Thursday, October 19

Interview with George Lakoff - Why Republicans control Political Discourse, and Progressives have no Clue how to Stop Them

'Conservatives have a word for people who are not pursuing their self interest. They're called "do-gooders," and they get in the way of people who are pursuing their self-interest.' -George Lakoff

'A "war president" has extraordinary powers. And the "war on terror," of course, never ends. There's no peace treaty with terror. It's a prescription for keeping conservatives in power indefinitely.' -George Lakoff

Why was the Rockridge Institute created, and how do you define its purpose?

I got tired of cursing the newspaper every morning. I got tired of seeing what was going wrong and not being able to do anything about it.

The background for Rockridge is that conservatives, especially conservative think tanks, have framed virtually every issue from their perspective. They have put a huge amount of money into creating the language for their worldview and getting it out there. Progressives have done virtually nothing. Even the new Center for American Progress, the think tank that John Podesta [former chief of staff for the Clinton administration] is setting up, is not dedicated to this at all. I asked Podesta who was going to do the Center's framing. He got a blank look, thought for a second and then said, "You!" Which meant they haven't thought about it at all. And that's the problem. Liberals don't get it. They don't understand what it is they have to be doing.

Rockridge's job is to reframe public debate, to create balance from a progressive perspective. It's one thing to analyze language and thought, it's another thing to create it. That's what we're about. It's a matter of asking 'What are the central ideas of progressive thought from a moral perspective?'

How does language influence the terms of political debate?

Language always comes with what is called "framing." Every word is defined relative to a conceptual framework. If you have something like "revolt," that implies a population that is being ruled unfairly, or assumes it is being ruled unfairly, and that they are throwing off their rulers, which would be considered a good thing. That's a frame.

If you then add the word "voter" in front of "revolt," you get a metaphorical meaning saying that the voters are the oppressed people, the governor is the oppressive ruler, that they have ousted him and this is a good thing and all things are good now. All of that comes up when you see a headline like "voter revolt" — something that most people read and never notice. But these things can be affected by reporters and very often, by the campaign people themselves.

Here's another example of how powerful framing is. In Arnold Schwarzenegger's acceptance speech, he said, "When the people win, politics as usual loses." What's that about? Well, he knows that he's going to face a Democratic legislature, so what he has done is frame himself and also Republican politicians as the people, while framing Democratic politicians as politics as usual — in advance. The Democratic legislators won't know what hit them. They're automatically framed as enemies of the people.

Why do conservatives appear to be so much better at framing?

Because they've put billions of dollars into it. Over the last 30 years their think tanks have made a heavy investment in ideas and in language. In 1970, [Supreme Court Justice] Lewis Powell wrote a fateful memo to the National Chamber of Commerce saying that all of our best students are becoming anti-business because of the Vietnam War, and that we needed to do something about it. Powell's agenda included getting wealthy conservatives to set up professorships, setting up institutes on and off campus where intellectuals would write books from a conservative business perspective, and setting up think tanks. He outlined the whole thing in 1970. They set up the Heritage Foundation in 1973, and the Manhattan Institute after that. [There are many others, including the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institute at Stanford, which date from the 1940s.]

And now, as the New York Times Magazine quoted Paul Weyrich, who started the Heritage Foundation, they have 1,500 conservative radio talk show hosts. They have a huge, very good operation, and they understand their own moral system. They understand what unites conservatives, and they understand how to talk about it, and they are constantly updating their research on how best to express their ideas.

Why haven't progressives done the same thing?

There's a systematic reason for that. You can see it in the way that conservative foundations and progressive foundations work. Conservative foundations give large block grants year after year to their think tanks. They say, 'Here's several million dollars, do what you need to do.' And basically, they build infrastructure, they build TV studios, hire intellectuals, set aside money to buy a lot of books to get them on the best-seller lists, hire research assistants for their intellectuals so they do well on TV, and hire agents to put them on TV. They do all of that. Why? Because the conservative moral system, which I analyzed in "Moral Politics," has as its highest value preserving and defending the "strict father" system itself. And that means building infrastructure. As businessmen, they know how to do this very well.

Meanwhile, liberals' conceptual system of the "nurturant parent" has as its highest value helping individuals who need help. The progressive foundations and donors give their money to a variety of grassroots organizations. They say, 'We're giving you $25,000, but don't waste a penny of it. Make sure it all goes to the cause, don't use it for administration, communication, infrastructure, or career development.' So there's actually a structural reason built into the worldviews that explains why conservatives have done better.

Back up for a second and explain what you mean by the strict father and nurturant parent frameworks.

Well, the progressive worldview is modeled on a nurturant parent family. Briefly, it assumes that the world is basically good and can be made better and that one must work toward that. Children are born good; parents can make them better. Nurturing involves empathy, and the responsibility to take care of oneself and others for whom we are responsible. On a larger scale, specific policies follow, such as governmental protection in form of a social safety net and government regulation, universal education (to ensure competence, fairness), civil liberties and equal treatment (fairness and freedom), accountability (derived from trust), public service (from responsibility), open government (from open communication), and the promotion of an economy that benefits all and functions to promote these values, which are traditional progressive values in American politics.

The conservative worldview, the strict father model, assumes that the world is dangerous and difficult and that children are born bad and must be made good. The strict father is the moral authority who supports and defends the family, tells his wife what to do, and teaches his kids right from wrong. The only way to do that is through painful discipline — physical punishment that by adulthood will become internal discipline. The good people are the disciplined people. Once grown, the self-reliant, disciplined children are on their own. Those children who remain dependent (who were spoiled, overly willful, or recalcitrant) should be forced to undergo further discipline or be cut free with no support to face the discipline of the outside world.

So, project this onto the nation and you see that to the right wing, the good citizens are the disciplined ones — those who have already become wealthy or at least self-reliant — and those who are on the way. Social programs, meanwhile, "spoil" people by giving them things they haven't earned and keeping them dependent. The government is there only to protect the nation, maintain order, administer justice (punishment), and to provide for the promotion and orderly conduct of business. In this way, disciplined people become self-reliant. Wealth is a measure of discipline. Taxes beyond the minimum needed for such government take away from the good, disciplined people rewards that they have earned and spend it on those who have not earned it.

From that framework, I can see why Schwarzenegger appealed to conservatives.

Exactly. In the strict father model, the big thing is discipline and moral authority, and punishment for those who do something wrong. That comes out very clearly in the Bush administration's foreign and domestic policy. With Schwarzenegger, it's in his movies: most of the characters that he plays exemplify that moral system. He didn't have to say a word! He just had to stand up there, and he represents Mr. Discipline. He knows what's right and wrong, and he's going to take it to the people. He's not going to ask permission, or have a discussion, he's going to do what needs to be done, using force and authority. His very persona represents what conservatives are about.

You've written a lot about "tax relief" as a frame. How does it work?

The phrase "Tax relief" began coming out of the White House starting on the very day of Bush's inauguration. It got picked up by the newspapers as if it were a neutral term, which it is not. First, you have the frame for "relief." For there to be relief, there has to be an affliction, an afflicted party, somebody who administers the relief, and an act in which you are relieved of the affliction. The reliever is the hero, and anybody who tries to stop them is the bad guy intent on keeping the affliction going. So, add "tax" to "relief" and you get a metaphor that taxation is an affliction, and anybody against relieving this affliction is a villain.

"Tax relief" has even been picked up by the Democrats. I was asked by the Democratic Caucus in their tax meetings to talk to them, and I told them about the problems of using tax relief. The candidates were on the road. Soon after, Joe Lieberman still used the phrase tax relief in a press conference. You see the Democrats shooting themselves in the foot.

So what should they be calling it?

It's not just about what you call it, if it's the same "it." There's actually a whole other way to think about it. Taxes are what you pay to be an American, to live in a civilized society that is democratic and offers opportunity, and where there's an infrastructure that has been paid for by previous taxpayers. This is a huge infrastructure. The highway system, the Internet, the TV system, the public education system, the power grid, the system for training scientists — vast amounts of infrastructure that we all use, which has to be maintained and paid for. Taxes are your dues — you pay your dues to be an American. In addition, the wealthiest Americans use that infrastructure more than anyone else, and they use parts of it that other people don't. The federal justice system, for example, is nine-tenths devoted to corporate law. The Securities and Exchange Commission and all the apparatus of the Commerce Department are mainly used by the wealthy. And we're all paying for it.

So taxes could be framed as an issue of patriotism.

It is an issue of patriotism! Are you paying your dues, or are you trying to get something for free at the expense of your country? It's about being a member. People pay a membership fee to join a country club, for which they get to use the swimming pool and the golf course. But they didn't pay for them in their membership. They were built and paid for by other people and by this collectivity. It's the same thing with our country — the country as country club, being a member of a remarkable nation. But what would it take to make the discussion about that? Every Democratic senator and all of their aides and every candidate would have to learn how to talk about it that way. There would have to be a manual. Republicans have one. They have a guy named Frank Luntz, who puts out a 500-page manual every year that goes issue by issue on what the logic of the position is from the Republican side, what the other guys' logic is, how to attack it, and what language to use.

What are some other examples of issues that progressives should try to reframe?

There are too many examples, that's the problem. The so-called energy crisis in California should have been called Grand Theft. It was theft, it was the result of deregulation by Pete Wilson, and Davis should have said so from the beginning.

Or take gay marriage, which the right has made a rallying topic. Surveys have been done that say Americans are overwhelmingly against gay marriage. Well, the same surveys show that they also overwhelmingly object to discrimination against gays. These seem to be opposite facts, but they're not. "Marriage" is about sex. When you say "gay marriage," it becomes about gay sex, and approving of gay marriage becomes implicitly about approving of gay sex. And while a lot of Americans don't approve of gay sex, that doesn't mean they want to discriminate against gay people. Perfectly rational position. Framed in that way, the issue of gay marriage will get a lot of negative reaction. But what if you make the issue "freedom to marry," or even better, "the right to marry"? That's a whole different story. Very few people would say they did not support the right to marry who you choose. But the polls don't ask that question, because the right wing has framed that issue.

Do any of the Democratic Presidential candidates grasp the importance of framing?

None. They don't get it at all. But they're in a funny position. The framing changes that have to be made are long-term changes. The conservatives understood this in 1973. By 1980 they had a candidate, Ronald Reagan, who could take all this stuff and run with it. The progressives don't have a candidate now who understands these things and can talk about them. And in order for a candidate to be able to talk about them, the ideas have to be out there. You have to be able to reference them in a sound bite. Other people have to put these ideas into the public domain, not politicians. The question is, How do you get these ideas out there? There are all kinds of ways, and one of the things the Rockridge Institute is looking at is talking to advocacy groups, which could do this very well. They have more of a budget, they're spread all over the place, and they have access to the media.

Right now the Democratic Party is into marketing. They pick a number of issues like prescription drugs and Social Security and ask which ones sell best across the spectrum, and they run on those issues. They have no moral perspective, no general values, no identity. People vote their identity, they don't just vote on the issues, and Democrats don't understand that. Look at Schwarzenegger, who says nothing about the issues. The Democrats ask, How could anyone vote for this guy? They did because he put forth an identity. Voters knew who he is.

Are "progressive" and "liberal" different, or is Rockridge trying to sidestep the conservatives' successfully having framed "liberal" as pejorative?

Well, there is some of that, but both terms are kind of mushy and vague. After World War II and the Vietnam War, "liberal" came to mean someone who supports [Franklin Delano Roosevelt's] New Deal, and a strong military and foreign policy. The term "progressive" originated from people who were Democratic Socialists, but the socialism aspect has dropped away, and it's come to mean what I call "nurturant morality." It includes choosing peace whenever possible, environmentalism, civil liberties, minority rights, notions like social justice through living wages, et cetera. "Progressive" has been chosen, in part, to contrast in a forward-looking way with "conservative" — for example, as when Podesta chose the name "The Center for American Progress" for his new think tank.

Also, within traditional liberalism you have a history of rational thought that was born out of the Enlightenment: all meanings should be literal, and everything should follow logically. So if you just tell people the facts, that should be enough — the truth shall set you free. All people are fully rational, so if you tell them the truth, they should reach the right conclusions. That, of course, has been a disaster.

Meaning, for example, that if you tell people that the tax cuts are overwhelmingly benefiting the richest 1 percent of Americans at the expense of a balanced budget, liberals think people will naturally revolt against the measure.

Exactly. It never works. And liberals don't know why. They don't understand that there's another frame involved. Here's another example: I've been working with a lot of nongovernmental organizations and advocacy groups of various kinds, including an environmental health group researching what they called the "body burden."

The what?

The body burden — you have to hear it twice, right? It refers to the amount of toxic chemicals you have in your body. This group did a study with the Centers for Disease Control and found that there are vast numbers of toxic chemicals in our bodies, and in the bodies of newborn babies, in mothers' milk, and so on. I asked them how they were going to frame this. They said, "What do you mean? We're just going to put out a report with all the statistics, and they'll be so shocking that everything will change." So they did: a few papers ran it on page 17, some papers ran it a little but more. The next day it was done.

But is that a failure of framing, or a failure of infrastructure, as in no public relations team, no properly prepared talk- show guests on staff?

It's a failure of the whole thing: not taking communication seriously and not taking conceptualization seriously. Anyway, they came back to me a couple of months later and asked how they should run a campaign on it. I said, "It's very simple. You call your campaign Be Poison-Free."

Why use the word "poison"? Because the framing of poison has a poisoner. It makes you look at who is doing the poisoning. Everyone knows what poison is — it kills you. Everybody knows that. Now of course you then have to run a serious campaign and have the money to do that and have the public relations support, which is harder, but the first step is understanding how to frame it.

What about the phrase "free market"? Is that an example of framing?

Yes, but one that's so deeply embedded that it's difficult at first to see how. You have to start with the metaphor that the market is a force of nature, which comes from [the economist] Adam Smith, who says that if everybody pursues their own profit, then the profit of all will be maximized by the "invisible hand" — by which he means nature. There is also a metaphor that well-being is wealth. If I do you a favor, therefore making things better for you, then you say, "How can I ever repay you? I'm in your debt." It's as if I'd given you money. We understand our well-being as wealth.

Combine them, and you get the conservatives' version that says if everybody pursues their own well-being, the well-being of all will be maximized by nature. They have the metaphorical notion of a free market even in their child-rearing system. It's not just an economic theory; it's a moral theory. When you discipline your children, they get internal discipline to become self-reliant, which means they can pursue their self-interest and get along in a difficult world. Conservatives even have a word for people who are not pursuing their self interest. They're called "do-gooders," and they get in the way of people who are pursuing their self-interest.

OK, but how is that a frame, rather than a guiding ideology?

Because the "free market" doesn't exist. There is no such thing. All markets are constructed. Think of the stock exchange. It has rules. The WTO [World Trade Organization] has 900 pages of regulations. The bond market has all kinds of regulations and commissions to make sure those regulations carried out. Every market has rules. For example, corporations have a legal obligation to maximize shareholder profit. That's a construction of the market. Now, it doesn't have to be that way. You could make that rule, "Corporations must maximize stakeholder value." Stakeholders — as opposed to shareholders, the institutions who own the largest portions of stock — would include employees, local communities, and the environment. That changes the whole notion of what a "market" is.

Suppose we were to change the accounting rules, so that we not only had open accounting, which we really need, but we also had full accounting. Full accounting would include things like ecological accounting. You could no longer dump your stuff in the river or the air and not pay a fee. No more free dumping. If you had full accounting, that constructs the market in a different way. It's still a market, and it's still "free" within the rules. But the rules are always there. It's important for progressives to get that idea out there, that all markets are constructed. We should be debating how they're constructed, how they should be constructed, and how are they stacked to serve particular interests.

What's in this new "essential guide for progressives"? Even the Democratic Party seems to have trouble defining what makes a liberal.

Well, for that reason I wrote a chapter on what unites progressives — a moral system, certain political principles, and what I call policy directions as opposed to policies. A policy direction is something like "Let's have a sustainable environment" and "Working people shouldn't be living in poverty" and "Everybody should have health care." The problem is that the Democrats have wanted to talk about programs rather than policy directions, and programs call up distinctions, which tend to separate people. For example, Kerry should be talking about health care for everyone, and just put a white paper with the details of the program on his website. The values, principles, and general directions are what people care about and what brings them together. It's pointless to argue about the policy-wonk details, because they're going to change anyway.

In another chapter I tell progressives how to talk to conservatives. This is not rocket science: you should show respect, know your values, always reframe, and say what you believe. The important thing is not to accept their framing of the issues, nor just negate their framing — that just reinforces it. Simply confronting them with facts won't help. Frames trump facts. The facts alone will not set you free. You have to reframe the issues before the facts can become meaningful and powerful.

Some conservatives are ideologues and you're not going to sway them. But most conservatives are nice people. What you want to do is activate their nurturing model, engage their empathy. Ask them who they care about, what they care about, and why. Find out where their empathy lies. Connect with the part of them that shares your values, and get that to spread to other issues.

Last October you said that "liberals don't get it" — they don't even realize that conservatives are controlling the terms of debate. Have they gotten any better at framing?

There's been a lot of improvement. In nine months we've managed to reach a lot of people. You saw it in action at the Democratic Convention, in the speeches by Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Barack Obama, and John Kerry. They talked about values. That's a big change, and it's not an accident. They talked about unity, not the culture war. They began to explain why Democratic values are traditional American values — an important step. The idea is very simple: Look at the things we are most proud of in this country, from the Declaration of Independence to the present. We had slavery then. We abolished it. Only male property owners could vote. Now both non-property owners and women can vote.

The New Deal, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act — these too are all products of progressive, liberal values. They represent advances of the nurturant parent model versus the conservative "strict father" model [articulated in Lakoff's "Moral Politics," see here for a brief discussion]. These movements are also seen as stemming from traditional American values, part of our shared heritage. So, when you start looking at what this country is rightfully proud of, it's the extension of progressive values. And it's time to say that loud and clear.

One of the values that Democrats seemed to drop into every sentence of the Convention was "strength." How is that part of the progressive canon?

You have to fight strength with strength. That's straight out of "Moral Politics": the strict father has to be strong, but the nurturant parent must also be strong. However, I don't think the Democrats did a good job of defining what the difference is in Kerry's kind of strength, because they refused to use the word "weak" in reference to Bush. They wanted to have a completely positive campaign — which it isn't anyway — but they didn't want to say that Bush has made the country weaker. The issue of weakness awakens the stereotype of liberals, so instead they said, "Look, we just want America to be stronger."

But "stronger" doesn't necessarily imply weak. They could have talked more directly about all the ways Bush has weakened the country. When they have a case to be made on the basis of a pattern of behavior, they don't tend to use a grammar that really nails the message, like "We're weaker in education, and here's why. We're weaker in security, and here's why." You could write this argument in half a page. The Democrats aren't there yet, by any means.

Why do conservatives like to use the phrase "liberal elite" as an epithet?

Conservatives have branded liberals, and the liberals let them get away with it: the "liberal elite," the "latte liberals," the "limousine liberals." The funny thing is that conservatives are the elite. The whole idea of conservative doctrine is that some people are better than others, that some people deserve more. To conservatives, if you're poor it's because you deserve it, you're not disciplined enough to get ahead. Conservative doctrine requires that there be an elite: the people who thrive in the free market have more money, and they should. Progressives say, "No, that's not fair. Maybe some should have more money, but no one should live in poverty. Everybody who works deserves to have a reasonable standard of living for their work." These are ideas that are progressive or liberal ideas, and progressives aren't getting them out there enough.

What progressives are promoting is not elite at all. Progressives ought to be talking about the conservative elite. They shouldn't be complaining about "tax cuts for the rich," they should be complaining about "tax cuts for the conservative elite," because that's who's getting them.

Speaking of taxes, Democrats seem to have at last stopped falling into the trap of using the phrase "tax relief" — thereby adopting conservative framing that taxes are an affliction from which citizens need to be rescued. But they haven't yet presented an alternate frame for taxes.

Every now and then they slip and say "tax relief for the middle class," but yes, they're learning. The Republicans, meanwhile, have increased their usage.

Recently I've been talking about taxes as investments for the common good. In the past the government made certain wise investments in things like the interstate highway system. You just get in your car and drive; you don't think about how every time you use the highways you're getting a dividend on that previous investment — and so is every business that sends a truck over the interstate highway system. The Internet is another example. It started out as a network funded by the Defense Department, by the government investing taxpayers' money. Now, every time you surf the Web, you're getting a dividend. Drugs and medical advances that come out of National Institutes of Health grants are financed by taxpayers. Computer chips in our computers and cars exist because of the government's early investment of taxpayers' money in semiconductor research.

But wouldn't conservatives argue, as they have with Social Security, that individuals can invest their money better than the government?

That's simple. Would you prefer to have the government build and maintain the highway system, or do it yourself? Would you rather have a private company owning the highway system and the Internet, and charging you God knows how much to use them? You like the army, but do you want to build your own? How about your own police and fire departments? No. You want a government that can do the things you need, in the areas where private companies can't or won't do them or simply can't be trusted to do them right. One of progressives' main goals is a better future for all. A wise and efficient government is needed for that in hundreds of ways.

When it comes to government investment of your tax money, businesses benefit even more than ordinary people. To start a business, you don't have to invent computer science or the telephone network, you don't have to build a highway system. They're just there for businesses to use, as is the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, the SEC, the Commerce Department, and the courts. A company doesn't have to make up a way to adjudicate its disputes with other companies; we paid for it already. Nine-tenths of the courts are there for corporate law. Corporations get enormous benefits paid for by other taxpayers, but they've stopped paying their way. Corporate income tax used to make up about 38 percent of all U.S. taxes. Now it's less than 10 percent. Ordinary taxpayers are making the investments in infrastructure, and corporate stockholders are getting the dividends. And that's just not fair.

You've said that progressives should never use the phrase "war on terror" — why?

There are two reasons for that. Let's start with "terror." Terror is a general state, and it's internal to a person. Terror is not the person we're fighting, the "terrorist." The word terror activates your fear, and fear activates the strict father model, which is what conservatives want. The "war on terror" is not about stopping you from being afraid, it's about making you afraid.

Next, "war." How many terrorists are there — hundreds? Sure. Thousands? Maybe. Tens of thousands? Probably not. The point is, terrorists are actual people, and relatively small numbers of individuals, considering the size of our country and other countries. It's not a nation-state problem. War is a nation-state problem.

What about the "war on drugs" or the "war on poverty"?

Those are metaphorical. Real wars are wars against countries, and in the "war on terror," we are attacking countries. But those countries are not the same as the terrorists. We're acting at the wrong level. Meanwhile, by using this frame, we get a commander in chief, as the Republicans keep referring to Bush — a "war president" with "war powers," which imply that ordinary protections don't have to be observed. A "war president" has extraordinary powers. And the "war on terror," of course, never ends. There's no peace treaty with terror. It's a prescription for keeping conservatives in power indefinitely. In three words — "war on terror" — they've enacted vast political changes.

Bush has positioned war with Iraq as part of the "war on terror." How can progressives frame opposition to the Iraq war without being tarred as unpatriotic or as in league with the terrorists?

By criticizing Bush for weakening us. By saying out loud, while waving the flag, that the Iraq war has made us more vulnerable to terrorists in many ways. Iraq had nothing to do with 911 or al Qaeda. By moving troops from Afghanistan to Iraq, Bush may have let Osama bin Laden escape, and he certainly allowed al Qaeda and the Taliban to regroup. Moreover, the Iraq war has recruited more terrorists. The $200 billion we've spent there could have been used to enhance homeland security, which has mostly been ignored. It could also have been used to address the root causes of terrorism, which the Bush administration is ignoring. Moreover, Bush has allowed North Korea and Iran to move toward becoming nuclear powers, while he concentrated our efforts on Iraq, which had no nuclear weapons program. Allowing nuclear proliferation aids terrorism.

The Bush reply is always avoidance: that we're better off without Saddam Hussein. Clinton gave the clearest rebuttal of that argument: There are other bad guys like Saddam Hussein in the world, in North Korea, Iran, and Sudan. There are bad guys all over the place. Are we going to invade all these countries? As Clinton said, we can't possibly attack, imprison or kill everyone who's against us. We have to make friends.

You can also take a patriotic stand and criticize Bush for being ineffectual. You have to be on the offensive. Why did we go into Iraq without a peace plan? Without properly equipping our troops? Without our allies?

How do you frame this issue of Iraq? You say, "We go to war when we have to, when it's really necessary, when we're being attacked. We don't go to war as an instrument of economic policy. We don't go to war as an instrument of geopolitical positioning. We go to war when we have no other choice. We go with a plan for winning the peace, and we go with enough troops to be effective. Those are the minimal conditions." In short, you don't have to go on the defensive at all.

The old definition of a conservative was someone in favor of maintaining the status quo, that is, upholding tradition and opposing major changes in laws and institutions. Are Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Ashcroft et al. mainstream conservatives?

As I say in the new book, they're radicals. They're not trying to conserve anything. They're trying to impose a strict father model taken from a terrible, disastrous parenting method — one ruled by the use of abusive power and force — on America and the world. If you're disciplined enough to make enough money to buy good health care, you deserve it, and to buy a good education for your children, you deserve it. Otherwise you don't deserve it and you won't get it.

This goes against American egalitarianism and the idea of economic equity — that is, if people work hard and play by the rules, they should have a decent standard of living, assuming there's enough money in the economy as a whole. There is enough money in this economy. To deny good health care and education to people who work goes against the best in American policy. It's radical and it's un-American.