Politicians. In America, they are the epitome of contradiction…in every sense of the word. As a group, we tend to place them in an area of social value between used car salesman and sexual predator. They make grandiose promises, stretch the truth to the level of strained credibility, and seem to remember the value of the voter around only around election time. We all know this, but for some reason, we tend to favor one politician over another, simply because he or she shares—or validates—our particular ideological perspectives.
And in the rare instance where an individual actually seeks to enter the realm of politics with the intention of “changing the system,” that person invariably becomes drawn into the culture of privilege, the cycle of perpetually seeking re-election funds (while forgetting the voting electorate), and partnering up with Big Money…all to maintain their political positions. Even rarer, when an individual actually does work to avoid becoming a part of the political culture, we are quick to sling arrows and barbs at that person, simply because he/she doesn’t make the instantaneous changes we want them to, ignoring the fact that those beholden to the political status quo (i.e., political culture) are unyielding to the prospect of substantive systemic changes in the culture of business-as-usual, and simply will not allow it.
In seeking public office, politicians “reveal” perspectives, intentions, and policies of their opponents which, to be honest, insults the intelligence of the American electorate. Actually, what politicians tend to say about their opponents and their beliefs play into the subjective and willful ignorance the average voting American; they know we will not research beyond our preexisting, preconceived notions and/or beliefs. We tend to gravitate toward those politicians who support our beliefs rather than give us something to ponder.
We all know this, but we still play into this perennial sad comedy with all the predictability of tomorrow’s sunrise. And why should politician be straight with us, when we aren’t straight with ourselves? None of us wants to even consider that we are on the wrong side of a particular debate or policy. Knowing this, politicians continue doing what they do best…appeal to our sense of willful ignorance in relying on canned statements which validate what we already believe rather than what will actually make us think.
In part 1, I began reprinting a piece previously chronicled on National Public Radio (NPR), “A Guide To Spotting Pretzel Logic On The Campaign Trail” as a means of showcasing how We The People allow ourselves to be taken advantage of by politicians who manipulate our ignorance to their benefit by focusing on the stretches of truth exemplified by the current Presidential Election of 2012.
The NPR piece continues below:
ARGUMENTUM AD LOGICAM, aka 'Straw man argument'
What it means: Falsely creating an overly simplistic or undesirable argument because it's easier to defeat than the real argument.
Why it works: "It basically works like an inoculation," Nelson says. "Just like a vaccine uses a weakened version of a virus to stimulate an immune response, you tell the person a weakened version of an argument so that when the real thing appears, they have an idea how to answer it. You explain someone's argument in a way that doesn't give it full strength, and then you knock it down."
Examples from the campaign trail:
Mitt Romney, July 18
[President Obama] said something ... which really reveals what he thinks about our country, about our people, about free enterprise, about freedom, about individual initiative, about America. ... I just want to say it exactly as he said it, speaking about small business and business of all kinds, he said this, 'If you've got a business, you didn't build that, somebody else made that happen.' "
The Take-Away: In his speech, Romney takes Obama's remark out of context to reduce a complex argument about the collective nature of success to a simple straw man, Clayton says. He adds: "So, he is characterizing the argument that Obama did make, but he's taking the worst possible, least relatable version of what Obama was saying and defeating that."
President Obama, Aug. 9
"We're certainly not going to follow Mr. Romney's lead and go back to the days when women didn't have control of their own health care choices."
The Take-Away: Obama hyperbolizes Romney's position, "making it sound like you're going back to the 1300s and that women would have no control over their health care choices whatsoever," Clayton says. "So, he's making the most dramatic, worst-case version of the argument. Then it's easy for him to make the case that his policies are better."
ARGUMENTUM AD TERROREM — 'Appeal to fear'
What it means: This is pretty self explanatory. It plays on someone's fear of a (real or imagined) undesirable consequence.
Why it works: "Fear motivates people, especially if they're already nervous," says Nelson. "If you've just lost your job or think you are going to lose your job and someone says, 'Things are going to get worse.' That will get your attention."
Examples from the campaign trail:
President Obama, Aug. 14
"Last week, we found out that Gov. Romney expects you, middle-class families, to pick up the tab for this big tax cut. ... [Economists say] Gov. Romney's tax plan would actually raise taxes on middle-class families with children by an average of $2,000."
The Take-Away: "He's basically playing off the fears of the middle class and saying Romney's going to saddle you with a larger and larger tax burden," Clayton notes.
Mitt Romney, May 28
"I wish I could tell you the world is safe today. It's not. Iran is rushing to become a nuclear nation. ... Pakistan is home to some 100 nuclear weapons. China's on the road to becoming a military superpower."
The Take-Away: "Not only are you telling your story, but you're trying to saddle your opponent with another narrative. So, the narrative you're trying to saddle Obama with is he's weak because he just wants to get along," Nelson says. "You're saying he's naive about the real threats and he's not minding the store."
To be sure, government cannot solve every individual problem related to social and economic ills, but neither can the market. Our problems tend to be complex, begging complex solutions as well. The problem is that politics do not allow for substantive solutions of any kind as long as Americans continue to allow our own ignorance and inability to see beyond our beliefs to be manipulated by those individuals and groups seeking to secure their own political and/or economic interests.
I'm a firm believer in the power of education as a means of uplifting one's insight and perspective on the way the world works. As you ponder that thought, allow me to leave you with this:
If this offends you because you are an adherent to the thinking represented by these two individuals, then don't blame me...look inside yourself and ask if you are on the side of critical thinking!