RH: Does your model recommend one system over the other?
Lakoff: The real question is what allows people to flourish. There’s been longitudinal research, in which they studied the personal and societal functioning of children from four kinds of families: strict-father (authoritarian), nurturing-parent (authoritative), permissive, and neglectful. It turns out that the authoritative, nurturing-parent model is best at this; the permissive model was second best; the strict-father/authoritarian model was third best; and the neglectful was awful.
RH: Can you give an example of nurturing-parent politics?
Lakoff: Barack Obama, when he campaigned. What he said was straightforward. His main theme was empathy, which he called “the basic thing my mother taught me.”
RH: Like Clinton’s “I feel your pain?”
Lakoff: More so, because Obama correctly pointed out that democracy is based on empathy. During the campaign, Anderson Cooper asked him what patriotism was, and he said, “Patriotism begins with citizens caring about each other.”
RH: Talk about turning it into a moral issue....
Lakoff: Yeah, it was perfect. That’s why we have principles like freedom and fairness and so on, right? If you watch his Father’s Day speech in 2008, he goes to a black church in Chicago, and he’s talking to men who’ve abandoned their families. And he says, “What kind of man are you? You have no sense of responsibility and no sense of empathy. You should be going back to your family and listening to them and seeing what they need and empathizing with them; being responsible for yourself, taking care of yourself and others, and raising your children to do the same thing.”
RH: Being the authoritative parent.
Lakoff: Yes, but not the authoritarian parent. What he says is the family should be run on empathy, social responsibility, and personal responsibility. You should also be teaching your children about caring for other people, because, otherwise, you’ll have a generation of people who don’t care about anybody. And in the next sentence he says, “The government should work in the same way.”
RH: Did you directly influence the Obama campaign?
Lakoff: In the summer of 2006, I visited Obama in his office at his invitation. I gave him a pre-publication copy of Thinking Points and met with his speechwriter, who had well-thumbed copies of my books on his desk.
If you look at Thinking Points, you can see similarities to Obama’s campaign strategy. I can’t say for sure whether they actually used that book. Obama made a small number of mistakes during the campaign. I got messages to him as to how to fix them, and in a day or two, they were fixed. After the campaign, I was thanked informally by various people in the campaign. That’s all I know. I have no idea how much I actually helped.
RH: You’ve said that voters are driven more by morals than self-interest. Can you explain?