Yesterday’s mail brought a solicitation from some left of center group screaming bloody murder that, if we didn’t act now, the ultra religious right bigots would take over government and shove their brand of Christianity down everyone’s throats. Our liberty would be lost forever. This morning I got a fear mongering call from the NRA warning that the “gun hating Congress” would soon pass HR 45 (a bill that would require a license to own a gun) and our liberty would be lost forever. Those are only two examples of a very common propaganda tactic that uses extreme political hyperbole to do nothing more than incite fear, suspicion and hate. I’m really fed up with it.
For the first thirty years of my career I was employed in local and state government and by a large association representing business interests. The lobbying I witnessed and engaged in was, on the whole, a vigorous representation of what each participant saw as important to the overall well being of the community and the nation within the context of what was also important to the well being of particular communities, industries and companies. The intent was always to reach a workable compromise that everyone could live with. That started to change somewhere in the 80s.
First came new colleagues who quickly revealed themselves to be primarily interested in their conservative evangelical Christian agenda, and considered the job to be a conduit for working on it. Then came political strategists claiming that the ‘other side’ was staking out such an extreme position that any compromise would only end with ‘our side’ losing. Therefore, we needed to stake out an equally extreme position in order for fair negotiations to take place. It made a certain amount of sense as long as it wasn’t examined because that would reveal that the ‘other side’ was not very extreme at all, and ‘our side’s’ defensive tactic simply tilted all the weight in our direction with no intention of fair negotiation.
To be sure, it was a tactic employed both on the right and the left, but the right had it down pat and did it better. Truth became a matter of perception, or, as the popular phrase goes, perception is reality. Who cared what the facts revealed as long as there was at least some evidence or argument that could be twisted to form a perception that could be sold as truth, the scarier the better. The selling of the Iraq war was, perhaps, the epitome of that art, but not the end of it. We are seeing some of that tactic being used in the Sotomayor nomination, and certainly in the two knucklehead communications that have come to our house in the last few days. I believe it’s a dangerous game to play. It’s a game that is potentially destructive of liberal (in the traditional sense) democracy. I’m not sure how to put a stop to it except to encourage as many as possible to stand up and say “knock it off” every time a call or solicitation comes their way, even for causes with which they might otherwise agree.