Pied Piper Syndrome: Pandering & Propaganda

I was listening to a local talk radio show a few mornings back and the very last caller had the usual generic complaints about politicians and finished with the following statement, “Candidates will say what they think will best sell them to the voter”.
This is a statement of the obvious. At candidate forums in the village closest to my Appalachian idyll, I have heard it degenerate into guys talking about how they’d “played basketball in that very hall”. “Yep, I am just like you guys”; hard not to roll your eyes at even the relevance of such twaddle. A time machine that could take me back 40+ years to fact check something so insipid would really be pretty pointless. As the stakes get higher, how candidates talk and act transitions into way higher levels of blatant pandering. In my experience, this seems to be particularly true for primary elections here in the United States. Just listen to most of the current/recent GOP presidential candidates. Be it Herman Cain stoking anti-Muslim hysteria with his comments on Sharia law, Rick Santorum trashing LGBTs, Donald Trump on birth certificates, and on and on………. The Democrats are not immune from such grandstanding, either.
I have long since concluded that the key campaigning strategy for primary candidates is to shamelessly pander to their prospective voters, telling them what their audience wants to hear, rather than the unvarnished truth about the actual state of the nation. After all, why tell them uncomfortable truths about the wars, bail-outs, deficits or economic meltdown when you can focus on flag burning, gay marriage, birth certificates or the 2nd amendment. When the big issues of state ever get discussed at all there is a transition into outright propaganda, where candidates (consciously or not) begin using the techniques described by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA), namely “Assertion”, “Bandwagon”, “Card Stacking”, “Glittering Generalities”, “Lesser of Two Evils”, “Name Calling”, “Pinpointing the Enemy”, “Plain Folks”, “Simplification/Stereotyping”, “Testimonials” and “Transfer”. The IPA operated in the late-1930s; its function being to help people recognize fascist/communist propaganda (see an earlier post on this). Some definitions/examples are shown below for quick reference.
“Assertion” we’d have statements that should be unquestionably accepted as fact. “There are WMDs in Iraq”; “China holds most US Treasury debt”; “I pledge to uphold the Constitution” (when the legislative history typically shows that our Congressmen, Senators and Presidents routinely wipe their ass on the Bill of Rights).
“Bandwagon” would imply that almost everyone believes/supports x, y or z, so you should, too. “Obama in 2007/2008”; “Perry in 2011/2012”.
“Card Stacking” is the presentation of only one part of the story, selective omission. Just think about how we were sold on invading Iraq. Given how many of our politicians talk so aggressively about Iran, how many people know we overthrew their democratically elected government in 1953 and we’ve endured the blowback since? Why should we be surprised they distrust our intentions?
“Glittering Generalities” are the use of words associated with what individuals prize, or reject, and their linkage to whatever the propagandist is spouting. “Christian conservative”; “Islamic terrorist”. (I am not saying that either of these can’t exist, I am talking about their use in pandering/propaganda.)
“Lesser of Two Evils” would be the presentation of, say, two options with the least offensive one pushed the hardest, with no mention of other possible scenarios. “Bomb Iran”; “Do nothing and they get the bomb”. What about engagement?
“Name Calling” would involve using (perceived to be) negative labels to describe those that oppose you; or using (perceived to be) positive labels to describe those in support. “Socialist, communist, fascist, ACLU member, sheeple (guilty of using this myself), fundamentalist, Muslim, Jew, Christian, Patriot, Great American Hero, etc.”
“Pinpointing the Enemy” would inevitably involve scapegoating a particular group. “Jews, Muslims, LGBTs, Irish Catholics.” When I was living in the UK, particularly from my experiences living in the Orange groves of Lanarkshire, conversation with friends from Northern Ireland and visits to Kilburn in London, it was obvious how this led to a serious marginalizing of this latter group and actually drove people to at least turn a blind eye to the IRA/INLA. Unchecked scapegoating leads to persecution. In Northern Ireland this led to internment, now recognized as the best recruiting tool the IRA/INLA ever had. Yet are we not in severe danger of repeating these mistakes with Muslims?
“Plain Folks” would be using accents and idioms in combination with appeals to populism. President George W. Bush was totally the best at this, as he was really an old money blue blood. (So am I making propaganda by assertion? You decide!) I have never accepted that his mispronunciation of “nuclear” was anything other than contrived.
“Simplification/Stereotyping” constitutes the presentation of complex issues as simple black and white choices, rather than in shades of grey. Just think of practically every foreign entanglement we’ve been involved in since WWII, or how we talk about healthcare.
“Testimonials” corresponds to linkage of popular individuals to particular politicians or issues. Country singers on air talking approvingly about the Iraq war/occupation; did these performers never for once think about how they were being cynically used?
“Transfer” is linkage between something the propagandist is spouting and what the propagandee holds dear, this may be as simple as association with a symbol and can be used positively or negatively. The conflating of faith and war is an alarming manifestation of this and has been used throughout history, be it the Cross, Crescent or Star of David.
Individuals would be well served to think about these propaganda techniques when listening to our prospective and actual Congressmen, Senators and Presidents; the same applies at the State level, too. Note that in all of the above cases the success of the propagandist is dependent on the compliance of the propagandee, that he or she will accept whatever they are told without delving further.
But there is more, how this affects overall discourse has an even worse and more pernicious effect that is akin to a Pied Piper Syndrome.
The shear dominance of pandering and propaganda masks the voting public from the fundamental, core issues we need to be discussing relating to the wars, corporatist cronyism, bail-outs and how the $ is being debased. To varying degrees, propagandists are aided and abetted by the corporate media – from Fox to MSNBC. Indeed corporate media is a huge part of the problem. Many of their “pundits” are guilty of pandering and acting as propagandists themselves, and are certainly highly economic with the truth. (At least sometimes they get called out by the likes of “The Daily Show” or “Colbert Report”. Just look at how Ron Paul was treated after the recent Ames straw poll followed by Jon Stewart’s trashing of the corporate media for their lack of journalistic integrity immediately after the event.) In a warped sort of way, the most gifted of these propagandists act like some sort of Pied Piper, leading large chunks of the public away from the issues and leaving the rats to have a field day.
How do we counter this? As individuals, we need to be critical of what we are being told, rather than gullible when it comes to those that seek to propagandize. Be aware of the snake oil we are being sold. Our economy, society, future and our children depend on us to speak out. Be it in public or private. We must break the grip of the Pied Pipers.

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