The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Zachary Hubbard

May 16, 2012

Zachary Hubbard | 'Big lie' is common in political messaging

Vice President Joe Biden recently made a huge campaign blunder by going on record in support of gay marriage. Biden told the unabridged truth – a rarity in today’s political campaigning environment.

Biden’s brief lapse sent his party spinning into damage control mode. One of the first victims of Biden’s gaffe was White House press spokes-man Jay Carney, who stuttered his way through a press conference where media representatives fired a nonstop salvo about President Obama’s fuzzy position on gay marriage.

My aim is not to criticize Biden or Obama. The Republicans use the same tactic – feed voters carefully crafted sound bites designed to manage their perceptions. Biden’s mistake was clearly stating his personal position on a very controversial subject.

In today’s political information environment, getting off of message entails significant risk. The pressure created by Biden’s statement eventually became so intense that Obama, back against the wall, was finally compelled to make a clear statement of his own position. His affirmation of support for gay marriage will be used by some Republicans as a polarizing issue in the election, even though Obama said it won’t be in his platform.

Politicians endeavor to stay on message, or “talking points,” in order to divert voter attention from issues they would rather avoid. 

Politicians subscribe to the belief that a message, if repeated often enough, will finally be accepted as factual by the target audience. Consequently, acceptance of multiple, well-crafted messages will eventually sway the targeted voters.

Germany’s Third Reich mastered the art of political messaging. (I’m not comparing the Obama administration to the Third Reich – just trying to derive a lesson from history.) Josef Goebbels, the Reich’s minister of propaganda, was a master of messaging. His energy-filled, propaganda-laden speeches were aimed more at influencing and controlling the German populace than instilling trepidation in Germany’s adversaries.

Despite Goebbel’s abilities, it was actually Adolf Hitler who perfected the messaging technique aptly called the big lie. This big lie is built upon the belief that it’s easier to get away with an enormous lie than a small one because no one would possibly suspect the person delivering the message of being a bald-faced liar.

Various versions of the big lie are common in political messaging today. You’ve heard them all. Obama is a

... (Muslim, communist, Kenyan). Mitt Romney never ran a real business. The Republicans want to eliminate Medicare. Obamacare death panels will determine the level of health care we receive. The list goes on.

Sadly, many voters easily embrace these messages.

Such messages are intended to distract voters’ attention from doing the one thing politicians fear the most

– making informed decisions. 

If the majority of American voters rejected the distracting political messaging and instead performed an honest analysis of each politician, we would send 99 percent of the incumbents home after each election.

Unfortunately, the information age we live in makes it difficult for voters to distinguish political fact from fiction and to separate the important from the not so important. Political Action Committees frequently run deceptive advertisements not officially endorsed by the candidate the committee backs. 

Many privately run Internet blogs and other websites contain political information and messages of questionable veracity. Telephonic “robo calls,” made by sources that are often difficult to identify, often spread political disinformation.

It is also important to remain focused on critical issues and avoid becoming sidetracked by the background noise of nonstop political messaging. Take abortion and gay marriage for example. 

Each is controversial and important to many voters.

Unfortunately, countless single-issue voters will cast their votes based upon one of these issues alone. These voters will ignore the fact that abortion and gay marriage, while important cultural issues worthy of debate, pale in comparison to the country’s immediate threats posed

by the unemployment crisis, the nation’s economy-wrecking foreign oil dependency, the decade long war in Afghanistan and the ballooning national debt.

So what’s a voter to do? 

-- Read and listen voraciously. Be wary of the sources selected and try to stick to mainstream news sources.

These tend to be the most legitimate news outlets. I’m referring to time-tried sources such as The Economist, Time, Newsweek, Financial Times, New York Times, New York Post, Washington Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, L.A. Times, CNN, ABC, NBC, MSNBC, CBS and Fox News. These are well-established news outlets and they subscribe to certain standards of conduct in reporting.

-- Pay attention to the voting records of your elected officials. There are numerous online services that report voting records. Megavote is my favorite. Sign up for emailed reports at http://congress.org/congress

org/megavote/.

-- Remain engaged with elected officials. Attend town hall meetings, subscribe to newsletters and call or write them frequently regarding issues that are important to you. An easy website for emailing Capitol Hill is http://contactingthecongress.org.

The November elections will impact our nation for decades. Citizens who want their votes to make a difference must be proactive. The days of voting straight, party-line tickets are gone. Each candidate must be considered for his or her merit.

Refuse to just follow the political herd in November.

Zachary Hubbard is a freelance writer residing in Upper Yoder Township. He is a member of The Tribune-Democrat Reader Advisory Committee.

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