Barack Obama Campaign Frames Health Care and Gas Prices To His Advantage

The Washington Post's Amy Gardner and Scott Wilson explain in a recent article how the Obama campaign is maneuvering to reclaim the advantage on two important topics of the 2012 election: gas prices and health care. The act of "tr[ying] to reclaim advantage" touches one of the most important issues in modern day politics: the game of framing. Republicans have dominated that game, but President Obama is starting to get better. 

What is framing exactly? In short, frames are mental constructions which define the way we see the world. At the University I attended, I was taught that frames are invisible and part of cognitive structures in our brains which we can not activate on purpose. We know them because of the results. Its the way we reason and what every individual sees as ‘common’.  It defines our reality.

In America the issue of framing was introduced by George Lakoff, an American cognitive linguist. According to Lakoff, Republicans are far better in framing issues then Democrats and in choosing the language of the debate. The New York Times ran a long article about the importance of framing in 2005 after the Bush – Kerry election called "The Framing Wars.  With the 2012 campaign heating up an interesting read to understand the rhetoric better and, not less important, how some media over time talks the same talk the politicians introduce.

Lakoff gives a couple of examples. One of them is the term 'tax relief.' It presumes, and I quote his words in the New York Times article: "that we are being oppressed by taxes and that we need to be liberated from them. It fits into a familiar frame of persecution, and when such a phrase, repeated over time, enters the everyday lexicon, it biases the debate in favor of conservatives. If Democrats start to talk about their own 'tax relief' plan, Lakoff says, they have conceded the point that taxes are somehow an unfair burden rather than making the case that they are an investment in the common good. The argument is lost before it begins."

Another example is the framing of Bush’s "War on Terror," presuming that America is/was at war with somebody. A metaphor that gave President Bush a host of more legal weapons in his "enduring struggle against terrorism"as Obama has framed it when he took office. Obama framed his own operation in Libya with the same strategy. Resolution 1973 was not called resolution 1973 but "Operation Odyssey Dawn" referring to a heroic journey towards a safe and better life. Pure strategy. Together with his speeches about Libya where he left out issues concerning national interests he created a frame and language hoping that would give him an advantage in the media / debate.

Creating frames are all about emotions and not rational behavior. Argumentative qualities and knowledge of a certain issue have little effect on the power of framing.  With an American president in office who is the personification of rational thinking, his campaign team willhave to play the frame game really good this year to claim another four years in office. Its fun for yourself to be aware of this linguistic turn. It makes you aware of the many possibilities of truth," or let me say, "claimed truth." Let the game between fuel efficient cars and fuel deficient cars begin.

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Koen Machielse

Studied International Relations at the University of Amsterdam and Political Communication at the University of Antwerp. Interned in New York City where i wrote reviews of international off-broadway shows at a press office in Greenwich Village and worked for The villager, a community newspaper in lower Manhattan. I

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