Posts Tagged ‘public affairs’

Scorched earth, distortion and spin: political communication in 2012

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

It’s not even September yet. The conventions aren’t through, and already the Obama/Biden and Romney/Ryan partisans are locked and loaded with focus-grouped messages designed to burn each other alive. Feh.

I know that politics brings out the worst in people, and it’s been that way for a really long time.  Historian Paul Boller avers that after George Washington, we invented political parties, and the nastiness continues unabated as a result.  I remember 1968 – the bloody quest for the Democratic nomination where the fix was in for Hubert Humphrey. The rise from political ashes of Richard Nixon, Clean Gene McCarthy. In ’72, George McGovern is waxed by Richard Nixon, making the Plumbers and Watergate one of the stupider crimes of the century.  Ford pardons Nixon and Carter puts on a sweater as we wait in line for gas. Up until that point, they all referred to each other as, “my esteemed opponent” — perhaps because they made the rash assumption that whatever their differences in belief or approach, we all had honorable goals in mind.

That doesn’t seem to be the case now — Willie Horton, Slick Willie, right-wing nut job, pinko liberal. Now we have MoveOn.org and the Tea Party demanding pledges of allegiance to their views — when you’re farther right than Attila the Hun, everyone looks like a left-wing dipstick. When you’re left of Jane Fonda, everyone looks like a right-wing extremist. We misinterpret political terms — socialist, communist, fascist, conservative, Nazi — and apply them inappropriately. Democrats don’t want the end of private property, Republicans don’t want hoards of poor people to starve and die. Neither party has suggested be have a dictator.

This makes me sad as an American, but also makes me mad as a communicator. Whither simple fairness?  Obama’s a communist who wants to turn us into Greece. Romney’s rich, so he has to be a criminal. Paul Ryan (who is a pretty serious and smart guy on economics and government, regardless of his predictable social policy perspectives) wants to push granny over a cliff and put on Ebeneezer Scrooge’s waistcoat as he watches Tiny Tim starve.

This is a serious election. It’s a battle over two world views — one that says government should play the dominant role in life in pursuit of fairness, and the other that says that government should tolerate some unfairness in favor of liberty and markets and more power to the individual. Regardless of where you or I stand on that question, it’s a discussion worth having.

If only we can stop shouting each other down long enough to listen and decide.

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