The horse race

As a Linguistics undergrad at U.C. Berkeley in the late ’80s, the best course I took was by George Lakoff, centering on his book, Metaphors We Live By.

In that wide-ranging course, one of Professor Lakoff’s observations was that the horse race metaphor for presidential elections has come to dominate our thinking of politics so much that the media rarely covers anything else.

If a candidate gives a speech proposing, say, a new health plan, the media reaction is not to analyze the health plan or quote experts discussing whether it is a good health plan or a bad health plan. Instead, the media reaction is, invariably, to quote experts who analyze whether or not the proposed health plan would help the candidate in the polls or hurt the candidate in the polls.

(Certainly a good health plan might be expected to help the candidate in the polls, but instead of analyzing the effectiveness of the plan first and the impact on the election second, we do it backwards, and the deeper analysis is often an afterthought or even not included at all.)

I am wearied by the current coverage of the primaries because of just this. I will not link to prime examples on the major news sites, yet. But I assure you that if you watch for this in the newspaper articles you read, or the TV news coverage that you watch, you will rarely see anything else.

I grant that knowing who is in the lead is important. But should it be all that we care about?

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