Our 'One Big Family' Frame 2/02/05
Published on Wednesday, February 2, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
by Susan C. Strong
As the Bush Administration finishes setting forth its alarming vision for America, we must lay out our own 'big vision' story. But a vital piece of that vision is the way we get to the future we want from where we are now. Given the dangerous state of our republic and the need for strong bipartisan resistance to the Bush agenda, our vision must be framed to be inclusive. That means it must be able to draw support from the increasingly unhappy, moderate conservatives in Congress and in our local communities, without compromising our own basic goals. So let's look more closely at how this could work.
Why the 'One Big Family' Frame?
The phrase 'unhappy moderate Republicans' refers, of course, to the effects of Radical Right extremism on the Republican party now. That extremism is fragmenting the conservative camp politically, so our focus needs to be on their newly divergent views about policy issues, not on the similar ways their own nuclear families work. Lumping all conservatives together at this point is downright suicidal.
Right now we have to get beyond the 'nuclear family' story. There is an historic American National Family metaphor, a little less pretty than the version Barack Obama invoked in his famous speech, but more serviceable for these times perhaps. That American National Family frame is like any real extended family-fractious but in the end functional. There are people in it who aren't just like you, but they are still family and we still have to try to solve our problems together, despite our differences.
In fact, the 'rules' of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are explicitly designed to try to keep these internal conflicts civil and balanced, and to stop self-destructive 'war' models of domestic political life, literal or figurative. The story of this Extended Family frame also implies a specific, historical American way of communal problem solving-nationally the operative descriptive words were 'bipartisan,' 'pragmatic,' 'solution-oriented,' 'common sense,' 'practical' 'pulling together,' 'teamwork,' many of which also apply at the local level, as does 'community building, ' 'finding common ground,' 'problem solving,' and so on.
The most important thing about this 'one big family' frame is exactly this way people focus on real problem solving together, looking at what really works and what doesn't, emphasizing what they agree on (saving public money, for example), having a shared goal they work for even if their reasons for wanting the result differ, working out a 'rough consensus,' yes, compromising here and there if the potential results are worth it, tolerating each other's differences as part of the traditional American respect for variety, individuality, and difference of views.
A vital part of this frame is also the way it acknowledges that we all hold, at least in principle, the same set of basic American Public Moral Values-- fairness, honesty, equal opportunity, democracy, freedom, and compassion--drawn from both religious and secular ethics. This truth is the reason that Bush has been able to pull off his so-called 'Orwellian language' strategy so far. But now the chasm between the values he invokes and the results they cover up has gotten so big that even some of his own party is beginning to recoil.
What We Can Do With the 'One Big Family' Frame
The easiest way to raise the 'one big family' frame in dialogue with mainstream people is to ask what problems in the nation or the community (or the world) people are worried about the most. I have heard George Lakoff say that if you ask, 'what's wrong around here?' in a neighborhood, the operative metaphors will pop out in the answers. Asking that question in America leads immediately to the question of how to solve the problem. Keeping the context 'pragmatic, practical, results oriented, realistic, inclusive of all stakeholders, and workable' should help. 'Working to build a better _____,' being 'community problem solvers,' 'making a difference, doing the right thing, getting something done,' are all phrases that also work to create the right tone.
But How Can 'One Big Family' Fit in Battlefield America?
To those who would object that this kind of framing for progressive ideas doesn't stand a chance in the current political climate of all-out partisan warfare by the Republican Right in Congress and in the media, I would suggest that 'a one big family' focus can itself be framed as fighting the Right's dangerous 'war' model of American politics at home and abroad, by restoring the true spirit of American community at home and then expanding it to the world. This way our 'one big family' story could grow to mean making sure that genuine freedom, real ownership capacity, true democracy, enduring social solidarity, and a toxin free life on Earth are available to all the members of our human family, wherever they may be.
Although it is true that the Republicans practice harsh disciplinary measures against rebels within their own ranks, there are already striking new examples of patriotic political courage among moderate Congressional Republicans, on nuclear issues and Social Security. We must build on these hopeful signs. We must be the 'new American common sense activists,' 'the new American problem solvers,' or 'the new American pragmatists,' combining the best of that traditional American community spirit and value set with hot new ideas, wherever they are found worldwide. It's who we really want to be anyway, Americans who represent the best of the past and the future too. So let's let into this club any others who like the story too, regardless of how they were raised or their current party label.
Susan C. Strong, Ph.D., (firstname.lastname@example.org) founded The Metaphor Project (www.metaphorproject.org) in 1997 to help progressives learn how to use the American Story to reach mainstream audiences.