Viewers who find that their anxiety subsides when they tune in are hard-pressed to go back and reexamine their views later on, Welch said, because they're satisfied with the answers they've been given. And in right-wing messaging, those answers consistently cast government as the enemy.
On Fox and AM radio, the use of repetition helps drive home an idea until it becomes a conviction in the mind of a listener. Television reinforces those key phrases with patriotic color schemes. The whole package is designed to transform an audience's sense of bewilderment over a complex world into trust in spokespeople helping them make sense of it.
The right-wing commentators' success lies partly in their ability to harness core human emotions such as paranoia or envy, Welch said. He pointed to the health care debate as an example, noting how Fox News has repeatedly played up the false concept of "death panels" to create fear.
To counter this tactic, Lakoff suggests that the left would do well to learn how to frame things in moral terms instead of playing defense against right-wing spin masters.
President Obama's problem, Lakoff said, is that he is still trying to unify the country. "More power to him, but I don't believe it's possible," Lakoff said. "Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain got 47 percent of the vote, bad as he was, and given how terrible a campaign he ran, and given that Obama ran a perfect campaign. So Obama's election was not a landslide, even though he had one of the best campaign organizations and one of the best framed campaigns ever." Obama doesn't play the same manipulative games, Lakoff noted. "Obama believes that if you just tell the truth, it'll be OK, and every day have a truth squad to find the conservative lies," Lakoff said. "What he didn't understand was that by focusing on the conservative lies, he was in fact helping the conservative cause. It's like Richard Nixon saying, 'I'm not a crook.'" That why Lakoff says it's so important for Obama, and for the progressive movement in general, to define the moral imperative behind empowering the people and their government to create a better world, then aggressively push a campaign to do so. "It's the 'this is the right thing to do' approach," Lakoff explained. "And once it's been framed that way, then you can say what's false or true. But you should never go on the defensive first. As soon as you go point by point, you are on the defensive."