John Walker's Electronic House

The Politics Of Fear: Getting The Majority To Feel Oppressed

by on Sep.01, 2012, under The Rest

There are some things that are pointless, no matter how strong the urge may be to do them. And trying to observe the discrepancy of discourse between the American right and left is right up there on the Shouting Down A Well chart. But the reaction to the Clint Eastwood appearance of two nights ago means I’m helpless but to just pointlessly post words.

From an objective perspective (or the closest I can get to one as an outside observer with politics that match neither of the competing parties), what was shown was a clearly uncomfortable Eastwood stumbling through a poorly rehearsed sketch in which he pretended to interview Obama, while talking to an empty chair. It was poorly delivered, frequently stumbling, and full of really quite concerning factual errors. There were a couple of well-delivered moments where he pretended Obama was interrupting him, but unfortunately after the very confused and hesitant start it was hard to recognise these from his genuine mistakes. I didn’t find it funny, and I certainly don’t think it had many jokes in it. It was, instead, designed to be scathing and derogatory, and to a baying crowd of Republicans who believe or pretend to believe that Obama is an anti-Christ this is exactly what they wanted to hear. And of course – of course attendees of the Republican Convention are going to be extreme enthusiasts, passionate in their support for their party, and accordingly passionate in their disgust for the other party.

But what makes me abandon an attempt at objectivity, and want to chew my face off from the inside out is the way in which Republicans – as is now always the case – immediately begin the campaign of non-information afterward. This relies on believing, or pretending to believe, a few things:

1) They are in the minority, and are being oppressed.
2) The media is against them, and they are at a significant disadvantage because of this.
3) Any who disagree with them are “politically correct”, “liberal”, and various forms of inverted bigots.

None is based in any truth, of course. Firstly, as the American political system shows, they are no in any minority but in fact of exactly equal size to the Democrats. Secondly, the vast majority of the US news media begins from a right wing perspective, with only MSNBC taking an open centrist position. And thirdly, well, that’s what bigoted people tend to say when others argue with them.

So what has been happening since the beginning of this convention season is the oppression spin is in full force, with prominent right-wing commentators and broadcasters spreading the message via Twitter and TV that the Republicans not only have to defeat the Democrats, but defeat the media infrastructure too. Those in the media know they’re lying, of course, but they also know that by spreading these ideas to their readers/viewers, they infuse a far greater sense of urgency amongst voters. When people are too aware that there’s a 50:50 split it’s too easy to feel apathetic. But when you’re told that your party is being picked on from all sides, that the odds are stacked against it, and that everyone else has an agenda to destroy it, then run, RUN! to the voting booth.

The problem is, Democrats know they can’t do this too. The problem with Democrats is they’re not so easily fooled, because their politics don’t begin in fear. Republican hot button issues are all about fear – fear that a big government is trying to control your life, fear that the poor will take all your hard-earned money, fear that illegal immigrants are coming into the country and stealing all your jobs/money, fear that you are in constant danger of being invaded by outside forces/terrorists, and fear that your taxes will go up. When everything is rooted in fear, you have a population of people primed and ready to be more and more scared. Republican politicians and commentators know this, which is why channels like FOX News, and 99% of talk radio stations, focus on scaring their audience in every possible way. If they stay scared, they stay easily manipulated.

Democrats, for all their very many faults and flaws, don’t root their politics in terror. And as such, they don’t have this trick at their disposal to whip up voters in the six months before an election. Instead they make what is probably a significant mistake, and try to fight their case based on things they pretend they’re going to fix in the next four years. And people are pretty weary of that, with skepticism ruling minds.

What’s particularly egregious about this year’s Republican tactics is just how painfully obvious the lies are. When Obama was elected in 2008 it was an almost trite observation to point out that in four years time people would be blaming him for the financial crises and overseas troops. But the inevitability only makes it more sour, as the Republican population either actually forgets, or pretends to, what happened during W. Bush’s eight years in power. When Eastwood can mock Obama for his foolhardy decision to send troops into Afghanistan, and the response is whooping delight that finally someone’s said it, then you know things are grim.

But the rhetoric is out in full. The Eastwood moment, in any rational society something that should have been cripplingly embarrassing and damaging to a party, is being successfully spun into a victory of the party. So in response to criticism we see the same phrases repeated and repeated. “It’s proof that Democrats don’t have a sense of humour.” “They just didn’t get it.” “The truth hurts, eh?” That anyone should point out its flaws is now evidence of just how important it is that Republicans rally around.

Further, attempts to criticise are automatically attempts to oppress. The party with the most money, most power, most influence, and most of the time, most people, has convinced its voters that they are the minority, and they are being stamped out. Whether they’re a minority as a good, right-thinking Republican, or a minority as an American in their own country, or a minority as a Christian in Muslimistan – whatever nonsensical angle is taken, they are being oppressed, and they have to do something – something – before it’s too late.

And in reaching this point, they’ve become self-indestructible. It doesn’t matter if something is a victory or a loss, it’s always a victory. Romney could be filmed shagging a cat, and they’d spin it into just further proof that the Democrats want to abort your eighteen month old baby. Fear wins.

And that’s bloody terrifying.


6 Comments for this entry

  • RodeoClown

    Disclaimer – I’m Australian, so it’s not my political fight, and like you, my politics don’t match either side.

    From what I’ve seen, I think you are wrong in saying Republican politics begin in fear. I think they campaign using fear, but I don’t think their politics is based in it. From what I can tell, their politics are based around letting individuals (and now corporations, *facepalm*) do business how they want, with minimal government interference. Basically the party of “if you work hard, you can be rich”. I don’t think it works out that way in practice though.

    As for saying Democrats aren’t based in fear, anyone with a bias towards the other side would say that of course they are – they have a fear of letting people do what they want and letting “the market” decide, rather than the government. They have a fear that people voting would decide things differently, and so the courts should decide how things work out. I don’t think this is true, but I do think that you are seeing it as based in fear because of your own preconceptions, and someone with differing preconceptions would see things almost exactly the opposite; Democrats are the party of control, Republicans are the party of freedom.

    Like I said, I disagree with a bunch of stuff on both sides. Polarisation in politics is a terrible thing.

  • Yeggman

    The sad thing is that Eastwood’s bit of dementia was probably the least factually inaccurate speech at the convention.

  • Nick Mailer

    RodeoClown: whilst there are libertarian members of the Republican Party, they are in the substantial minority. Certainly, the rhetoric of “small government” is wheeled out at every opportunity, but in reality, every single Republican administration since Lincoln’s has substantially increased the size and burden of te State, and have enthusiastically campaigned for and applied any number of interfering government restrictions.

  • RodeoClown

    Oh, definitely!
    I’m not saying they are practising what they preach by any stretch of the imagination. But I think that many of the people voting for them aren’t voting for the people, but for the ideal.

  • Dozer

    @rodeoclown a shame it’s the people who enact the policy isn’t it?

  • mister k

    Its hard not to feel a bit depressed by democracy when you realise quite how many people simply don’t know what they are voting for. When you look at the amount of American (and, indeed, British) citizens who believe obvious mistruths about Obama, about healthcare. What proportion of these deluded ones actually turn out to vote I don’t know, but as much as a democratic principle is vital, its hard to cling to it when people voting believe that Obama is a Kenyan muslim.