Politics is a family affair…

Ronald Brownstein says Al Gore’s new books about the family are not like other political books written by prospective candidates. He writes:

Both camps might agree that this is unlike any book ever written by anyone thinking about running for president. It’s not a memoir; it’s not a call to arms; it’s not even much of a policy blueprint on issues affecting families. Gore had plenty of recommendations on that front from his 2000 campaign, but he passes over them lightly here.

Instead, the book is a combination of big-picture sociology on the changing economic and social role of family over time, and miniaturist portraits of 13 contemporary families diverse enough to form their own rainbow coalition. Along the way, the Gores offer tips for parents either from their own experience, or their take on the work of experts in the field. Large chunks might have been written by a friendlier Dr. Phil.

Still, in an era when political allegiance is so heavily driven by cultural attitudes, the book inevitably advances an underlying view of the social changes remaking American family life. And it’s a view likely to drive social conservatives nuts.

It’s far too early to tell, but I suggest that Gore may have hit upon exactly the right strategy for gaining the White House–if not in 2004 then, perhaps, in 2008. And, barring that, he may have hit upon a way to advance more liberal attitudes about government and society. I say this based I my belief that George Lakoff is essentially correct in his contention that much of “moral reasoning is metaphorical reasoning.” In regard to politics he states:

Deeply embedded in conservative and liberal politics are different models of the family…These two models…give rise to different moral systems and different discourse forms, that is, different choices of words and different modes of reasoning. 1

Lakoff further contends that liberals and conservatives apply their different metaphors of the family to politics and political experience. If the American family is moving rapidly away from the old Ozzie & Harriet model (if it were ever thus), then it’s quite possible Gore is tapping into a powerful political undercurrent that is waiting to break through into the national consciousness.

Again, it’s far to early to tell. And it is quite possible that any changes in political thought or shifts in political advantage that may occur because of the these books (and the media attention) may never accrue to Gore. I would say, however, that culture watchers should pay careful attention to these books and the public’s reaction to them.

1 Lakoff, George. Moral Politics. 2nd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2002.