Politics

Lefty Political Framer George Lakoff Presaged Obama/Brown "You Didn't Build That" Theme

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You did not build the basketball court.

Over at the Legal Insurrection blog, William A. Jacobson makes a plausible case that the Barack Obama/Elizabeth Warren line of argument valorizing the collective, government-provided goods that individual achievers should be more grateful for, was definitely pre-rehearsed and possibly influenced by that one-man provider of dubious lefty political "framing," George Lakoff. Here's Lakoff in his 2004 book Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate–The Essential Guide for Progressives:

Taxation is paying your dues, paying your membership fee in America. If you join a country club or a community center, you pay fees. Why? You did not build the swimming pool. You have to maintain it. You did not build the basketball court. Someone has to clean it. You may not use the squash court, but you still have to pay your dues. Otherwise it won't be maintained and will fall apart. People who avoid taxes, like corporations that move to Bermuda, are not paying their due to their country. It is patriotic to be a taxpayer. It is traitorous to desert our country and not pay your dues.

Perhaps Bill Gates Sr. said it best. In arguing to keep the inheritance tax, he pointed out that he and Bill Jr. did not invent the Internet. They just used it–to make billions. There is no such thing as a self-made man. Every businessman has used the vast American infrastructure, which the taxpayers paid for, to make his money. He did not make his money alone. He used taxpayer infrastructure. He got rich on what other taxpayers had paid for: the banking system, the Federal Reserve, the Treasury and Commerce Departments, and the judicial system, where nine-tenths of cases involve corporate law. These taxpayer investments support companies and wealthy investors. There are no self-made men! They wealthy have gotten rich using what previous taxpayers  have paid for. They owe the taxpayers of this country a great deal and should be paying it back.

Sounds pretty familiar, right? Now consider that that passage was not initially flagged by some lefty-baiting blog, but by the lefty-helping blog, The Daily Kos, where diarist Panacea Paola in March pointed out that "This passage and the argument surrounding it sound extremely similar to something we've been hearing recently and for the first time in a long time." That something? Elizabeth Warren's contention that "There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody."

Paola calls this "the winning progressive message," but I suspect that the president's furious backtracking/counterpunching after "You didn't build that" indicates some doubt about that, for one excellent reason: Federal spending has doubled in one decade, and we aren't getting double the quality in services. Spending on that level has ballooned debt service into 6 percent of the federal budget, with trend lines currently predicting that interest payments alone will eclipse the already enormous defense budget before the end of this decade. Meanwhile, all that spending has stubbornly failed to provide the promised-for economic turnaround.

Combining this sorry track record of government spending with an in-your-face accusation of taxpayer ingratitude strikes me as a little less than "winning," but you people go knock yourself out.

Here's Lakoff on video, as flagged by Jacobson:

More Reason on "You didn't build that," from Ira Stoll, J.D. Tuccille, me, Emily Ekins, Tim Cavanaugh, David Harsanyi, me again, Ed Krayewski, Damon W. Root, and Ronald Bailey.

And more Reason on George Lakoff: Jesse Walker (2005), Tim Cavanaugh (2008), and me (2009).

Top link via the Twitter feed of David "Iowahawk" Burge.