Skip to main content

Obama returns to his moral vision

George Lakoff, professor emeritus of linguistics | April 18, 2011

Last week, on April 13, 2011, President Obama gave all Democrats and all progressives a remarkable gift. Most of them barely noticed. They looked at the president’s speech as if it were only about budgetary details. But the speech went well beyond the budget. It went to the heart of progressive thought and the nature of American democracy, and it gave all progressives a model of how to think and talk about every issue.

It was a landmark speech. It should be watched and read carefully and repeatedly by every progressive who cares about our country — whether Democratic office-holder, staffer, writer, or campaign worker — and every progressive blogger, activist and concerned citizen. The speech is a work of art.

The policy topic happened to be the budget, but he called it “The Country We Believe In” for a reason. The real topic was how the progressive moral system defines the democratic ideals America was founded on, and how those ideals apply to specific issues. Obama’s moral vision, which he applied to the budget, is more general: it applies to every issue. And it can be applied everywhere by everyone who shares that moral vision of American democracy.

Discussion in the media has centered on economics — on the president’s budget policy compared with the Republican budget put forth by Paul Ryan. But, as Robert Reich immediately pointed out, “Ten or twelve-year budgets are baloney. It’s hard enough to forecast budgets a year or two into the future.” The real economic issues are economic recovery and the distribution of wealth. As I have observed, the Republican focus on the deficit is really a strategy for weakening government and turning the country conservative in every respect. The real issue is existential: what is America at heart and what is America to be…

Cross-posted from HuffPost Politics, where you can continue reading this post.

Comments to “Obama returns to his moral vision

  1. I am a bit surprised by these comments from Prof. George Lakoff. The issues is not Democrats v.s. Republicans. The issues are what President Obama promised (various speeches before he was elected), and what he delivered. The big issue is that the country is in dare economical situation. We have just started with another war in Libya. We cannot afford it! President Obama ran on an anti-war platform. He basically forgot every single promise from his made in his pre-election campaign. I am deeply disappointed with his performance, and I am NOT a Republican.

  2. “The real issue is existential: what is America at heart and what is America to be…”

    These are two different things:

    What America is at heart — A Republic with free markets where men control their own destinies.

    What it will become — A socialist Latin American craptocracy ruled by an inbred elite.

  3. Spoken just like a man who has no worries about where his next meal is coming from.

    Obama’s speech was “a work of art” all right. The art of manipulation and flim-flam.

  4. You have got to be kidding me! No words, no force on Earth, could convince anyone that Obama now speaks truthfully.

    As Chris Hedges has said:

    “There is no longer a structure within the US system of power through which the needs of working people can be addressed.

    Time to get out on the street and fight!

  5. Thanks Prof Lakoff!

    You are my hero (have been since undergrad 10 years ago). Glad to see the discussion on systems thinking… Keep up the good work and keep building the national narrative..


  6. Prof. Lakoff, never forget the most important issues are not only “economic recovery and the distribution of wealth” but also protecting the U.S. Constitution, honoring our social contract, healthcare for all, social security, welfare for the needy, public education, civil rights that are too easily abrogated, increasingly most important is the imperative to save our environment and quality of life for future generations, and many other issues that far too many American heroes have sacrificed their lives to provide us as their legacy.

    We keep forgetting that all Americans are the caretakers of the greatest legacy in the history of civilization, so everything we gained so far is now threatened more than ever before by America’s wealthiest because all our institutions have failed to perpetuate America’s basic moral values.

    We lost our way during the era of conspicuous consumption and egregious greed since WWII, not enough of us have been skeptical of our failed institutional leaders, we allow others to control our destiny regardless of social consequences,we continuously fail to act on the warnings of history, and our colleges have failed to teach far too many of us how to think for ourselves, much less the Golden Rule.

Comments are closed.