Seeing Red: Modern Strategies of the GOP
THE OLD AND THE NEW
Not long ago, the Republican Party stood largely for pragmatic military policy, stable economic measures, and sensible national and international diplomacy. Think of the impressive successes inspired by this political vision, such as when President Reagan pulled the country out of a recession and ended the Cold War. Unfortunately, as most will admit (including honest Republicans), the past decade has seen a deterioration of Grand Old Party values and tactics. Faced with a rapidly changing society, too many Republicans have adopted a hostile and deceptive mentality in their fight to preserve uncertain traditions and earn voters. This has caused an explosion of misinformation and baseless arguments, the likes of which encourage blind loyalty. In fact, Republican political discourse has become a cesspool of logical fallacies meant to trick you into making terrible decisions based on emotion rather than reason, especially in regard to outrage, scare tactics, and nationalism.
Emotions can quickly unhinge logical debate. Religious discussions, for example, can fall into disarray if one comment comes across as blasphemous. If done properly, emotions coupled with information can create a solid and attractive argument, but when a speaker uses aggravated passion in place of logic and information, we call that a fallacious argument from outrage. Outrage does not prevent people from taking sides, however, because an emotional speaker appeals to the listener with a sense of sincerity (whether honest or deceptive). People fall for this all too easily, and those of the GOP use this to their advantage and / or disadvantage.
In early 2012, law student Sandra Fluke spoke to the Democratic National Committee regarding women’s rights. The speech, while not an informative piece, reflected the tone of effective and memorable civil rights speeches of years past. She spoke out against forcing medical procedures and blaming rape victims, asked for better health insurance coverage of contraceptives and Planned Parenthood, and won the appreciation of millions of people around the country.
Rush Limbaugh, in a quick attempt to destroy Sandra’s credibility, went on the offensive: “[She] goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex. What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute.” He later commented that, if taxpayers are to pay for her medicine and Planned Parenthood services, she should return the favor by posting sex videos online.
This is an extreme example, and many have not taken kindly to Rush’s offensive criticism, but the comment has certainly had its desired effect. Discussions online have split down the middle, with one side applauding her courage and the other telling her to stop sleeping around if she cannot afford pills. Rush has reduced this political debate to little more than bickering and baseless accusations. His outrage created outrage. He caused a national stir, so despite his on-air apology, I have little doubt Rush Limbaugh is pleased with himself. He now has his outrageous followers.
Scare tactics involve casting a negative light on one subject to make another subject more agreeable, such as a man with a gun convincing you giving away your money is in your best interest. In a similar fashion, to polish their public image, politicians will put the metaphorical gun in the hands of their opposition, screaming at the masses to run for their lives. As the popular phrase goes, “I’m voting for the lesser of two evils.” In reality, the deciding factor is which party makes the other party look worse.
During his 2012 presidential campaign, Republican candidate Mitt Romney used scare tactics regularly. In November, nearing the end of the race, he commented that we currently have “20 trillion [dollars] in debt, crippling unemployment, stagnant take-home pay, depressed home values, and a devastated military. Unless we change course, we may be looking at another recession.” He ignores that the country was well on its way to this situation when Obama took office, instead focusing only on the current administration’s part. Later, upon winning Illinois, Romney went on to say that Obama’s administration “has been engaged in an all-out assault on our freedom.”
Nobody can argue that the country has problems, so the debate focused on who had the best plan of reparation. Unfortunately, while I heard daily attacks against President Obama, I recall little concrete information regarding Romney’s plans to fix the country’s proposed plight. Instead, Romney paraded his business mentality as the secret ingredient, declaring himself a Mr. Fix-It for nearly 314 million Americans with wildly varying opinions, needs, and desires. He should have given us more than “Fear Obama, hire a businessman!”
I find it difficult to believe Obama’s administration is attacking freedom when they have established an agenda favoring gay rights and—more recently—reasonable gun regulations. I also find it difficult to believe President Obama should carry the full blame for our rickety financial roller coaster. Romney’s message of fear told me of little more than his ability to point fingers at his opponent. He no doubt kept the favor of angry Republicans, but he openly alienated voters from the other side of the fence. While I would certainly ask for our president to accomplish more, I would not ask for a president who freely spreads fear and blame. In November I voted not for the lesser of two evils, but for the more reasonable of two men.
Of the three fallacies covered here, nationalism can cause the most damage. One engages in nationalism when thinking or acting in the interest of one’s country, regardless of whether it makes logical sense to do so. The Nazi Regime of World War II still stands as the strongest example of nationalism gone wrong.
To support their cause, politicians can use outrage and fear to make citizens side with the government. About a year after the destruction of the World Trade Center, President George W. Bush pushed us toward a more militaristic mindset: “America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof — the smoking gun — that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”
As you can see, President Bush used scare tactics to incite nationalism. Not only did terrorists attack us on September 11, but Bush encouraged the idea that our nation’s very freedom faced a sudden demise. By the time Bush made this speech, the Al Qaeda were too busy defending themselves from the forces he had already sent to Iran, too busy to hurt our sense of freedom, and yet Bush pushed the idea that the loss of a few buildings and some five thousand people (in a country of millions) could alter the very core of our nation.
Americans have a thicker skin than that. It would take more than a tragedy to dissolve America’s foundations of freedom and responsibility. Bush should have led with this encouragement. Instead, he said that this band of terrorists could destroy the country with nuclear war (a claim later disproved). He could have avoided unwarranted claims, consoled the citizens, and still taken military action if needed. However, for the first time in several years, millions of Americans banded together in the name of war, fighting out of fear and anger, to mend a supposedly unraveling flag. Bush’s response to the attacks on September did more harm than good. Tragedy itself did not dictate the following decade. Frightened nationalism led us astray.
Many people will act on nationalism because, as they say, “This is the greatest country in the world.” If America’s history, its democratic system, and its potential for growth serve as motivation, then I would say the reasons are solid. Pure nationalism relies on faith, not information. How far can this faith take us?
Too many Republicans in the media, in political debate, and in office have gone off the rails of reason. The 2012 presidential election showed that strategies of outrage, fear, and nationalism do little to earn the Republican Party its desired followers. Their behavior last year cost them a great opportunity to shine in Washington: the time is ripe for a repeat of the Reagan administration, with a war that must end and an economy that needs a savior. In these next four years, Republican politicians must remember how to earn respect, rather than demand it, or else they will once again lose the White House. Should they make this effort, the next Republican candidate may act with the honest integrity characteristic of the party’s first true leader, Mr. Abraham Lincoln.