Friday, November 5, 2010

Pavlovian Propaganda and the Midterm Election

No doubt, poor employment figures played a major role in the mid-term election outcome, but voting occurred in a context created by Tea Party Republicans activists and their right wing financial supporters beginning in August 2009.  As a psychologist, I find it noteworthy that the Tea Party Republicans used Pavlovian conditioning techniques to turn voters’ support for President Obama in November 2008 into distrust or disdain. Their attacks on President Obama were taken directly from Joseph Goebbel’s propaganda manual from 1933.  Goebbels was “Reich Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment” for Hitler’s Nazi Party.  Goebbels wrote:

“The receptive powers of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is feeble. On the other hand, they quickly forget. Such being the case, all effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas…..If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it…. These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward….Propaganda must reinforce anxiety…. (and) must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.”

I’m not suggesting the Tea Party is a Nazi organization, but they used the same racist techniques to create irrational fear of Barrack Obama making him their target for their venom. Goebbels recommended using public meetings as the optimal vehicle for spreading fear and propaganda.   Goebbels specifically targeted Jews, while the Tea Party expressed their hatred for African Americans and Hispanics. The Tea Party rallied against Obama brandishing firearms and carrying threatening signs.  Nevada Tea Party Senate candidate Sharron Angle said she favored “second amendment remedies,” meaning solving political differences with guns. When Tea Party activists say they want their country back, they mean they want conservative white Christian men running the country, not an articulate African American president assisted by a diverse cabinet of leaders varying in gender, race and ethnicity.  In the mid-term election, much of the support for the Tea Party came from blue-collar white men (and some women) who were conditioned to fear an African American president.  

It is paradoxical that the working class white men who were influenced by the Tea Party’s propaganda, were hoodwinked by phony displays of self-righteous outrage that were paid for by powerful insurance and pharmaceutical industries during August 2009. These counterfeit town hall meetings were not a spontaneous grass roots outpouring, but were manufactured events hosted by lobbyists opposed to Obama’s presidency, like Dick Armey’s Freedom Works. Hundreds of times per day for more than a month, televised images of Pavlovian political conditioning were re-broadcast across the country, in which images of screaming fanatical racists were paired with Obama’s name or image. Never in our nation’s history has so much racist venom been so widely and intensively disseminated. The die was cast by late 2009.

The relentless barrage of falsehoods, including images of the President as an African witch doctor, false accusations about Obama’s nationality, and false claims and gross exaggerations about the proposed health care legislation (“pulling the plug on grandma”), led some Independent and conservative Democratic voters to begin to recoil when they heard the President’s name. Like a tone preceding a shock that elicits fear, Barrack Obama’s image began to evoke anxiety among many voters who had come to associate him with outrageous claims that had gone largely unchallenged by Democratic leadership. Only former President Jimmy Carter had the courage to speak the truth about the racist nature of Tea Party’s propaganda, which fell largely on deaf ears among the public at large.

Even in the face of Obama’s remarkable legislative achievements over his first two years in office during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, eventually the propaganda campaign turned a sufficient number of voters against the President and Democrats in Congress to make the difference in the midterm elections.  Many voters were no longer open to hearing anything positive about the President’s accomplishments.  They could remember that his middle name was Hussein but not that 863,000 private sector jobs had been created in 2010.  Many Caucasian, blue collar voters began parroting the Tea Party’s absurd slogans about taxes and the deficit, but seemed unaware that George W. Bush created the largest deficit in US history before Obama took office,  or that the economy was actually gradually recovering under Obama’s leadership.  

President Obama refused to wallow in the mud with the Tea Party activists. But failure of the President and other Democratic leaders to forcefully confront the racist claims and vigorously refute the fabrications and exaggerations regarding his health care plan and the Troubled Asset Possessions Relief Fund (TARF) that saved the economy from collapse, led many voters to accept the unchallenged claims.  That planted the seeds for fear and hostility that was a major factor in the recent midterm election results. 

Remember how Pavlovian conditioning works… tone followed by shock.  Repeat that sequence a few thousand times and eventually when the tone sounds people are fearful and stop behaving rationally. It worked, and many American people stopped behaving rationally. The Tea Party propaganda program only needed to influence 5-10% of voters in many elections to make the difference. Ask those who voted for Tea Party candidates what their newly elected representatives will do about the deficit or which programs they will cut and the consequences of those reductions, and you will find in most cases they have absolutely no idea. All they know is that they are afraid of Barrack Obama.

If the President thinks appeasement during his last two years in office will make his position stronger with the voting public he is mistaken. It will further weaken his standing with his supporters as well as opponents, diminishing his chances of re-election  Those who say the President should turn his other cheek to John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have forgotten the lessons of history. Republicans will interpret offers of bipartisanship from Obama as appeasement. Negotiation is one thing, acquiescing is another. 

Unless Obama and Democratic Senate and House leaders stand up firmly for their values, Republicans will steam roller them, undermining everything that was accomplished over the past two years, including protecting our children so they can receive health care despite pre-existing conditions.  We survived the Bush administration debacle and voted for the President’s progressive agenda in 2008, but  may be once again without representation unless the Democrats stand up on their hind legs and show what they are made of. 

1 comment:

  1. Have you considered the distinct possibility that you're simply wrong? Perhaps due to your own political leanings.

    Best wishes,
    - dave