Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 23, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

LAKOFF FRAMING....I finally finished Neal Stephenson's The System of the World, and boy howdy, it just wasn't very good, was it? Took me a while to figure that out, though, since I'm generally a big fan. Bottom line: if you're interested in a detailed geography lesson of Queen Anne London, this is the book for you, but if you're looking for a satisfying ending to Parts 1 and 2 of the Baroque Cycle, it's a bit of a slog.

(But Stephenson has always had a bit of a problem with his endings, hasn't he? Unfortunately, this one was a thousand pages long.)

Anyway, that means it's time to pick up some new reading material, which in turn means it's finally time for me to get a copy of George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant, which appears to be something of a Bible among despairing liberals who can't believe that half the country likes George Bush and apparently doesn't like us. Basically, Lakoff says we need to get our act together and "frame" our arguments in more positive ways:

We came together because of our moral values: care and responsibility, fairness and equality, freedom and courage, fulfillment in life, opportunity and community, cooperation and trust, honesty and openness. We united behind political principles: equality, equity (if you work for a living, you should earn a living) and government for the people all the people.

These are traditional American values and principles, what we are proudest of in this country. The Democrats' failure was a failure to put forth our moral vision, celebrate our values and principles, and shout them out loud.

I dunno. This just doesn't seem like it's going to be very convincing to all those fence sitters out there and the whole "strict father-nuturant parent" thing has always left me cold. Still, before I kvetch about it I really ought to read the whole book and see if it's better than the snippets I've seen so far. I'll report back later.

UPDATE: In comments, Don Hosek reminds me that my initial review after I was a third of the way through Quicksilver (the first volume of the Baroque Cycle) was also pretty negative. I checked the archives, and he's right.

So....take the above with a grain of salt or two. In retrospect, my feeling is that I mostly enjoyed the first two volumes, and maybe in time I'll come to feel the same way about System of the World. On the other hand, I'll stick to my guns in my general belief that the trilogy is just way too long and sloppy, and I hope Stephenson isn't falling into the Tom Clancy trap of writing ever longer and less disciplined novels just because there's nobody around to tell him not to. I like long books, and the Baroque Cycle offered plenty of rewards in return for slogging throught it, but it would have been a lot better with more focus and half the fat.

Kevin Drum 7:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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