Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Republicans 2012: The First Truly Orwellian Campaign?

George Orwell
George Orwell, the author of 1984, is well-known for his early understanding of the nature of political language. In the novel, the all-powerful state had created a new language, impoverished of all ideas of individual freedom, called Newspeak. Phrases like "ignorance is strength" and "freedom is slavery" are examples.

Flash forward to the Republican presidential campaign in 2012. While I'd be hard-pressed to claim that Mitt Romney is responsible for the proliferation of Newspeak in political campaigns, I am accurate in saying that the Republican Party has almost single-handedly brought the art of political speech to new heights, or depths if you prefer.

Others may rightfully be credited for their contribution to these dark arts, but I'll speak only to what I know or have observed. A key practitioner is Frank Luntz, poster child for language manipulation by the Republican Party. His forte is messaging. He currently has a messaging consultant business and is an analyst for Fox News.

He is responsible for some, but not all, of the following Republican-originated terms:

Death tax: Taxing inheritances has long been an acceptable way of distributing wealth and preventing the rise of oligarchies. This is not so after terming it a "death tax." Who can tax the dead? (Which, of course, we're not doing.)

Clear Skies Act: An example of Bush Doublespeak, it never became law, partly because it reduced air pollution controls and increased allowable levels of known pollutants.

Healthy Forests Initiative: Same Bush-era Republican use of language to mask a giveaway to business and a curbing of environmental impact report requirements. The courts agreed and limited its impact.

Job Killer: Mostly used in the Obama era by Republicans when referring to taxes. That these taxes could be used to fund needed public-sector jobs is, for Republicans, not germane.

Job creators: Another priceless bit of Orwellian language by the Republican congressional leadership, this term refers to the wealthy. We can't tax the wealthy, they're the job creators.

Death panels: Hate to give her credit for this, but Sarah Palin, by all accounts, crafted this term to falsely brand the aspect of the ACA Act that paid physicians for voluntarily counseling patients about living wills, advanced directives, and end-of-life options.

Job-killing, death-taxing, European-loving, death panels, I tell ya.

Rational observers of all stripes know that this use and abuse of language for political messaging has little if any foundation in truth, but that hasn't harmed the Republican Party much and in fact is credited with much of the gains the party made in the 2010 midterm elections.

So it's no surprise that the Romney campaign has been hard at it with similar tactics. There are, however, some significant differences.

This guy you know.
The key, so far, to what success can be claimed by the Romney campaign in making inroads against Barack Obama appears to be in Romney's use of the "Big Lie." The first origins of this propaganda technique is found in Adolf Hitler's anti-Semitic screed Mein Kampf, in which he accused the Jews of using the Big Lie to blame a German military officer for losing World War I.

Note. I bring this history of propaganda up not to try to liken Romney or Ryan or any Republican to Hitler and Goebbels, okay? I'm just putting this use of political propaganda in proper historical context. Got it?

Hitler used this Big Lie propaganda technique to fire up the German people to exterminate the Jews because the Jews were planning to exterminate the Germans, and so the Germans had a right to exterminate the Jews in self-defense.

Joseph Goebbels
Hitler's propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels is largely credited with the expression "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it," which is a clear derivative of the Big Lie maneuver. Goebbels basic premise was that people told little lies all the time but were too ashamed of uttering falsehoods to ever engage in a really big one. Therefore, they were susceptible to the Big Lie because they could never imagine anyone actually telling one.

And, yes, I'm directly accusing Mitt Romney, his campaign, and now his vice-presidential pick of using the propaganda technique known as the Big Lie. Sure, a number of little lies are wrapped around it, but in general this is what they're doing. Example? You know them, but here they are:

Obama is gutting Medicare by stealing $716 billion away from program. This is demonstrably and provably false. The president has eliminated a private-insurance subsidy as well as enacting a previously negotiated reduction of payments to hospitals and services providers, among other provisions, in order to extend all benefits untouched for an additional eight years, to 2024. If Mitt Romney restores these cuts, as he has promised, he will cause the Medicare system to run a deficit by 2016. All experts know this, and so, presumably, does Mitt Romney. What Romney also knows is that this attack is intended to scare old white people, especially in Florida.

Don't take our Medicare...

Obama has decided to gut the welfare-to-work program by removing the work requirement. This is false and is intended as a racial scare tactic. The president is only offering states flexibility, as long as they maintain or even strengthen the work requirement. This is a two-fer in that coupled with the Medicare scare, old white people will think that Obama is stealing their money to give it to shiftless black people on welfare, who no longer need to work. they can drive Cadillacs.

Obama's comment, "You didn't build that," was an attack on entrepreneurs. Of course it wasn't. It was a direct expression of the interdependence between government-sponsored infrastructure, prior private-sector development, and new business, big and small. The quote, taken out of context, is both Orwellian and Big Lie. It's been debunked over and over, but it's still a centerpiece of the Romney/Ryan campaign.

Job-killin', budget-bustin', uh, infrastructure (you-didn't-build-that edition).

The Romney/Ryan Medicare plan will "preserve and protect" the program. This is patently false. They will convert Medicare to a voucher program and privatize it. Over time, the program will be eroded, and seniors will suffer. Also, they do intend to privatize Social Security, which means eliminate it, just as defined-benefit pensions have been eclipsed by 401(k) plans.

If elected, Mitt Romney will lower taxes and everybody will have jobs and the middle class will thrive once again. This is more Orwellian than classic Big Lie, but it's got a little of that, too. I actually believe that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan know that they'll never be able to lower taxes. But they will extend all Bush tax cuts indefinitely. The "reduce taxes on rich people" promise is just a ruse to get elected. If they actually could lower taxes even more, God help us.

Enough. But please understand one thing clearly: These lies are being repeated over and over again because they have to be for the technique to work. So you will hear them ad nauseum. They have become the centerpiece of the campaign because, since the economy refuses so far to tank, they got nuttin'.

George Orwell is turning over in his grave. And, of course, so are FDR, Ike, LBJ, and, believe it or not, Richard Nixon. They all believed in the social safety net and government-sponsored infrastructure.

Hitler and Goebbels give us a sad. But their propaganda techniques are a hoot!


  1. I'm surprised trolls haven't overrun the comment section by now; calling you all the negative names they have in thier arsenal. I've read both "1984" and "Animal Farm"; the chanting "we built that" at the RNC reminded me of the sheep. Republicans have used both books, not as warnings, but how-to manuals for years, but surely have amped up the useage during this administration. The South has never gotten over the Civil War, rural folk still distrust city folk(and vice-versa), and xenophobia lies thinly veiled over by "civility". Inuendo and rumors lets loose the savage in us all.

  2. I'm as surprised as you that my comments didn't unleash the hounds. I'm talking about the use of language for effect. My reference to Goebbels concerning Paul Ryan's lies was echoed by CA Democratic Party Chairman John Burton today, Sept. 3rd. He backed off after starting a firestorm of criticism. I wish he had stood his ground. Thanks for your comments.