Framing the Freedom Argument! (Dr. Marvin J. Christensen)
The framing of the Tea Party – now becoming the framing for the Republican Party – is a work of manipulative art. The “Tea Party” – a conservative group with roots growing out of displeasure with government (as they understand it) – is seeking to change a government they see as “running amuck.”
While they do not claim to be a “political party” in the formal sense, they are determined to play a significant role in governance of the American democracy. Their stated purpose is to “pursue the American Dream and to keep that Dream alive for their children and grandchildren.” According to printed documents, the Tea Party intends to ignite passion and fervor derived from the same set of core principles that brought America together at its founding. However, we must look at the “framing” and interpretation of words they use to spread their message..
At its root the American Dream as framed by the Tea Party, is about freedom. Freedom to work hard and the freedom to keep the fruits of your labor to use as you see fit without harming others and without hindering their freedom. They state three guiding principles to describe the freedom necessary to pursue and live the American Dream:
It is not difficult to connect these “principles” and the sort of democracy many of us value. It is difficult to find fault with any of these statements. These principle statements elicit agreement and stir emotion. With these words, the Tea Party has succeeded in “framing” a description of freedom and government that is in agreement with the fundamental beliefs of most people. However, the “devil is in the details” – how the words are interpreted and how the ideas are framed.
For example: When it comes to freedom, the Tea Party believes the framers of the Constitution had everything RIGHT – for all time. They say…”The Constitution is a timeless document that guarantees our basic freedoms.” There is no recognition of the basic fact that over the centuries, circumstances and conditions have changed – not to mention changes in societal and cultural norms. Words are defined by context as much as meaning. Individuals can – and do - interpret meanings differently. That is why framing is critical. The frame adds context and, therefore shapes meaning.
What does “Free Market Economics” mean to the average person? Tea Party advocates, and arguably most Republicans, think it means little or no external regulation. From that interpretation comes the misunderstanding that government involvement (control) means less freedom. Hence government should be controlled and limited. Not a bad idea – unless it is carried to the point where individual rights are diminished by lack of government oversight. (For example, does it serve the broad purpose of protecting the “greater good” by failing to legislate against acts that promote discrimination and deny fundamental rights?)
Framing of the role of government is critical! They imagine government completely in control of individual rights limiting freedom. Taxes, laws, and regulation are seen as anathema to freedom rather than the basis for democratic governance. In the eyes of the Tea Party and most Republicans, all government is bad. Yet their actions give great power to special interests. This is irrational hypocrisy!
Most Democrats believe taxes, laws, and regulations should be used to create a “level playing field” for all elements of our society. We the people, have established elected, democratic government for the purpose of providing benefit for the greater good of the people. Taxes provide for the overall balance of opportunity when they are assigned and collected fairly. Of course, government that levies and collects taxes must be fiscally responsible. Laws and regulation should assure equity and fairness. Representative government allows individuals to cast votes to assure their wishes are represented.
It is now several months after the November 2014 mid-term elections. Now we need to “frame” our messages so that they are more compelling than the Tea Party frame advanced by the Republicans.