Last week, SC promised to review George Lakoff's new book, Don't Think of an Elephant!, a promise which we're going to begin keeping right now. However, thinking about this over the weekend prompted your host to reconsider how he was going to approach it.
One really can't effectively critique Lakoff's contributions to political discourse without understanding the underlying research program that his comments emanate from. Furthermore, your host intends to keep Semantic Compositions a rigorously nonpartisan blog, and the point of any criticism emanating from these quarters is not to refute Lakoff's views as a partisan. It is, however, to demonstrate how his views have led him to take a worthy theory about cognition and metaphors, and turn it into a rather less impressive theory of political speech.
So in order to discuss his new writings, your host has decided to begin the process with a review of the book that made Lakoff's name in this venue, Moral Politics. As was noted before, the official SC view of it is: good theory, bad practice. We're going to flesh that out over the next few days, in an argument like so: First, the essentials of Lakoff's theoretical approach, and the common ground that SC is happy to concede to him. Second, the methodological flaws of Lakoff's specific application of the theory to the political domain. Third, the cartoon understanding of conservative thought that makes Lakoff's analysis disastrously wrong. Finally, after all that, we'll spend some time addressing both the problems with Lakoff's analysis of liberal morality, and why Don't Think of an Elephant! is bad advice for exactly the causes Lakoff is trying to advance. Afterward, we'll compare Lakoff's books to similar interdisciplinary studies from psychology and political science, which in your host's view suffer from many of the same faulty assumptions.
Note that there are two editions of Moral Politics, and SC is working from the second; your host doesn't believe that changes anything significant, but it might be relevant for page number citations.