Op-Eds Speaking Truth to the Powers-That-Be
Should Democrats use the same tactics as Republicans, employ deceptive negative advertising? American voters seem Pavlovianly conditioned to respond to it after two generations. The modern tale of the Trojan Library, a clever campaign to save the Troy, New York library from the Tea Party, should give progressives pause to consider.
Watch the video that documents the clever way in which an advertising firm, trying to get a small sales tax increase passed, found support for their cause:
The Tea Party, screaming about not raising taxes, had traction in the fear space of the voters, and money from their wealthy patrons to gin up the resentment of “government” even when it’s a library.
Apparently reading is not fundamental for fundamentalists.
So they marketed something even more repugnant to citizens: Closure of the library and a book burning “party.” They offered book burning bags for sale. They went on facebook and Twitter. They offered sitters to watch kids while citizens burned books. They even let people know that they hired a band for the burning day.
As all of that hugely negative press started to crescendo, SUPRISE! No book burning. The cause was to get Troyans to talk about the value of books and the library, so they would “get” that government does something good when it opens the doors to a library and the knowledge contained therein to the community. People turned out in droves, and the Teahadis and their handlers were driven back.
It’s the same tactics, the BIG LIE, that extremist Republicans and generations of political extremists, from Fascists to Communists, have used to manipulate the masses into doing their bidding. It worked in the service of a fine progressive cause: Enlightenment.
Could something like this, on a larger scale, be the path to Progressive victory in November?
Progressives are big on the notion that the truth will somehow set us free. Somehow, if we can pierce through the shroud of propaganda and let ignorant people see the truth, they would all be set free of their ignorance and become progressives in the sunlight, hallelujah, sing Kumbaya, light candles at the JFK and the Dr. King memorials, and live a life of brotherly tolerance and whole grain eating.
Ending ignorance, even amongst liberals, is a pipe dream. We know what we want to know. Understanding and compromise, the glue of democracy, are evaporating in our partisan isolationism.
A Canadian study conducted in the United States and Canada in 2010 and 2011 about knowledge of politics and major issues like global warming suggests that the less people know about important complex issues such as the economy, energy consumption and the environment, the more they want to avoid being informed. 
Researchers determined that the more urgent the issue, the more people want to remain unaware, and that the more information you gave to the 511 participants, the more likely they were to retreat into helplessness and hoping that the government or elected political leaders would solve all of their problems for them.
Ostrich Syndrome seems to also happen when talking about resource issues. The more that oil prices become a problem, the more that the study group retreated from understanding why it was happening, and merely reacted angrily to it.
So we conducted an experiment. We posted “Gas Prices Are Down. BLAME OBAMA.” up at our facebook page, and shared it with other pages, including a few that are run by people angry about gas prices.
The two salient facts outside of the normal ebb and flow of prices and consumption are:
This typified the response of many:
This facebook post echos of the Newt Gingrich lie: “If the US used all it’s oil recourses available on US land we’d be good for decades and gas prices would be >$2/gallon. Only our leadership can make that call.”
This facebook post also flies in the face of facts on oil prices: @Ross: Delusional. The price is down because the economy is in the shitter with 10% early retirees leaving the workforce and another 10% of people out of work with little need for gas — and another 40% of the workforce who can’t afford to vacation this year. That’s not the kind of fix for high gas prices people would want, and in fact in the Midwest and West Coast the price is still plenty high. For all that I do blame Obama and will be sure to cast my vote against Obama this Fall.
It is too easy to appeal to voters’ base fears, as the Republicans do, and instill ideas that cater to those lies. And yes, it is more their fault ideologically.
“Acrimony and hyperpartisanship have seeped into every part of the political process,” say conservative and liberal authors Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein in It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. “Congress is deadlocked and its approval ratings are at record lows. America’s two main political parties have given up their traditions of compromise, endangering our very system of constitutional democracy. And one of these parties has taken on the role of insurgent outlier; the Republicans have become ideologically extreme, scornful of compromise, and ardently opposed to the established social and economic policy regime.”
This time, Grover Norquist and the Bircher Libertarians in the GOP don’t want you looking to the government to solve your problems. They want you to reject the government, and put your faith in the same private sector that has gambled millions of Americans life insurance money, self-policed drilling well enough to almost kill the Gulf of Mexico, and melted down the global financial system to enrich a few wealthy elites.
FDR had another take. He was for the middle class. For the average American. He stood up to blind fear during the bank panics in 1933 when he said in his first Inaugural Address: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He became the embodiment of confidence in the government as a means of rescuing millions from the mess that Wall Street had left behind during its epic crash in 1929.
As much as the GOP detests that notion, the majority of Americans still put their trust in the government to solve our larger problems.
While many have a healthy mistrust of the politicians and the endemically corrupt political system, they align themselves with the “government” as a panacea to the ills of joblessness, homelessness, or to get a good education and obtain basic levels of economic justice and freedom.
Fear of the government has also been exacerbated over the last four years by subtly blending it with racism.
The President is the government, to a lot of people. The fear by whites that somehow a black president would “get even” with them, or will take away their freedoms, however ridiculous that might sound, resonates strongly in the electorate with racists of every party affiliation. They are a significant part of the electorate in America, as well.
How racist are we? A recent article in the New York Times showed some surprising results. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz researched racism by crunching Google search pattern data.
“From 2008 onward, “Obama” is a prevalent term in racially charged searches,” he reports. The higher the use of racially charged word combinations to find everything from n*word jokes to hate material, the worse that President Obama did in 2008.
West Virginia, which the study tags as the most racist state in the Union, held its Democratic presidential primary, “in which Mr. Obama was challenged by a convicted felon. The felon, who is white, won 41 percent of the vote.”
In 2008, Mr. Obama had what Stephens-Davidowitz describes as a “tailwind” with the two wars, a collapsing economy, and highly unpopular Republicans like George W. Bush at his back. Fear of more tanking of the economy through generous gifts to Wall Street and more burden on the middle class outweighed fear of a black man in a White House.
Not so this year. Without some push similar to what the ad firm helping pass the Library tax in Troy did, Obama may lose the narrow percentages that he needs to carry the election.
Republicans control the airwaves. What they don’t own, they have propagandized into carrying their Big Lie. So, Democrats, out with truth and positive progress. We need to hold the high ground on fear and raw ignorance! In the spirit of the Trojan Library, here are a few “campaigns” that we might launch to change the dialogue:
As clever as the Troy library campaign is, it is a sad statement about our democracy that we we have to piss off the masses just to get them to pull their heads out of their ostrich holes.
That we have to garner their attention to rights and principles of good citizenship and care for their fellow man that their duty, a word all too seldom used with any seriousness, as citizens of this great nation, should naturally defend, with defibrillator-like advertising tactics.
Obama ran on healing America of the disease that affects the body politic. In this he failed. Now he must try to run in the backlash to his vision of a more temperate, deliberative nation that seeks reason. He needs to run to be president of America, the Ignorant.
My shiny two.