What follows below the fold are George Lakoff’s remarks on the majority rule initiative from the forum this evening.
Notes on Lakoff forum
Bauman: 53% of revenue now based on personal income tax. Used to be 23% when Prop 13 passed.
Vehicle license fee: $6.3 billion in today’s dollars.
Cost expands, and we’re not doing anything to upend them. As long as it takes us to give away what little of a store we have left to let us cut $700 million from the healthy families program-we have to give them ballot measures to help elect Republicans. So the reason that we’re here today is the cure to this problem. As long as a little minority of evil, closed-minded hateful people-as long as we allow that to happen, our state is going backwards and not forwards.
I talked to a teacher who said she had 53 students in her incoming class. And then we wonder why 56% of children don’t graduate. What are we doing when we have a 25% increase in class sizes?
When I get old, I’d like a few taxpayers left to pay for the services that I need. The other side is going to do whatever they can to undermine us. There is only one way to beat the other side: don’t let them get away with it! When they look in the camera and they lie, saying we have a spending problem not a revenue problem-Davis increased funding for emergency room physicians. Arnold has rolled that back. And we have a common sense problem. What we’re here to do tonight is talk about common sense.
In closing, there are two lawsuits that have been filed. After a deal had been negotiated, he took the unilateral authority to cut an additional hundreds of millions of dollars out of the budget. The argument is that he can do that for appropriations, but these weren’t appropriations bills. There was a second lawsuit filed by Darrel Steinberg. The LA County Party and the Riverside County Party have filed as amici in this case. And the point was to point out who was hurting. So our law firm went out and found actual victims of these budget cuts: women who were damaged because the domestic violence shelters aren’t funded. People with AIDS who lost care. And that has received confirmation from the appeals court. The people and children and seniors of California deserve better.
We need to all come together in this state if we’re going to get an initiative to pass. And I want to thank Deana, one of the vice-presidents of the CA Majority Rule PAC.
I got into this last spring when Lonnie Hancock invited me to speak to a group of State Senators. And I said, what’s the problem, you’re the majority! And they said they don’t have any power. And they explained the whole 2/3rds rule, and how the leadership has to work with them because we want to lose as little as possible.
And I asked, why aren’t you in every assembly district explaining this problem? It’s about schools, healthcare, everything, and there’s no answer. I went back and said that there’s something really wrong. Its name is democracy. People tend to think that a 2/3rds majority is more Democratic than a simple majority because it’s more people. But it’s actually not-because it allows one third plus one to govern. And we’ve seen this again and again as Eric said and that’s why this state is dysfunctional. And another thing that makes me ill is this: The people of this state don’t want to fund education or healthcare. That’s what they say, but it’s ridiculous. We have a majority of Dem legislators and the people voted for them. It’s absurd to say that the people don’t want these things.
If you think about the issue, it’s simple: it’s Democracy. Which is more Democratic? Majority rule, or minority rule? You knew the answer from the 3rd grade on. Even Republicans know the answer but they don’t like to. We know there will be a blowback if we try to change things, but the hardest blowback is coming from our side. The reason that Loni Hancock invited me was that there was a poll done by a progressive organization, and it asked the wrong question.
This is my business. Studying language and the framing behind language. If someone presented you with the poll question: would you rather have more taxes and higher services, or fewer taxes and less services. Obviously, it went with the latter. And the legislature concluded that they shouldn’t put anything about taxes on the 2010 ballot. Why do they think that? Because they think that polls are objective, and that language just floats out there. They’re wrong. Language is not neutral. There’s a truth here that that language hides. It’s the truth that we don’t have Democracy in this state. We have minority rule.
Framing is about telling truth so people understand it. When people use the word “supermajority” they help the other side. The Democratic Party ought to love this because it says that the problem has been Republicans. And I read in the newspapers constantly that the Democrats run the legislature. The legislature is actually run by Republicans in a minority rule state. Never let any newspaper get by with that. If you see it, flood them immediately. And that’s one of the things about talking for a year or more about this issue.
The issue isn’t taxes. It’s democracy. If the majority wants no taxes and to close schools let them do it. But the majority of Californians aren’t like that, and that’s the lie. The majority are perfectly reasonable and sensible if you tell them the truth. So what I did was simple. I sent in a ballot proposal for 2010. I had never done it before, but it’s not that hard.
My ballot proposal is one sentence long: 14 words. “all legislative actions on revenue and budget must be determined by a majority vote.” In case there’s any vagueness there, the form is sent to the attorney general, and it says, “what changes are you making in the Constitution. And there are two changes. 2/3rds becomes majority in two places. And our lawyer looked at it. And we’ll put another clause in there that says that if it contradicts anything else, this takes precedence. It’s one page. One sentence. And any Democrat can run on that because it says that conservative Republicans have been our problem.
There’s going to be a blowback and you know what it is. “They’re gonna raise your taxes.” And the answer is that it’s not about that. It’s about whether the majority or minority rule. And we have this nutty thing called ballot measures. You can pass one with a majority even about a 2/3rds rule.
What is a government in a democracy about? Two things. Two moral missions. Protection and empowerment. Worker protections, consumer, environmental protection. Healthcare. Protection of a better life. Pregnant women without the resources for prenatal care who have to wait 6 months to get anything at all. Then there are other things. Food safety. Who’s monitoring that? All kinds of things fall under that. And nobody who’s a Republican ever wants to talk about empowerment, but it’s what allows anybody to live a civilized life. Roads, bridges-you’re empowered by that. You didn’t build those highways or freeways, but you’re empowered by the state. You hire people who have an education. But they got trained, and you didn’t do that. You have a computer. And who figured out computers? Two guys from UC Berkeley. Who’s the chief scientist at Google? Trained by UC Berkeley.
If you have a cell phone, it works because certain chips were developed by UC San Diego. If you do any of those things, you’re being empowered by the state. You can’t make a dime in this state if you weren’t empowered by the state government. That’s what this is about.
People say that this is a poor state. This is the seventh largest economy in the world. If this were a country, it would be one of the richest. But it’s being run like a third-world country. And the top 1% now gets a quarter of the income. It didn’t used to be that way. Used to be about 9% or so. And now it’s way up there. And people say that it’s horrible that a few hundred thousand people pay 50% of taxes. Have you ever thought about how much of the assets they own?
Prop 13 passed because little old ladies were paying taxes that were too high, and they needed some help. Not a crazy argument, but it applied to corporations who don’t sell their property very often, because corporations count as people. If you apply that to corporations, then your budget revenue is solved. And how do you change that?
You’d have to change a definition to determine who a new owner is. And there has been a proposal made. If 2% of the stockholders of the corporation change, then you have a new owner. New assessment. So this is a legislative matter. This is something that should be discussed in a democracy. It should be out there for open discussion and vote. So what keeps this from happening? Why is it the case that when I suggested to the state senators that they be out working and talking, that the assembly people should be, they said, 1) the Republicans are keeping us busy-and I suggested that since they’ve made all the deals, you just say, one more thing and we go back on all deals. And they said that you couldn’t do that because people would starve. And I said, maybe the papers would then notice that we have minority rule. Why is it that in Republican districts where schools are just as bad, so is healthcare, and wives are just as battered-why can they get away with it? Because Republicans have a better communication strategy, everywhere. They have a system. They have think tanks at local, state and national levels. Lots of them, well funded, about half a billion a year. And the Democrats know this. They have training institutes that train tens of thousands of conservatives a year to think and talk conservative. They’re trained starting at age 15 in summer camps. They’re out there by the hundreds of thousands in every district. They have a booking agency that books these people on radio and TV.
They have these folks in business organizations, chambers of commerce, rotary clubs. Why don’t Democrats have that? And one more thing: They know how to frame things well. Several reasons for this: They start with an understanding of conservatism, and they apply it. Second, they have people doing framing like Frank Luntz. They’re not dopes. He gave us the whole government takeover thing. So why is it that Democratic donors-we could do that, by the way. We can have training institutes and speakers. And for this issue, we will. We’ll have a speaker’s bureau, training materials-we want to recruit speakers in every district. Two kinds: people who will be willing to be booked on radio and TV, but casual speakers as well who will talk to their friends as well who will know what to say to tell the truth effectively. Not to lie, ever. That’s what this is about. We can begin with this issue: the structuring of a communications system that we need anyway. And if any issue is it, this is the place to start.
Now, this is all crucial. You’re going to get a lot of blowback on this, and the first place is from the people who read those bad polls. So we’re gonna need a poll. We’ve got a pollster ready to go. We’re gonna need to raise $30,000. That’s not a lot of money. Organizations can chip in. We have donor forms going around right now. We need $30,000 from your organizations. It’s not huge. But we need to have the poll all ready to go. We need to have this all over the place. Today I have a piece on the Huffington Post. Susie will list the URL, but you can go to HuffPo, search for my name, and find it. And it will rise to the top of the Huffington Post. That means the people in the media will read it.
Now, they’ll say that we’re gonna raise your taxes. And you’ll say that this is about Democracy. Majority rule, doing what the majority wants. The voters are the majority. If they don’t like taxes, then they won’t vote for them. And if they’ll do, then they will.
Now, they took a poll on 55%. And they said that people would be in favor, and they didn’t ask about majority. Everybody knows about 50%. Have you ever took part in an election where you needed 55%? So we need to train people to speak. On radio and TV, or just casually. And we need volunteers to do all of those things. We need a movement that says that government is about protection and empowerment? Barack Obama has explained that better than anyone else. And nobody in the press has ever covered it. He says it over and over again. Democracy is based on empathy. Caring about other people. He was interviewed on Anderson Cooper and asked about his definition of patriotism, and he said that it begins with people caring about each other. That’s why we have the principles we do. His best speech on this was his father’s day speech in 2008: if you’re going to be a good parent, you need to be responsible for yourself and others. You need to empathize and care, and teach your children empathy. Otherwise, you’ll have a generation of people that don’t care about each other. And you need an ethic of excellence. If you’re going to make society better, you need to make yourself better. They work in a family and they work in a nation. And that’s what Democracy is about. And from that you get protection and empowerment as the moral missions of government. Everyone understands that as the basis of democracy. When was the last time you heard a Democratic candidate say anything like that?
But it can be said. People can explain protection and empowerment in 30 seconds. This is a crucial idea that has to be out there. This is about what government is in a democracy. If you’re going to talk about that, and they say that they don’t like government, and that government is inefficient, how does that compare with health insurance companies?
A lot of people are inefficient in this country, and government is often more efficient than corporations. But what happens if you get rid of parts of government? A very good example is the Bush administration, where the food and drug administration had its testing regulators for prescription drugs cut. What that meant is that the companies had to be responsible for testing their own. And then you got Fen-phen, Celebrex, Vioxx, and all of those. They lied. They fudged the tests because they were in charge. And who were they accountable for? Their shareholders. When you cut government, you don’t get rid of government, you just shift it to corporations. And so do you want it accountable to the people, or to profits? There’s a certain cartoon in Sunday papers that you’ve seen. Dilbert. And it’s for real, and there’s a reason it exists.
Anyone can get out there and tell truths effectively and powerfully. This state is dysfunctional because it is not democratic. And we will fix it by restoring Democracy.
Q: What about the message that restoring majority rule will help us streamline our tax system?
A: Minority rule just makes it worse. This is very important to understand: Nobody wants to get up and say something that hasn’t been said a hundred times before. You don’t want to sound impractical. You want to say what people already think.
Q. Can you talk about the responses that are geared toward the “check the majority”-that the minority can keep a check on the majority? That seems to be an effective countermessage.
When you elect a president, do you want a check on that? Governor? Senators? That’s not what a Democracy is about. There are cases when you want to do that, and that’s deep constitutional issues.
Re: walkouts. There were 5000 people in Sproul plaza in Berkeley, not sure how many in UCLA. But the UC has millions of Alumni. I’m trying to get the UC Alumni association to get speakers on behalf of overturning this. I don’t know if that will work, or what the legalities of the association are. But I will be here three weeks from tomorrow speaking to the LA chapter of the Berkeley alumni, and the week after it’ll be the chapter up north. They’re in positions of authority and they can be great speakers. And that’s another place that we can go and should go.
We’re powerful. We have a majority of voters who voted for Democrats. And if you’re afraid it will lose, what happens if it doesn’t even try. Are you going to decide to lose or take a chance on winning?
Q. Robin Podolsky from Horizon institute. We hear on TV and in the paper all the time: the legislature’s popularity is even lower than the governor’s. It would be good to have some data to confound that. And we hear that both sides can’t agree. And will they be bipartisan and compromise or no?
A: Well, they’re the nonpartisan guys who aren’t going along with democracy because there’s a law that allows them to do it, and we won’t stand for it any more.
And it may be true that the legislature is less popular, and that’s what the idea of minority rule allows us to do. Gridlock is the result of minority rule. That’s what they’ve given us. They refuse to accept anything that the majority of the people of this state want unless they get their way. The idea of minority rule allows us to get that idea reported on. Every year I talk to the first year journalism grad students at UC Berkeley and instruct them on framing. And every time somebody says that it’s the opposite of what you’re being taught. But tax relief and government takeover-that’s not objective language. What’s happened is that people from conservatism who are trained in marketing have put these ideas in there.
People in college have learned enlightenment reason. And it has the following properties. The first idea is that you’re aware of all the reasoning you do. It’s conscious. But decisions are 98% unconscious, and every marketer knows it. It also says that to be rational is to be logical. I know all about symbolic logic, and people don’t reason by symbolic logic. They reason in terms of frames, metaphors and cultural narratives. We have all the evidence we need from cognitive science and neuroscience.
If you get brain damage that leaves you unable to feel emotion, you don’t become rational. You don’t know what to want. You can’t make decisions. You must be emotional to be able to make decisions, and framing is about emotions. Real rationality has to do with frames, metaphors and emotions. Every single word is defined relative to a frame. People think that reason can fit the world directly. And that’s impossible if you think with a brain. And it was designed by evolution to run a body. And you have to go through the body and what the neural system will allow. And that’s why framing is important. It’s not spin. You can’t say a word without invoking a frame unconsciously, physically in your brain.
Q: You put a lot of importance on the poll. Would you explain more about it?
A: The idea of the poll is a framing poll. It asks the question, what would happen if people answered questions about what would happen if people think in terms of majority vs.. minority rule? If you adequately frame this, what would happen? So you want to ask simple questions: what’s more democratic: majority rule or minority rule. Given the fact that 2/3rds means 1/3rd veto, do you think that’s acceptable in a democracy. And would you vote for something with that one sentence.
And then you give some of the usual arguments on the other side. And then you give the answers: the representatives have to do what their constituents want them to do. Do you accept this as an answer. Those are the things we want to ask.
Q: What about decreases?
A: Increases and decreases. Anything about the budget.
A: Right now, we have rule by a conservative Republican minority, and that’s a disaster. It’s hurting other minorities. And who are the people that are hurt most? Most minorities themselves who are the most victimized. There is a difference between a legislative minority, and the minorities who are guaranteed their rights. I don’t know if that can get across, but your job is to speak to that issue in terms that makes sense to your audience. You have to find out where your people are and talk to them there. That’s what framing is. You have to have a feel for who you’re talking to. And you do, otherwise you wouldn’t have asked.
Q: Lilly Laskin from the Westside Club. I’m troubled by how we always take polls before we ask questions. Let’s say the public is way in favor of something, but it changes before the vote. I was wondering if you could tell us about that.
A: This is part of being sophisticated. We know that there will be a blowback. We have to have in place a communications system and enough money to have our own ads. And if we don’t organize enough we lose. This is a matter of the people of this state taking charge of the state. If the people of the state don’t want to take charge the other guys will win. That’s true. The ads matter. They’ll lie, cheat, use outrageous frames. And we have to prepare in advance for it. It’s very important to get out in front of it and to get as many organizations and donors ready to go to get the million signatures. And you get those million signatures by getting a communication system in place. It’s not just standing at the market. It’s having the people at the market say something. If we lose on this, we lose on everything. But we’ve already lost on it and it’ll get worse unless we win.
Q: Sue Broidy: I want to work on this before I finally go off into the sunset. But I’m very excited and want to do what I can. We did an unscientific poll in the Ojai valley and want to dislodge Tony Strickland. And we decided we would poll the Ojai Valley Democrats and asked if they would support a recall, and they said no, let him be voted out. But when we ask them, do you understand what he’s done to us with the 2/3rds, they said yes. And yes, they would support an initiative that changes that. I was cheered by that, and everyone should be doing that from now on.
A: People say, do we dare to hope? Somebody just won the presidency that way.
Q: How do you counter the great loaded word “patriot”?
A: I liked the way-let me tell you the suggestions over the years. Obama’s answer: patriotism is people caring about their countrymen. I had different name from the public option. I proposed calling it the American plan. Couldn’t convince the administration, but I tried. But that’s why it’s so important to go for Democracy. This is a patriotic bill. Hello patriots, vote for democracy and end minority rule. Get your flags out there! Wear two of them! Two flags, not one. We’re more patriotic. Because we want majority rule, not minority rule. But yes, we have to reclaim patriotism, and it’s not just about this bill, it’s about everything.
Q: Member of the union where we are. City of Walnut resident. We had one person earlier who said that we need a majority check regarding race and other issue. And what won the victory is when people had to acknowledge what the constitution guarantees. Same thing with gay marriage. So, what you said earlier about making a statement-it oftentimes only takes Republicans a second to say what they want, with soundbites as short as theirs. Do you believe in democracy or don’t you?
A: And more than that, the question of which soundbites work is an empirical question. I can’t tell you what will work, though I think that democracy and majority rule will work. But we have to test it. And you test it after you put it out there. The other guys put it out there for long enough that it’s in people’s brains. The reason repetition works is a basic fact about your brain. When your neural system gets activated, it gets stronger. That’s physics. You get a magnetic field going across the synapses. But they don’t know that. They just know that repetition does it.
Q: I’m on the executive board of the SM Democratic club. A few months ago, John Burton answered my question in front of a lot of people about a few essential reforms, including 2/3rds, and he was very enthusiastic about that. And he has now backtracked on that. How are we going to do this if the new leadership is not going to do this?
A: Burton wouldn’t talk to me for more than a minute. He just said that he saw the polls, and it said 55% on budget and nothing on taxes. How many of you were at the state convention? You voted on a resolution about this. How did that resolution come before you? The resolutions committee. And that was the point. We got the resolutions committee to do it and got a standing ovation. The rank and file Democrats know it’s the right thing to do and they have to tell their leaders. So how do you change this? You have to have a poll, but you have to have pressure. The major donors have to call Burton and say, if you want any money from me, you get behind this. And he has to hear that from donor after donor and organization after organization. We have to win in our own party first. I think John Burton is a good person, same with Bass and Steinberg. It’s the good people that we have to win over first.
Q: Cal State LA. How does the 2/3rds vote affect higher education? Have you spoken with California Forward?
A: Just budget. Not taxes. Yes, California Forward is not supporting this, because they’ve read the poll. Yet. But if we don’t get this thing organized it won’t go anywhere. This isn’t about taxes. It’s about making a functional government. We now have a functional anti-Democratic government. It’s not about taxes. If they make it about taxes, we’ll lose.
Q: Dave Sonneborn. You’re great. Really, I was going to ask about the questions that have already been asked, about how we win our own party. So, at this point, what I would ask is fairly trivial. I was wondering what has happened with the group of legislators that you started out with? Any interactions since?
A: They gave up. A few of them stayed there. Many of them because they have ambitions in rising within the state. Some because they were new, because of term limits. But they just gave up and had to follow the leadership. And because they gave up, I said I’m not going to.