What to Watch for in the Presidential Debates

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By George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling

I’ve been applying cognitive linguistics and neuroscience to politics in six books over the past two decades. The ideas in those books were on display in many of the speeches at the Democratic National Convention. Look for them in the debates. They include:

  • All politics is based on moral values, with strict conservatives and progressives having different moral values.
  • There are also morally complex voters — moderates, independents, swing voters — who are progressive on some issues and conservative on others.
  • All issues are conceptually “framed” — that is, they have a mental structure that fits one’s moral system.
  • Facts matter, but only when they clearly fit one’s morally-based frames. Facts and figures, when used, should create a moral point in a memorable way. And if the facts don’t fit your frames, the frames stay and the facts are ignored or ridiculed.
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