(Please welcome author Jeffrey Feldman to the FDL Book Salon in the comments — JH)
Some people may say that Iraq is the most important issue of the day, others may say it is energy, or civil rights, or more abstract issues such as globalization. However, it seems form here that the most important issue of the age is how the other issues are to be resolved; are we to continue to have what Jay Rosen of Press Think calls "The ghost of Democracy in the Media Age" and the consumer politics of the past, or will we have a participatory politics where the free give and take in every sector of society produces a far richer conversation that ballistic attack ads before scripted events.
If this is the case, that the most important issue is what kind of society we are to have, then Jeffrey Feldman's short Framing the Debate is musket of this new revolution, in a short contained book, he arms the militia of the public, against the mercenary media world which surrounds them.
When Jeffery first began posting on the Daily Kos as an ordinary diarist, his "This phrase has been recalled" was an instant hit, by taking the experts view, and breaking down complex points into clear language, he gave people things to do, and words to avoid. By placing the frame of a public service announcement, his posts created an urgency to improve the language that has not been felt since George Orwell's famous essay on political euphemism over a generation ago. No one in the blogosphere has been more devoted to the cause of giving us a purer and clearer language to conduct politics in than he.
In itself this might make him one of a long line of syntax and diction mavens, a kind of later day Michael Kinsley. However, what became clearer over the course of time was that he didn't simply want a cleaner political language, but a different political conversation. A conversation where the basic structure of debate is not determined in small rooms of sweating political operatives, and then pumped out through the vast organs of the old top down media, reinforced by seeding chatter to create the illusion of public reaction – but one where every individual was as control of how the debate was waged as could be made possible.
The basic thrust of his book is simple – most decisions are not decided. Instead, the frame around them is created, often by emotion, or rhetoric, and within that frame, decisions are decided. Other futures might have been, but they were boxed out by the series of almost unspoken requirements and comparisons.
A frame then is often more important than the final decision. In law how a problem is framed often decides the case – is it property rights or civil rights? In logic there are time honored mechanisms for debating the frame. However, until now, what there was not, was a break down of how frames were constructed, and how ordinary citizens could wage the frame battle. He takes a series of landmark speeches – and looks at it from the perspective, not of the context, or merely the political objective, but in the means by which the entire course of the debate is set by the basic foundation of discussion. This foundation is the frame, and once established, frames are more difficult to break. However they are not set in concrete. By taking such speeches as the Gettysburg Address, and showing how the forces that frame a debate are in play, he shows how the hard stone of foundation becomes liquid.
Most importantly however, each point has a means by which ordinary individuals, not empowered by privilege or power or position, can effective mold, shape, and when need be shatter, the frame that boxes their vision, and the vision of those around them. He analyzes the word power of the Republican Revolution from the perspective of frame – how Newt used words which were just barely on the acceptably neutral side of negative, allowing small negative impressions to create a larger picture.
This then, is no monumental scholarly tome to lie dusty on a shelf, nor is it a facile examination filled with kool-aid swilling hype. Instead, it is the New Politics for Dummies – the book we all ought to read, in the same way we all ought to know how to drive a car, or use a cellphone. This is because, as the book makes clear, frames really are all around us, and either we are the masters of them, or they are the masters of us.