Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Here's an excerpt from an article called "To Catch a Wolf: How to Stop Conservative Frames in Their Tracks". It's about the fact that "conservatives" so often get to "frame the question" through the news media:

BLITZER: I want you to raise your hand if you believe English should be the official language of the United States.

Obama refused to take the bait:

OBAMA: This is the kind of question that is designed precisely to divide us. You know, you’re right. Everybody is going to learn to speak English if they live in this country. The issue is not whether or not future generations of immigrants are going to learn English. The question is: How can we come up with both a legal, sensible immigration policy? And when we get distracted by those kinds of questions, I think we do a disservice to the American people.

We applaud Senator Obama. Every progressive should refuse to answer such “when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife” questions. Obama’s words: “This is the kind of question that is designed precisely to divide us” could be a polite but effective mantra.

Why, exactly, does Blitzer’s question evoke a conservative frame? The “official language” movement is jingoistic, discriminatory, and sometimes downright racist. As Hillary Clinton pointed out, there is a difference between a national language — the language mostly spoken in a country (which English is) — and an “official language,” (which would disallow public funds to be used for ballots in other languages and hence deny citizens the right to vote). An “official language” would also not permit funding for translators in hospitals, thus denying health care (and possibly creating public health risks). And it would rule out funds for bilingual education classes, often necessary as immigrants learn English, thus denying education to those who need and deserve it.

At the same time, it seems innocent on the surface, as if it were asking whether immigrants should learn English, a very different question. To accept the question and say yes is to accept the implicit racism, but to say no sounds like you don’t think immigrants should learn English. The only response is to reject the question and tell the questioner what a reasonable question should be, just as Obama did.

If the debates continue to be "moderated" by conservatives, we are truly in a predicament.

1 comment:

  1. Reframing is a technique that every thinking person should cultivate, and I, too, applaud Senator Obama.

    At the same time we need to monitor our own questions to see if they fit in the category of "Are you still beating your wife?"


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