Propaganda: n. ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause. Comes from same root as:
Propagate: v. to actively spread or multiply, as in horticulture
It does not matter how clever it is, for the task of propaganda is not to be clever, its task is to lead to success….No one can say that your propaganda is too crude or low or brutal, or that it is not decent enough, for those are not the relevant criteria. Its purpose is not to be decent, or gentle, or weak, or modest; it is to be successful. — Joseph Goebbels
The McCain/Palin campaign, aware that it’s in a very weak position on the economy, has decided to distract voters from this fact by launching increasingly aggressive attacks on Obama. They’re reading directly from Karl Rove and Frank Luntz’s Republican playbook, using propaganda techniques.
In at least one regard propaganda differs from pornography, of which a judge famously said: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” Propaganda is subtle. The message and/or its delivery system insidiously attempt to cut us off from rational consideration of the issues as it seeks to influence our behavior or beliefs.
Wikipedia has a terrific article describing these techniques. I’d go as far as to say it’s a MUST READ as we get into campaign dirty season.
The most effective propaganda technique: Appeal to fear – because fear is our most powerful and least rational emotion – Fear of terrorism (mushroom clouds!!, William Ayers=Obama’s best friend!!!), fear of people different from us (black people!! (the shadow)), fear of loss or harm (higher taxes!!! they’ll take away your GUNS!!!), fear of the unknown (new ideas!!!). Fear taps into the reptilian brain where survival is the #1 issue.
Frank Luntz explained in a Frontline interview a few years ago why his polling and field research seeks words that move people to act on an emotional level:
80 percent of our life is emotion, and only 20 percent is intellect. I am much more interested in how you feel than how you think. … My job is to look for the words that trigger the emotion. We know that words and emotion together are the most powerful force known to mankind.
Both parties use the technique of partial truth and quotes out of context, but from my perspective, the Republicans do it so much more disingenuously so as to completely change the intent of the statement.
Another propaganda fav: volume and frequency. Get a message heard in as many places as possible, and as often as possible. The repetition reinforces the idea and helps exclude any alternative ideas. Frank Luntz again, from that same interview:
Regarding consistency, there’s a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again and again, and about the time that you’re absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time. And it is so hard, but you’ve just got to keep repeating.
President Bush even admitted doing it when speaking to a Republican audience:
See, in my line of work, you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapault the propaganda.
Blogger Triptych wrote an hilarious but brilliant post a couple of days ago pretending he was teaching a class to neophyte bloggers on propaganda techniques at “Rove University”. Here are a few examples:
Okay, the next one is appeal to authority – the concept is pretty much in the name. Very good, MOVEONfromMoveOn – McCain and Palin do often bring General Petraeus into the picture. It’s easy to say what he thinks and just quote the parts we like, because he’s never actually on stage to speak for himself! See how that works? Now, if you can, try to bring in a military man or a Nobel laureate – those are the best. Remember, you just need one to say your economic plan is “backed by Nobel prize winners” – no need to mention that many more of them support your opponents plan.
Now listen up, because the next one is a very important concept, appeal to fear. This is probably the best one we’ve got – Remember, Americans live by the motto “Better safe than sorry” – not “Better sorry than bored” or “Better sorry than stupid” or even “Better sorry than unjust”. So if you’re going to describe your opponent’s plan for foreign policy, what word should you use? … That’s right NUKE-EM! The opponent’s plan is dangerous. We can always get away with this because all foreign policy plans are dangerous to some extent – I mean, you can’t rule out that there could be a war in the future, right?
Okay, on to appeal to prejudice. John McCain and Sarah Palin have been relying heavily on this one. Can you idiots name any prejudices in the electorate that we’ve been exploiting? Yes, DontMessWCheney, Obama is black, but I would have expected a three year old to be able to name that one. Clearly we’re not going to let that go by unnoticed. What else? Come on, people, I’ll give you a hint – it kind of sounds like “smiley medicated”. That’s right, STOOPIDS4SARAH, he’s highly educated! and that makes a lot of people suspicious. Sorry, what, libRULZdrool? How do we get people to think he’s both a shiftless lazy black man and an elite overschooled smarty pants at the same time? How do we get people to think he’s a scary African who will rape our white women as well as thinking he’s an effeminate pansy Democrat who will turn our country over to the terrorists? Easy! Write this down : the subconscious is illogical. If we do it right, people will see in the opponent whatever they distrust most….
Allright, who has an example of the Black and White Fallacy? Good grief, DEMSWILLMUGYOU, you’re not supposed to take it literally. We’re not talking about the color of the candidates skin here – is everything about race with you? We’re talking about suggesting that if you’re not for something 100%, you’re 100% against it. We saw a lot of this used to great effect after 9/11 – if you weren’t for dropping some bombs on defenseless civilians, you wanted the terrorists to blow up more American buildings. Gotit? So who has seen some examples in the campaign?
Wow, look at all those hands. Very nice. We’ll start with you, IcuddleCoulter. Either you want to be in Iraq for as long as McCain says, or you’re raising the white flag of surrender? That’s pretty good, and I’ll tell you, that one works wonders for us. No one wants to be seen as raising the white flag, and most people don’t understand that that notion doesn’t even make sense in the context of this war. Let’s keep it that way. Who else? Yes, outstanding, protectWHITES, to bring up the drilling issue again, we have framed the conservation as “you’re either for offshore drilling, or you’re for dependence on foreign oil and consequently on our cities being blown up.” The left keep bringing up this cute idea of “alternate forms of energy” – when they start talking like that I just like to hum “Camptown Races”….
We’ll end for the day on a technique we had no idea would be so successful, but has been working wonders for us. It’s called Common Man and it revolves around using subtle cues to make the people think the candidate is one of them. We’ve taken it even farther this election and made it even less subtle than we have the last two with Bush. You don’t know what I’m talking about, JOE6PAK? Did you watch the VP debate? Do you think we didn’t choose Palin for a reason? That folksy talk is great, but the winking is genius, it’s genius! We really know how to reach those dirt picking numbskulls.
Your homework, children, is to read the Wikipedia entry on propaganda techniques and the rest of Triptych’s post, and then keep your eyes and ears and emotions ready for the McCain/Palin Propaganda Onslaught.