REFRAME: The pandemic caused an economic natural disaster. We need rescue, relief and rebuilding.

President Biden’s excellent communications team understands this. That’s why they have named his proposal the American Rescue Plan. We can support his administration’s efforts by keeping the conversation squarely in the disaster rescue frame, pushing the right narratives and extending the metaphor wherever possible!

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)


The situation is an Economic Crisis like 2008.
These funding proposals are for STIMULUS SPENDING.

Wrong goal:

This frame says that the goal is for the economy as a whole to recover, something it may eventually do on its own once the virus is defeated.

Wrong debate:

“Was the 900 billion we already spent enough stimulus?”
“Is there sufficient economic demand in the economy?”

Outside the frame:

It doesn’t address the problem that the people in the economy are suffering, that people’s lives are being harmed or that small business will be out of business by the time the economy recovers, nor does it address the fact that the economy as a whole can recover while huge portions of the population are left behind.

Conservative values:

We’re not responsible for the suffering of others. The economy itself is more important that the people in it. It’s morally acceptable, even morally right that some people win out in this economy and some people lose. The private sector can handle it. We don’t need government intervention.


This is a natural economic disaster, like a hurricane or flood that’s still happening. We need funding for disaster rescue, relief and rebuilding.

How do you respond to a natural disaster?

  • You find out who needs to be rescued and you rescue them.
  • You find out who is suffering and you alleviate their suffering.
  • You make a plan to rebuild.

Right narrative:

We need to rescue people (and businesses) who are drowning. Disaster relief aid is like boats, shelter, food and water. We need to keep people’s financial heads above water until the water recedes. We need to relieve people’s suffering now and as long as it takes.

We’re going to need funding to rebuild. Once the flood is over, people will need to start over. Some people will have to rebuild their lives or their businesses from scratch.

Right goals:

To alleviate suffering and make sure everyone gets through the situation and comes out okay. To rebuild something hopefully better than before.

Right debate:

What is necessary to keep people from suffering? What do we need to do to make sure people get through this okay?

How can we prevent the permanent loss of jobs and businesses? What do we have to do to rebuild people’s lives and businesses?

What can we do to rebuild in such a way that we don’t experience these same problems again?

Outside the frame:

In a natural disaster, we do not debate whether or not to rescue people who are drowning. The disaster frame establishes an assumption that we will do it and redirects the debate to how we will do it.

Liberal values:

When disaster strikes, Americans step up. We take responsibility for each other. We don’t leave anybody behind. What matters is that people are thriving and not suffering, regardless of what happens in the stock market or the GDP.

The federal government is a tool we use to cooperate to tackle problems like major disaster response. There are problems we can’t fix on our own or that the private sector can’t handle, problems that require things like rapid increases in scale, coordination between states and countries, large scale funding, mobilizing research and manufacturing, mass communication, universal adoption, or even provision of military human and physical resources.


If we frame the proposals currently being debated in Congress as DISASTER RESCUE AND RELIEF instead of as STIMULUS SPENDING, we’ll put the focus on people’s well-being and what our moral obligations are, and block thinking in terms of economic cost benefit analyses that completely leave out the cost of human suffering.

If we frame Biden’s proposals as DISASTER RESCUE AND RELIEF instead of as STIMULUS we’ll put the focus on people’s well-being and our moral obligations and block thinking of cost benefit analyses that ignore the cost of human suffering.

When people are drowning, you rescue them. We need to keep people’s financial heads above water. We need to relieve people’s suffering now and help them rebuild. When disaster strikes, Americans step up. That’s Liberal American values at work.