Daily Dose: Foxconn - Why are no Dems talking about how the Taiwanese corporation doesn't share our values?

September 14, 2017


You don't have to be an expert on messaging to know that you NEVER use your opponent's' own words or ideas. With just that knowledge, Wisconsin Democrats in the Legislature should be doing a much better job communicating a progressive vision based on our values. Beyond that, it's important to know the core conservative values being evoked in support of public funding of a foreign company in Wisconsin. We only need to look at the statement from Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R - Kaukauna) to see the conservative values and metaphors at work (critical language underlined):


“I am excited by the prospects Foxconn will bring to Wisconsin. Every family and business throughout the state will see the benefits of this investment for our communities and economy. I look forward to Governor Walker signing the bill into law.”


In just two short sentences, Steineke evokes the very dominant conservative worldview (frame) of economics - all based on metaphors and values nearly everyone understands and accepts (even if you disagree, you understand). In brief, here's what the conservative moral frame says:


"Foxconn is a job creator whose investment will grow our economy" - This statement makes Foxconn a moral actor. Government can only mess this "deal" up by imposing burdensome regulations, taxes, and other roadblocks to growth. Therefore, government needs to get out of the way, provide Foxconn with whatever they need to "create jobs and grow the economy", because government is incapable of doing anything but impede our freedom. When this happens, Foxconn will reward us with an investment and jobs, which will lead to economic growth.


With this knowledge, it would be critical for Democrats to AVOID using the same language OR evoking the same ideas of "job creation", "economic growth", "Foxconn investment in our economy", or any similar ideas or metaphors - because doing so would strengthen their message focused on the moral supremacy of corporate "job creators." Looking at The Wheeler Report this afternoon, here are excerpts (from critical framing language and my commentary in italics) from what key Democrats said:


"If Republicans truly wanted to create jobs, they would invest in..." (This is exactly what Foxconn's moral role is, not government's)


"Foxconn promises to create jobs and spur economic growth, but failed to send one representative to the public hearing." (Yup - this Rep actually repeated their exact message)


"We can bring good jobs to Wisconsin without selling out our environment or mortgaging our children’s futures" (Conservative values say that our children need the jobs Foxconn will bring to have a future, and that getting rid of a few burdensome regulations are the morally right thing to do - remember, conservatives believe government is immoral. This statement does nothing to counter those ideas - in fact, it brings them to the fore)


“Our state’s economy is lagging and we rank dead-last in start-ups, but this isn’t for lack of talented, hard-working Wisconsinites...” (Conservatives would say this statement is spot on - those "hard working Wisconsinites" need government to get out of the way so a company like Foxconn can come in and create jobs. THEN our economy will grow)


That's right. Not a single Democratic Representative releasing a statement to The Wheeler Report this afternoon evoked progressive values on this issue. And while there were individual words progressives like to gravitate to, and insert into statements (opportunity, working families, invest, etc.) to make it sound like they are using "progressive values", they are not. AND THIS IS IMPORTANT FOR DEMOCRATS AND PROGRESSIVES:


Cognitive science tells us these individual words do not have universal meaning capable of evoking progressive ideas. Like all words, they are only understood IN THE CONTEXT OF A FRAME. In this case, as these Democratic Reps have done, they are understood in the conservative frame that has been evoked by the powerful metaphors repeated (like "job creator").


As we have seen on a regular basis for the past decade, Democrats still have a hard time effectively communicating their core value of empathy. On this, as any issue, the message from Democrats should have started with the progressive view (frame) of freedom and democracy, and what that means for the people, government, and Foxconn.


Tomorrow, I'll provide more specifics on how to message on this important economic issue!