Neil Stockley: Clever frames, shame about the policy

A Neil Stockley guest post looks at McCain’s success in framing an issue on which he’s weak (the economy) in a favourable way. The problem is, it’s pure deceipt. For more on framing, policy and the US elections, see this recent post of Neil’s.

Politics isn’t just about getting the frames; it’s about moving them too. If you can’t win on the issues being talked about, change the subject, and fast.

Framing Science explains this week how John McCain’s campaign has successfully framed “the economy” as being about “energy”. They quote one pollster as saying:

“The Republicans’ biggest problem in this election is that they are viewed as lessable to fix the economy. When the economy is defined as job loss, mortgage foreclosures, high health care costs, that’s Democratic territory. Obama wants to play on that field.

“McCain wants to define it as being about energy, because his being in favor of drilling is on the right side of the [opinion poll] numbers.”

That’s an impressive bit of framing. But the policy is bad. Climate Progress and Tom Friedman (to name but two) have demolished the notion that allowing more offshore drilling will solve America’s energy problems.

In another example of the way he combines clever framing with bad policy, McCain has said:

“We’re not going to achieve energy independence by inflating our tires.”

Climate Progress points out that whilst nobody has said that, the US cannot possibly solve its energy and climate problems without efficiency measures. (The same applies in the UK.) They take the Republicans to task for cynically and dishonestly mocking energy efficiency and conservation.

Worse, McCain uses other frames and symbols in a hypocritical, dishonest way. McCain says he’s all for “clean energy”. For instance, his latest tv spots feature lots of windmills. Tom Friedman set the record straight this week:

“Senator McCain did not show up for the crucial vote on July 30, and the renewable energy bill [which provides for renewable energy tax credits] was defeated for the eighth time. In fact, John McCain has a perfect record on this renewable energy legislation. He has missed all eight votes over the last year — which effectively counts as a no vote each time. Once, he was even in the Senate and wouldn’t leave his office to vote.”

The article details all the economic harm McCain’s votes have done to the burgeoning global industry. There’s more, here.

As Joseph Romm says, some of the attacks on Obama’s energy policy — in particular, his willingness to compromise on offshore drilling — are unfair and inaccurate. But that doesn’t excuse Obama and the Democrats for failing to get their energy narrative together. And by framing the whole debate in terms of oil prices, politicians from both parties are dodging the real issue: how to achieve energy security and climate security in the post-oil economy.


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