle ground framing of 'more people participating' that was so successful for Obama in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, became less successful for his campaign in Pennsylvania. The better frame in idealistic terms, 'Hope' did not readily present a way to ground that idealism in the concrete issues that contingency was forcing into the election.

Obama won the nomination, but the sense coming out of that long contest was that he was left with a very big challenge of finding an economic foundation for his 'hope' frame. And even by the time of the DNC, it did not seem like that new frame had emerged quite yet.

McCain's 'Warrior' becomes 'Culture War'
In the aftermath of the RNC and the firestorm surrounding the nomination of Sarah Palin, the McCain campaign made it clear that they had no real middle ground frame to advance their opening 'warrior statesman' frame that they had unrolled early in the Republican primary.

Instead of unrolling a new frame that re-emphasized some aspect of McCain's militaristic logic, the McCain camp used the RNC to revert back to other Republican framing efforts that sought to frame 'conservative' in terms of 'small town values.' As a result, the McCain campaign went into the RNC pushing a strong militaristic theme, but they emerged pushing most of the old framing associated with the 'culture war.' The theme of 'war' remained, but with Sarah Palin on the ticket, the idea of a military warrior had officially given way to the old concept of a social or cultural warrior.

The key sign that this new middle ground had eroded the gains made by McCain's early framing were obvious. Suddenly, the media was obsessing over topics like Sarah Palin's church, pregnancy and abortion, and book censorship. All of these topics emerged at some point in the pre-convention primary, but they were always overshadowed by the McCain campaign emphasizing 'experience'--by which they meant 'military experience in a time of war.'

The culmination of the RNC framing switch happened this week when the McCain campaign accused Obama of 'sexism.' Many people hear this and they get confused because they think that this kind of attack is similar to late 1980s critiques of sexist language by liberals. In fact, it has nothing to do with that liberal thinking. Calling Barack Obama a 'sexist' was the first attempt by the McCain campaign to re-emphasize their new 'culture war' frame that they set in the RNC.

Right after the accusation of 'sexism,' McCain unleashed an ad accusing Obama of wanting to force young children to learn about sex in school--the familiar 'liberal debauchery' frame used for a decade by right-wing pundits to develop the 'culture war' frame.

'Hope' Becomes 'Solve Real Problems'
What is fascinating about McCain abandoning his initial 'warrior' frame for the older 'culture war' frame is not just the high level of smears and cynicism it introduced into the media, but what new language it sparked in the Obama camp.

Right from the start, the reaction to the 'culture war' framing from McCain was not to fight on the 'culture war' grounds, but (1) to accuse the McCain campaign of telling 'lies,' and (2) to emphasize that the McCain camp was impeding a more important conversation about 'solving real problems.'

Now, in general, the first step did not make much sense on its own in terms of framing for one Presidential campaign to accuse another Presidential campaign of telling 'lies.' To take that route is not really framing so much as announcing that there is a campaign (e.g., it's like saying 'I disagree with my opponent's campaign against me.'). But, when connected to the second step, it did make sense. By defining the McCain 'culture war' attacks as 'lies,' the Obama camp deflected those points and stepped immediately into the act of re-stating their opening 'hope' frame in new terms germane to the moment: 'solve real problems'

In one sense, 'solve real problems' is just old fashioned American pragmatism. In a much more profound sense, however, 'solve real problems' is a restating of the initial themes of the Obama campaign, but in quantitative, rather than qualitative terms.

Keep in mind that one of the initial themes of the Obama campaign is the transcendence of party allegiance in favor of facing solutions that we all face--a basic 'unity' frame. Also keep in mind that one of the obstacles the Obama camp faced after the Democratic primary was an inability to connect with voters primarily concerned with economic issues--primarily taxes.

Suddenly, following a week of relentless 'culture war' attacks form the McCain campaign, the entire media is shifting to a new line of discussion: the idea that these attacks from the McCain campaign impede the pragmatic conversation about getting things done.

Conclusion: Pragmatism is a Fundamentally American Idiom
As for the McCain campaign, having invested 100% of his framing in the old 'culture war' concept--particularly by his nomination of Sarah Palin--McCain has embraced ideological attacks over pragmatic problem solving. And from now until November, if McCain continues to re-emphasize the 'culture war' frame, by the debates the electorate will be so tired of squabbling over cultural issues that they will be clamoring for discussion of 'real' problems and 'real' concerns.

What I emphasize in the conclusion of Outright Barbarous, and what I also see in this phase of the 2008 Presidential election is a re-voicing of 'pragmatism' as a central concern amongst American voters. Pragmatism--a desire to understand and 'solve real problems'--is always present in the minds of Americans, but it quickly gets buried by violent and salacious rhetoric in the debate. Now that pragmatism is upon us again, and Democrats would be smart to see it, and really run with it from now until November. 'Solve real problems' is not just a theme du jour in the media. It is the core America worldview and the full realization of the early framing of the Obama campaign. It is the rhetorical path to victory for Democrats in November.

09-13-2008, 08:43 AM
I find this stuff fascinating.

Let us all guess why????????????????????????????????

09-13-2008, 08:44 AM
Suddenly, the McCain side is attacking? Gotta love people who cannot see reality.

Ultra Peanut
09-13-2008, 08:51 AM
Suddenly, the McCain side is attacking? Gotta love people who cannot see reality.<object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/mopkn0lPzM8&hl=en&fs=1"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/mopkn0lPzM8&hl=en&fs=1" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="344"></embed></object>

09-13-2008, 08:53 AM
Suddenly, the McCain side is attacking? Gotta love people who cannot see reality.
Well, no. They've not been suddenly attacking, they've always been attacking.

09-13-2008, 09:15 AM
Suddenly, the McCain side is attacking? Gotta love people who cannot see reality.

Over simplification won't work on this thread. This is a discussion of the neuance of what's happening. Below the detail of "attacking".

09-13-2008, 09:26 AM
Over simplification won't work on this thread. This is a discussion of the neuance of what's happening. Below the detail of "attacking".

There is no nuance to the right. If it can't be discussed in black and white terms it's not worth discussing.

09-13-2008, 09:39 AM
Well, no. They've not been suddenly attacking, they've always been attacking.
This is another detailed and interesting read with some admissions along that way that I thought was rather candid. There was a sudden change to a negative campaign.


Why McCain is going so negative, so often
By JONATHAN MARTIN | 9/13/08 7:10 AM EST Text Size:


McCain’s tactics are drawing the scorn of many in the media and organizations tasked with fact-checking the truthfulness of campaigns. In recent weeks, Team McCain has been described as dishonorable, disingenuous and downright cynical.

A series of ads — including accusations that Barack Obama backed teaching sex education to Illinois kindergartners and charges that Obama called Sarah Palin a lipstick-wearing pig — have provoked a cascade of criticism of McCain’s tactics.

The furor presents a breathtaking contrast to McCain’s image as a kind of anti-politician who plays fair, disdains politics as usual and has never forgotten how his 2000 presidential campaign was incinerated by a series of loathsome dirty tricks in the South Carolina primary.

The defense from the candidate himself — heard only on “The View” because he hasn’t held a news conference in more than a month — is to essentially assert that he’s savaging Obama because the Illinois senator wouldn’t agree to the series of town hall meetings McCain proposed at the end of the Democratic primary season.

“If we had done what I asked Sen. Obama to do, because I’ve been in a lot of other campaigns where I have appeared with the opposition with the people and listened to their hopes and dreams and aspirations, I don't think you’d see the tenor of this campaign,” he said.

That’s the candidate’s public answer — and one that a former adviser suggested that McCain may have convinced himself to believe is true.

Current campaign aides and other Republicans who’ve closely watched the race, however, have a very different response to the media elites and good-government scolds: We don’t care what you think.

McCain seems to have made a choice that many politicians succumb to but that he had always promised to avoid — he appears ready to do whatever it takes to win, even it if soils his reputation.

“We recognize it’s not going to be 2000 again,” McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said, alluding to the media’s swooning coverage of McCain’s ill-fated crusade against then-Gov. George W. Bush and the GOP establishment. “But he lost then. We’re running a campaign to win. And we’re not too concerned about what the media filter tries to say about it.”

Rogers, who hung tough with McCain through the dark days of the primary and has lived through every high and low of this turbulent and unpredictable race, argues that they tried to run a high-ground campaign and sought to keep the candidate in front of the media in the fashion he enjoys. His point: No one paid any attention.

“We ran a different kind of campaign and nobody cared about us. They didn’t cover John McCain. So now you’ve got to be forward-leaning in everything,” he said.

Rogers concedes that they were understandably overshadowed by the historic Democratic primary through June, but contends that even after the general election began they could get attention only when McCain committed a gaffe.

“When he’s sitting in back of a bus and getting questions about Viagra, I think we understand at that point you’ve got to make some tactical adjustments,” he said, recalling a particularly awkward gotcha-of-the-day moment on McCain’s bus in early July.

A senior adviser to the campaign echoed Rogers’ point: “Some of the traditional tactics we did for a long time weren’t working, so we adjusted.”

So instead of doing things the traditional McCain way, they tried out the Steve Schmidt way.

Turning to the playbook of a campaign manager who has been running take-no-prisoners campaigns for years brought immediate changes. It meant ending McCain’s anything-goes sessions with reporters on his bus that had become politically untenable in the Internet- and cable news-dominated, 24/7 modern media age. And it meant embracing, rather than fighting, the notion that Obama was the star of the race.

When the August “celebrity” ads cut through the clutter and, for the first time in the campaign, put Obama on defense, McCain aides felt they’d gotten their answer about whether tougher was smarter.

Similar affirmation came when Obama first suggested McCain would bring race into the campaign — and the Republican side smothered the tactic by countering that it was Obama who was playing the race card.

McCain strategists now have became even more sure of themselves after the picture-perfect reaction — in the GOP’s view — to the decision to put Palin on the ticket. The choice provoked derision from elites, jubilation among conservative voters long skeptical of McCain and uncertainty from Obama about how to respond. If you are a McCain staffer, it doesn’t get better than that — so who cares that the candidate had met her only once and her chief foreign policy credential seems to be that she lives closer to Russia than other Americans.

With polls moving in their direction and a unanimous view in the political world that the fundamentals of the race have changed dramatically in the past few weeks, McCain aides aren’t about to drop a flood-the-zone approach that they believe has worked. “Most people would have been afraid to have called him out on race,” boasted an adviser. “And we’re not going to let sexism or denigration of her go unchecked now.”

On all three counts — their portrayal of Obama as a celebrity, outrage at his purported use of race and his flat-footedness and confusion on how to respond to Palin — McCain aides saw weakness and indecision.

It adds up to a campaign that is now unapologetically aggressive and aimed almost entirely at keeping Obama off-message, even if it means hitting him below the belt in the process.

“Clearly we intend to stay on offense,” Rogers said. “That’s what we need to do because the campaign is fundamentally about him. We feel comfortable about the ads we’re running and arguments we’re making.”

And, given their surge in the polls and Obama’s uncertainty about how to respond to the Palin phenomenon, they’re going to keep it up.

“Every day not talking about the economy, the war and how to fix a broken system is a victory for McCain,” said John Weaver, a former top strategist to the nominee who left the campaign last year. “They’re going to ride it as long as they can and as long as the mainstream media puts up every ridiculous charge.”

The negative and often exaggerated or misleading claims being made about Obama and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, especially those playing on Palin’s gender, are just too irresistible for the process-consumed online and cable news media that now drives the campaign conversation, Weaver said.

“Unless there is a hurricane, they’re going to cover it,” he observed.

Added Terry Nelson, McCain’s former campaign manager: “It works in part because Obama responds to it.”

The question now, though, is just how long McCain can keep riding the wave of process and Palin.

“If they don’t attack her, she’s going to go back to being the vice presidential nominee,” Nelson said of the Democrats. “And in the natural scheme of things, the focus will go back to McCain and Obama.”

At that point, “the biggest burden for the McCain campaign will be to convey a compelling, positive vision for the country’s future.”

A top McCain adviser said they’re hoping to keep the still-flowing momentum from their convention going as long as they can.

“But we’ve always been planning to get back on the economy, jobs and energy,” said this strategist.

And even if they weren’t, the campaign calendar would demand it.

McCain and Obama face off in three debates, beginning Sept. 26 at the University of Mississippi — events that will force a focus, at least temporarily, on issues rather than pigs and lipstick.