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Dumbing Down: America's Fast Food Electorate
April 24, 2002
By Christian Dewar

Recent articles by Ernest Partridge ("Don't Just Get Mad, Get Smart") and Michael Gronewaller ("Don't Get Smart, Get Stupid") raise interesting questions about the tactics which liberals need to use to restore some semblance of democracy to our nation. It is sad but true that liberals probably have to 'dumb down' to get our message out to the masses. More than half of the electorate voted for Gore but there are many people who just don't have a clue as to the destructive, corrupt nature of the Bush administration. As H.L. Mencken once said, "No one in this world, so far as I know has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people."

Certainly, the media in the United States is partly to blame. It is pathetic that it is necessary to follow the foreign media to find out not only what we are doing in other countries like Afghanistan or Venezuela but also here at home. One good example of the dismal state of the U.S. media is their failure to adequately cover the theft of the election in Florida. Palast's findings of wide spread corruption were reported on the BBC but never managed to filter back to the U.S. except on the Internet. When the consortium of mainstream U.S. newspapers finally did get around to releasing the results of their investigations into the shenanigans of Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris, they buried Gore's victory in the fine print.

Some of this ignorance is due to the 'bread and circuses' factor. There are too many distractions vying for the attention of American consumers such as sporting events, sit-coms, 'Reality' programs, movies, videos, CDs or surfing the web. Americans are also used to immediate gratification, whether it is fast food, movies readily available on satellite television or a faster modem connection to the internet. This is true with the political discourse in this nation. We are used to getting our information in neatly packaged sound bytes and photo ops. We have become sort of a 'Fast Food Electorate'. It is as if Americans suffer collectively from a plague of Attention Deficit Disorder.

Another part of the reason is undoubtedly a lack of time. Many people toiling long hours to make ends meet in the new Bush economy are just too busy to stay informed. When they return home from work, they want to relax and be entertained, not to mull over events in the Middle East. It takes effort to stay informed. It is much easier if Karl Rove just tells us what to believe. Benito Mussolini once wrote that "The masses have little time to think. And how incredible is the willingness of modern man to believe."

It is these people that the Republicans have so successfully targeted with the repetition of simple slogans such as 'reformer with results' or 'compassionate conservative'. It is not that these people subscribe to the anti-democratic ideas of the Bush administration, it is just that they are too often suckered into believing inane drivel - such as terrorists hate us for our freedom and democracy or the simplifying of world politics into the binary view that it is a matter of good guys versus bad guys.

(Bonus quiz: Identify the person who said the following. "The struggle between two worlds can permit no compromises. It's either Us or Them!" If you understandably guessed Bush, deduct ten points. It was Benito Mussolini discussing fascism versus democracy, as opposed to God-fearing Americans versus Evildoers.)

Of course, anyone who has bothered to inform themselves about Dubya or followed his career by reading the Texas Observer, The Nation, Molly Ivins, Lou Dubose, Mother Jones or any one of many good sources, realizes that Bush is anything but compassionate or a reformer. To most liberals, this mindless repetition of inane slogans without substance seems boring and simple minded, but as Madison Avenue has pointed out, it works. Hitler wrote that, "Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way around, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise." Republicans know the effectiveness of 'staying on message'. They march in lockstep, even if it is a goosestep wearing jackboots.

It seems quite possible that Karl Rove learned invaluable lessons about propaganda from one of the foremost experts in the field. Adolf Hitler wrote in "Mein Kampf" that "All propaganda must be so popular and on such an intellectual level, that even the most stupid of those towards whom it is directed will understand it. Therefore, the intellectual level of the propaganda must be lower the larger the number of people who are to be influence by it."

The masses of Americans have been shown capable of swallowing some pretty big whoppers. By constantly banging on the message that the Clinton personnel trashed the White House, that Ken Lay stayed in the Lincoln bedroom during Clinton's tenure, that Gore claimed to invent the Internet, that Starr's $70 million dollar persecution of Clinton was about lying and not an attempt to smear Clinton with the salacious, leering, voyeristic, obsessions of a partisan witch hunter, Republicans have convinced them that these are true.

Rove must have been taking a page from the Hitler playbook, "Mein Kampf", which states that "The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed, for the vast masses of the nation are in the depths of their hearts more easily deceived than they are consciously and intentionally bad. The primitive simplicity of their minds renders them a more easy prey to a big lie than a small one, for they themselves often tell little lies but would be ashamed to tell a big one."

It is also regretable but true that we are, in large part, a country of lemmings. Many people are too lazy to become informed. It is not that most Americans don't mean well, they just cannot be bothered to put any effort in to discovering the truth. These people are thinking with their brain stem and not their frontal lobes. It is easier to have someone else tell them what to believe, and if they deliver it in a neat package with star-spangled wrapping, it is even that more attractive.

The Republicans have certainly figured out this demographic cross section of voting Americans. As Roger Ailes, the former media consultant to Republicans and head of Fox (Fair and Balanced) News once said, "People don't want to be informed, they only want the illusion of being informed." Ailes has been more than happy to oblige his audience with his brand of Jerry Springer reporting. Thanks to the spendid coverage of Gary Condit, shark attacks off the coast of Florida and the latest 'Survivor' episode, Americans know more about Michael Jordan than they do about the bellicose hawks in the Bush administration who are sending America's sons and daughters to war.

There is a sort of knee-jerk reaction that takes place with these people. If they see a photo-op of George Bush with a back drop of U.S. troops and American flags, they conclude that Republicans are the more patriotic party, nevermind Bush's dismal military record of draft dodging, unexplained absences from duty, allegations of being AWOL, suspension from flying after refusing to submit to drug tests and quitting the National Guard two years short of fullfilling his committment. Because Republicans have wrapped themselves up so tightly in the flag and drapped red, white and blue bunting on their candidates, somehow people interpret this as Republicans being the party of choice for the military. U.S. troops would probably think twice about supporting the Republicans if they knew Cheney received five deferments to avoid going to Vietnam. They might hesitate to support other draft dodgers like Tom DeLay, Jack Kemp, Kenneth Starr, Trent Lott, Phil Gramm, John Ashcroft, Paul Wolfowitz, Frank Gaffney, Rush Limbaugh, Dick Armey, Bill Bennet and many others.

If Bush appears with Corretta Scott King to commemorate her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, people conclude that Republicans are 'compassionate conservatives', nevermind their close ties to Bob Jones University, the racist Southern Partisan, the bigoted Council of Conservative Citizens (described as the "uptown Klu Klux Klan") or the intense efforts of the Bush administration to roll back civil rights and resegregate the nation. These people don't want to take the time to learn about Cheney's opposition to sanctions against South Africa for their apartheid policies against blacks or his opposition to the release of Nelson Mandela.

The same is true with Bush's campaign to woo the Hispanic vote. He speaks a few words of freshman level Spanish and appears with a Mariachi band and some people assume that Republicans are the friends of Latinos. Knowledgable Hispanic activists call this "Sombrero Politics." It is all cosmetics. Anyone who has followed Ivins or the Texas Observer's coverage of Bush's policies towards Hispanics know that he talks inclusion but practices exclusion. Hispanics during Bush's tenure as governor suffered in terms of poverty, health, insurance, education, teen pregnancies, employment, etc.

If Cheney appears before a backdrop of police officers, these people assume that Republicans must be tougher on crime than the Democrats, never mind all of the additional police that Clinton put on the streets for the effective community policing programs. It would have taken a little effort to find out that Cheney opposed a ban on teflon-coated bullets which can penetrate body armor or that Cheney was opposed to banning pistols made from synthetic materials that can evade metal detectors. (How much easier would this have made Mohammed Atta's murderous terrorist attack?) Do these people know that Bush has been arrested at least three times and Cheney twice? Do they know about the many allegations of cocaine and marijuana abuse by Bush? Given Bush's record and background, it is quite possible that Bush would have been disqualified had he tried to become a police officer himself.

It would seem that if liberals want to start reaching these voters, they had better start doing some serious underestimating. This would require that we 'dumb down' the political dialouge by using the sound bytes, slogans and photo-ops so effectively wielded by Rove. The difference between the Republican and Democratic message would be that ours would not have to be false, misleading or a distortion of the truth as so often seems to be the case in Bush's Orwellian statements.

For instance, most Americans probably want a clean, unpolluted enviroment, fair elections without the corrupting influence of massive corporate campaign contributions and a safer world for their children. If informed, they almost certainly wouldn't want a tax cut designed to give forty percent of the refunds to the richest one percent. Americans don't want the Pentagon to waste taxpayer money on obsolete, ineffective weapons such as the Carlyles's Crusader cannon, simply because the president's father works for the company. It is doubtful that they would want to spend tens of billions of dollars for a 'Star Wars' missile system if they knew that the tests had been rigged, that results had been falsified, that it was easily duped by decoys and that the only successful tests were as a result of homing devices built into the incoming targets.

Most citizens of this country don't think that Ken Lay should be able to write our national energy policy or gouge energy consumers in California. The widepread sentiment is that Lay, Fastow and Skilling should go to jail for the insider trading that allowed them to become obscenely rich while Enron workers lost their life savings. No doubt, many Americans would think twice about voting for Bush again if they knew about his own insider trading deals at Harkin and the crony capitalism that made him rich. Most people would be appalled if they knew of the bin Laden family's investments in Bush's failed oil wells and his father's Carlyle investment group.

Any reasonable person would be reluctant to back Bush's plan for the resumption of nuclear testing if they were told that the previous explosions had exposed virtually all of the people in the United States to radiation and that at a minimum, 11,000 people had died of cancer as a result of those tests. It is hard to believe that they would back his abandonment of test ban treaties or be in favor of the development of new nuclear arms if they knew that this was destablizing relations with other countries and leading to a new arms race. Bush is calling for more nuclear weapons to be manufactured. Many people might reconsider this if educated about the plutonium that this would require. One of the most toxic substances known to man, a half a gram of plutonium dispersed from the top of the Empire State Building could kill tens of thousands of people if. The half life is measured in the tens of thousands of years. Additional production would make it much more likely that terrorists could get their hands on it.

It would seem to most liberals that the issues are really on their side. It is a matter of selling what is best to the American people. In order to adopt this 'dumbing down' of issues to target these apathtic and uninformed voters, progressives would be wise to study a page from the late Lee Atwater's play book. Atwater, of course, was one of the architects of racist Willie Horton smear campaign against Dukakis. (Many people aren't aware that George W. Bush collaborated with Atwater on those ads.) Such a nasty, brutish approach to campaigning is anathema to the sensitivities of most liberals but what made it effective was that Atwater claimed he was going to marry Willie Horton to Michael Dukakis which he did with a shotgun wedding. It may well be time for Democrats, progressives, liberals and Greens to go into the matrimony business themselves.

One corrupt politician at the turn of the century complained that his constituents were illiterate and couldn't read the editorials which denounced him but that the political cartoons portraying him as a crook were killing him at the polls. This concept could be used by Democrats. Bush needs to be indelibly linked in the minds of the general population with his destructive, dangerous policies. The web has hundreds of progressive site and the number is growing in leaps and bounds. There is no lack of creativity or originality. There are great cartoons, articles and satire that skewer Bush succinctly. Progressives need to target maintream of America and not just preach to the choir. It is time for liberals to use those slogans, sound bytes and photo-ops to marry Bush, his administration and his cronies to their corrupt agenda.

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