Twilight of Reaganism?

June 29, 2009 | By | Reply More

From a friend of mine:

You know how every once in a while you come across a piece of writing that is spot-on, so much so that you sit back and think, “Wow, that really captures it well.” This just happened to me in reading Halberstam’s book, War In A Time Of Peace (2001). Here’s the quote:

“(In 1992) Ed Rollins, the former Reagan political consultant, had an epiphany about how dramatically American culture had changed in the twelve years since Reagan’s first election. Driven by various technological, social, and economic forces, that change was now being seen in American politics. Reagan, Rollins believed had been the final political reflection of the popular culture of his time, derived primarily from the movies of John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Gary Cooper days when the American self-image called for one lonely man to stand up and do the right thing, whether it was popular or not. That self-image during the Cold War was comforting; it might not be true, but as they used to say in the west, when there was any difference between the truth and the legend, print the legend. Clinton, by contrast, was the political extension of a new popular culture, the age of empathy television, symbolized by Oprah Winfrey, the need to feel better about yourself in a difficult, emotionally volatile world where the greatest daily threat was posed not so much by the nuclear warheads of a foreign power, or by severe economic hardship, but by the inner demons produced by an unhappy childhood” (p. 108)

Reading this quote brought to mind George Lakoff’s two basic ways of portraying government which, in both cases, is metaphorically conceived as a family. Conservatives see government as run by a strict father figure while Progressives tend to see government a nurturing parent. Here’s a excerpt from Wikipedia:

Lakoff argues that the differences in opinions between liberals and conservatives follow from the fact that they subscribe with different strength to two different metaphors about the relationship of the state to its citizens. Both, he claims, see governance through metaphors of the family. Conservatives would subscribe more strongly and more often to a model that he calls the “strict father model” and has a family structured around a strong, dominant “father” (government), and assumes that the “children” (citizens) need to be disciplined to be made into responsible “adults” (morality, self-financing). Once the “children” are “adults”, though, the “father” should not interfere with their lives: the government should stay out of the business of those in society who have proved their responsibility. In contrast, Lakoff argues that liberals place more support in a model of the family, which he calls the “nurturant parent model”, based on “nurturant values”, where both “mothers” and “fathers” work to keep the essentially good “children” away from “corrupting influences” (pollution, social injustice, poverty, etc.). Lakoff says that most people have a blend of both metaphors applied at different times . . . 


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Category: Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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