Sunday, September 14, 2008
Steamboat Springs What's the difference between a zealot and a ball-buster? Answer: A ball-buster is a zealot who wears lipstick.
The above riddle is an example of a graphic use of stereotypes. The Republican Party has been appropriated by experts in such metaphors, cultural narratives, and stereotypes. That's how it wins elections. It's not about facts. If you don't believe me, read the rest of this column. Then tomorrow, if you ask yourself, "What do I remember about this column?" you likely will come up with this riddle first.
The group of experts responsible for the election of our current White House occupant also is completely in charge of the McCain campaign. And they're very good at telling stories about values, communication, (apparent) authenticity, trust and identity - and they're not interested in talking in terms of issues and policies. They know that creating and sustaining misleading stereotypes is what really matters. "Tax-and-spend liberals," "left-wing media," "trickle-down economics," "family values," "you're either with us or you're against us," "the hoax of global warming." Do these slogans sound familiar? This is how the neo-con experts get us to vote against our own interests.
For example, "tax-and-spend liberals" left the White House in 2000 with a legacy of a vibrant economy, a budget surplus, and general international spirit of goodwill. In the last eight years, the economy has deteriorated, we have an unprecedented budget deficit of more than $400 billion, and a significant erosion of goodwill around the world. This reality is not accurately reflected in the above slogan.
And here's what's really bizarre: As Bush's approval rating continues to hover slightly below 30 percent, polls indicate that the public is evenly divided between the Obama/Biden ticket and the McCain/Palin ticket. The fact remains that Bush is a mouthpiece for Karl Rove and his fellow extremists - the same extremists who have hired the McCain ticket to tell their stories.
This is the lesson of marketing products in the 21st century. And, yes, folks, we Americans sure know how to buy products. It's too bad we're not so good at electing politicians who reflect our real values and beliefs - those values and beliefs we want to instill in our children
How do conservatives and progressives differ in terms of family values? Progressives value the family that nurtures and supports its members. It's a microcosm of what the framers of our constitution described as a participatory democracy. Each member is valued and has responsibilities to perform for the mutual benefit of all the members. Mutual trust is encouraged, and families look to their communities for support and friendship. A spirit of openness and abundance is in evidence. There is the assumption of innocence until one is proven guilty - an idea that has a precedent in our constitution.
Conservatives believe that a strong, authoritative father figure is necessary to protect us from the enemy. The neo-con experts know this, and they supply an abundance of enemies for us to fear: terrorists, welfare mothers, tax-and-spend liberals, atheists and many more.
The experts know how to divide and conquer. It's a strategy that's been successfully used before, one example being Nazi Germany. There is a subtle difference though; it's easier to identify someone who doesn't have blond hair and blue eyes than it is to identify a welfare mom. (That's not to say that there aren't those among us who attempt to identify terrorists by their physical makeup.) The net effect of the creation of an invisible enemy is that we are encouraged to be suspicious of others. It's a case of "guilty until proven innocent." Vigilance is the key watchword. The conservative "experts" know this too, and they use it to create invisible enemies - the "others" who are a threat to our way of life.
In this game, competence is not an issue. There are undoubtedly thousands of citizens more qualified to be the Republican choice for vice president than Sarah Palin. It's about the power of stereotypes and who can most effectively deliver the messages to the American consumer. Palin's job is to speak the language of conservatism, activate the conservative view of the world, and use the advantages that conservatives have in dominating political discourse.
So, as you consider your vision of the future of this country, I ask you to watch, listen and read with special attention to these "stories" you are hearing. And then ask yourself, "What kind of world do I want to leave for my kids or grandkids?"
And if you are a traditional Republican or an independent, you might want to consider voting Democratic this election if you want to send a message that the current Republican Party no longer represents your values.
Paul Potyen lives in Steamboat Springs. He is a messenger. Don't shoot him.