Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Republican Strategy: Straight from Sesame Street

For some time, I have been meaning to post a couple of thoughts I had after reading The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality. At the time, I was worried that the book would launch a wave of attacks similar to those that hit Kerry in 2004. Thankfully, that didn't happen--largely due to prompt responses by the Obama campaign and supporters. The media has since moved on to other things (e.g., Palin-mania), but I wanted to get my points out there anyway.

The book epitomizes two of the things that trouble me deeply about politics today, particularly as it is played by the core of the Republican party (aka, the "religious right"). First is the abuse of science and academics to prop up completely bogus claims. "Dr. Corsi," and others in his camp, attempt to mimic the methods of scientists and academics but ignore the most critical aspects of those disciplines (such as refutability in science), in a blatant attempt to support their own views rather than to discover the truth. Second, there is a subtextual campaign to divide the world into "us" and "them," with McCain-Palin in the "us" camp and Obama belonging to "them." You remember the Sesame Street song that goes, "One of these things is not like the others; one of these things just doesn't belong ..."? That about sums up the theme of The Obama Nation, and for that matter the entire Republican strategy this election season. (Though in all fairness, I don't think that's the message that the Cookie Monster was promoting.)


Henry said...

I think this relates to a discussion we had several years ago. I was arguing that for a democracy to function well the individual voters need to have the wherewithal to judge the validity of policies and arguments on their own. I claimed that the American electorate lacked this ability but could conceivably gain it.

I recall that you weren't sure that the average person had the time or ability to make such judgments and decisions. I remarked that without the voters having the ability to be discerning and logical there is really nothing left to politics but propaganda. If they are forced to rely on the word of experts how, when the experts disagree, can they decide which expert to follow?

Political argument becomes nothing more than an appeal to authority and then all that matters is whose authority is most appealing.

I'm not saying that any of this resolves whether or not it would be possible to get the average voter to a high level of rationality and knowledgeability. But I still believe that if we can't, then a broad based democracy will never be a very effective system of government.

Veritas Infinitum said...

I certainly don't disagree that a more rational and educated electorate would be less likely to succumb to these ploys. And I still remain skeptical that we can get the average citizen to commit much more time than they already are. But I think the bigger issue, as you elude to in your post, is that average citizens don't know who to trust.

Many people know where to look for reliable information when they are about to buy an expensive item--robust online forums have developed where people can share reviews and there is of course the staple Consumer Reports. There are functional equivalents for political is my favorite. But most people simply don't feel the need to "kick the tires" of the candidates in the same way that they do with purchases--even though the consequences of elections are far more important.

This is what the media really should be doing, but it seems to me they have fallen asleep at the switch. Instead of giving people the information they need to make informed decisions, most media outlets report on sensational items that will help them with ratings.

I think all of this can be traced to the model of ad-supported content, rather than subscription-based content. If people were willing to pay for better content, then more content providers would make better content. But most people seem happy with the crap that is peddled to them on the evening news. And who are we to tell them that they should be making better viewing/reading decisions?