Point Of View

Point Of View

Red Speak, Blue Speak: The Psychology of Political Rhetoric

By Ryan Howes

May/June 2011

George Lakoff uses his half-century of brain research to influence an unlikely field: national politics. In the 1990s, this professor of linguistics and cognitive science at the University of California, Berkeley, noticed how much conservative politicians dominated debates through carefully selected language and a focus on larger moral issues, while their liberal opponents struggled to find a common identity. He decided that he could aid the progressive cause with his unique perspective on language, metaphor, and neural circuitry.

While maintaining his cutting-edge research laboratory, which studies mirror neurons and the neural theory of language, Lakoff founded a progressive think tank, consulted with the Democratic Party, and penned five political titles, including Moral Politics, The Political Mind, and New York Times bestseller Don’t Think of an Elephant! Presidential candidate Howard Dean called him “one of the most influential political thinkers of the progressive movement,” and in 2008, The New York Times wrote that “No one has more brilliantly dissected conservative spin.” He kindly spared a moment…

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