By now you have heard the Obama and Liz Warren speeches about how no one got rich on his or her own. Listen to them again, it’s important to hear how they frame the issue almost identically:
This narrative is cribbed almost verbatim from the narrative of George Lakoff, a progressive linguistics activist and Professor at Berkeley. Like Warren, Lakoff was one of the academics who helped frame how the Occupy Wall Street movement presented itself. Lakoff’s writings and theories seek to transform progressive politics and he is a frequent speaker on how progressives can reframe the political debate.
Lakoff developed a linguistic narrative that progressives needed to counter conservatives by focusing on the role of government in enabling individual success, a narrative in which no person became successful on his or her own:
Nobody makes a dollar in this country in business without using the common wealth…. The idea that there’s a self-made man, that’s there’s a self-made millionaire is false, it is absolutely false, and that is the thing that Obama missed…. Without this you don’t have those roads, you don’t have that internet, you don’t have the banking system, etc.
Read how Lakoff framed the issue in a publication several years ago, then listen to the Obama and Warren speeches, they are not identical but very close substantively and linguistically (emphasis mine):
There is no such thing as a self-made man. Every businessman has used the vast American infrastructure, which the taxpayers paid for, to make his money. He did not make his money alone. He used taxpayer infrastructure. He got rich on what other taxpayers had paid for: the banking system, the Federal Reserve, the Treasury and Commerce Departments, and the judicial system, where nine-tenths of cases involve corporate law. These taxpayer investments support companies and wealthy investors. There are no self-made men! The wealthy have gotten rich using what previous taxpayers have paid for. They owe the taxpayers of this country a great deal and should be paying it back.
Last March a diarist at Daily Kos noted the similarity of Warren’s famous factory owner speech and Lakoff’s formulation:
This passage and the argument surrounding it sound extremely similar to something we’ve been hearing recently and for the first time in a long time (and this book came out in 2004)…
The “something” to which the Daily Kos diarist was referring was the very same video of Warren’s speech posted at the top of this post.
The approach of Elizabeth Warren and Barack Obama is a cribbed narrative of the progressive movement which seeks to realign our individual-centered political dialogue around the individual’s indebtedness to the government.
[This post originally incorrectly referred to Lakoff's current job status and certain writings and has been updated]