It’s not hard to understand why framing has taken on such totemic significance among progressives. Where the modern right sees itself involved in a knife fight — the goal is winning — progressives tend to be enamored of process and analysis and reasoned argument. They want to persuade. This is, perhaps more than any other single reason, why they keep getting their asses kicked.
Framing has taken particular hold of the progressive blogosphere, which is chock full of logophiles, people who love, above all else, words. They love massaging words and constructing arguments and, well, framing issues. The notion that framing could be a project of world-historical import is naturally flattering to them. I count myself foursquare among that group, and trust me that I’ve heard the siren call of framing. But I would ask that we all step back and remember that while ideas are vital, the world she is composed of acts. Deeds. Matter in motion.
By all means, let’s get good at “framing,” but let’s not be too dazzled by it. The world needs good stories, but also good instructions. Honey on the tongue, but sweat in the armpits and calluses on the hands. Clarity of thought and dirt under the fingernails.
Humanity’s current course of action on the planet is not sustainable. Big changes need to happen. Those big changes involve lots of little changes by individuals and groups, and although the organized, institutionalized environmental movement is only one of those groups, it is a significant one. It needs more political power, fast.
Getting that political power means talking differently, yes, but it also means doing things differently. It means changing the way foundations fund environmental causes. It means changing the way environmental groups gain and manage their memberships. It means getting away from single-issue boxes — single-issue funding, single-issue lobbying, and single-issue legislative solutions — and forging practical coalitions across political lines, including labor, civil rights, religious, and national security groups.
Doing these things involves hard work and action — much more than knowing how to, in my wife’s favorite mocking phrase, “talk good.”
On that note, I would highly recommend that everyone read (proprietor of the Decembrist blog and longtime political operative) Mark Schmitt’s take on the “Death” paper over at American Prospect. He extracts the one genuinely insightful and valuable part of that otherwise mediocre paper — the notion of “policy literalism” — and gives it a good chewing over. There’s no better political commentator on the scene right now than Schmitt, and after all this talk about … uh, talking, it’s good to hear his thoughts on what’s to be done.