The Obama Code

George Lakoff, professor of linguistics and cognitive science at UC-Berkeley, has written a piece about President Obama that is now up on FiveThirtyEight. It speaks of the biggest difference between Obama and the presidents that came before him, that Obama sees moral values as superceding political issues and policy, and that this different perspective is why he is so willing to reach across party lines and to find common ground.

Every policy has a material aspect—the nuts and bolts of how it works— plus a typically implicit cognitive aspect that represents the values and ideas behind the nuts and bolts. The President knows the difference. He understands that those who see themselves as “progressive” or “conservative” all too often define those words in terms of programs rather than values. Even the programs championed by progressives may not fit what the President sees as the fundamental values of the country. He is seeking to align the programs of his administration with those values.

The potential pushback will come not just from conservatives who do not share his values, but just as much from progressives who make the mistake of thinking that programs are values and that progressivism is defined by a list of programs. When some of those programs are cut as economically secondary or as unessential, their defenders will inevitably see this as a conservative move rather than a move within an overall moral vision they share with the President.

Keep reading. It takes a bit of thinking, but this short essay is definitely worth a few minutes of your time. (Thanks to Jim for finding it!)

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