Editorial by Political Arena Editor Chuck Norton
People like to believe in the veracity of their own perceptions; literally they want to believe what they believe is in fact true. That has always been a fact of life, and this writer isn’t going to change it. However, what has changed is that our culture and society no longer reinforces practices, ideas and daily rituals that helped to keep that particular problem in check, making Americans better critical thinkers, and gave Americans a special collective wisdom.
Years ago Professor Christopher Lasch penned an article in Harpers titled “The Lost Art of Argument” where he lamented the so called “objective journalism” (which is anything but) model (from Walter Lippmann) as a tool for elites to set agendas and control the conversation on main street. The power of the elite media narrative is difficult to overstate, as it is much like group think. Everyone wants to be included and accepted, and if you stand out against such group narratives some will resent it. Most people do not realize just how easily they are persuaded by manufactured group narratives. Allow me to demonstrate with a few examples of popular group think narratives that many people still believe.
“Gravitas”. For those who are politically aware, and were so before the 2000 election, the word gravitas conjures up an image of former Vice-President Dick Cheney. Why? Dr. Thomas Sowell explained it well:
RUSH LIMBAUGH has been having some fun lately, playing back recordings of politicians and media people, who have been repeating the word “gravitas” like parrots, day after day. Before Dick Cheney was announced as Governor George W. Bush’s choice for vice presidential candidate, practically nobody used the word. Now everybody and his brother seems to be using it.
The political spin is that Governor Bush lacks “gravitas” — weight — and that Dick Cheney was picked in an effort to supply what the governor lacks.
In other words, the fact that Bush picked somebody solid for his running mate has been turned into something negative by the spinmeisters. The fact that media liberals echo the very same word, again and again, shows their partisan loyalties — and their lack of originality.
How many people believe that “former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is ignorant”?
Perhaps some of you who are reading this very piece continue to buy into this false narrative. Just so you realize how much you have been effected I will pose the following: did you know that in her infamous interview with ABC’s Charlie Gibson ABC had edited out portions of her substantive answers to make her look ignorant? Did you know that ABC did this again in her interview with Barbara Walters. Remember when Charlie Gibson asked her a question about the Bush Doctrine that “Palin got all wrong”? Well, depending on what political historian you talk to there are five or six Bush Doctrines of which Governor Palin and Charlie Gibson each described one accurately. Atlantic Monthly, a left-wing political magazine, went back and did an exhausting review of her time as governor and concluded that she did a great job and pointed out how she was an innovative and competent executive. Odds are that people who buy into the false narrative that Palin is ignorant don’t know any of this.
“Republicans want to gut Social Security.”
The truth is that Reagan (Republican) saved the program with key reforms without decreasing benefits. It was President Clinton (Democrat) who increased the tax on Social Security benefits on the middle class which amounted to a benefit cut. It was George W. Bush (Republican) who tried to get at least a part of Social Security put into individual growth accounts so that Congress couldn’t spend your money (Democrats in Congress stopped him), and it was President Obama (Democrat) who has kept up a Social Security payroll contribution cut that is blowing an even bigger whole in the program. Odds are that people who bought into this narrative didn’t know any of that.
“Republicans want to get rid of Medicare.”
I regularly encounter uninformed voters who buy into this particular false narrative. It was Democrats, with Obamacare, who gutted $716 billion (over 10 years) from an already in trouble Medicare program without a single Republican vote. It was Republicans who added the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit (Part-D) which is not only popular, but gives seniors a choice of plans. This was accomplished at 40% under budget because the program was designed so well. One current Republican idea is to redesign the other parts of Medicare to work in a way that is similar to Medicare Part-D, so that it too can be more efficient and save money to help rescue the program. Democrats say no. Odds are that people who bought into this narrative didn’t know any of that (gee I am getting repetitive).
“Democrats want to tax the rich.”
This is perhaps the biggest false narrative of all. The Democratic Party leadership has never been interested in taxing the very rich. They have been “taxing the rich” for 50 years. Is it just a coincidence that they just happened to keep missing the target? President Obama gave the speech at Google, which paid 2.4% federal tax on 3.1 billion in income. In that speech he trashed the Chamber of Commerce for fighting against raising the tax on most small businesses which actually employ people from 35.5% to 39.9% . In the 2008 elections President Obama railed against Wall Street, but not only did he take more money from Wall Street and “the big banks” and such, but as if to add insult, their executives became the who’s who of those running his administration (LINK – LINK). Keep in mind that CNN once said Obama attacks private equity at 6am and is fundraising with private equity at 6pm. Wall Street and the big banks made more under three years of Obama than they did under eight years of Bush. His Treasury Secretary says that taxes on small businesses must rise so that government doesn’t shrink, and Obama’s new health care taxes target you, not just the rich. All of the stimulus and spending and so forth all in the name of the poor sounded nice, but look who got rich. Odds are that people who buy into this narrative know none of this (really there is a point to this).
Such false narratives are not merely myths that people fall into, they become emotionally invested in them, to the point where some people will say anything to support them:
MORE – Watch people lie about the political debate they never saw – VIDEO
False narratives rely on three crutches:
1 – The first is the selective promotion of key facts, combined with the suppression and/or omission of key fundamental truths. The use of a key fact that is partially true, when inserted into the false narrative, creates clear disconnects from the fundamental truths of the situation or event.
Politicians are masters of this. The second Obama/Romney debate is a classic example. In the debate section on the brutal slaughter of Americans at our consulate in Libya, the administration knowingly put out a false narrative that our people were killed by a flash mob upset by a video on YouTube. The White House created this deception because it was caught in a “Mission Accomplished” moment from having created a false narrative which stated that because Usama bin Laden was out of the picture, Al-Qaeda was beaten (The truth is that Al-Qaeda’s umbrella organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, has been actively helped by this Administration) . When caught, the White House tried to rewrite history, and focused on a key assertion–that Obama used the word terror in one speech describing the attack, as if that somehow dismantles two weeks of willing deception.
2 – Delivery of the few selected facts delivered with an attitude (an emotional trigger) that creates the false narrative.
A good example of this comes from a piece I read in the Washington Post some years ago. The article stated there had been documented misuses of the Patriot Act in order to wrongly access the private information of innocent citizens, and the Attorney General refused to state whether he would press criminal charges. This sounds quite ominous doesn’t it? Thirteen paragraphs later we learn that the error rate had been about 1.5%, comprised of honest mistakes, and all were caught by the internal Justice Department Inspector General whose job it is to find and correct errors. Consider the entirety of the pertinent facts, remove the emotionally charged delivery, and the message is quite different from the headline, would you not agree? Most newspaper editors know that the majority of readers never get passed the fifth paragraph in a newspaper piece. This type of deception is known as attitude change propaganda. Attitude change propaganda is not produced by accident. [Note – today reported abuses of the Patriot Act are higher. We are aware of this, so please do not blow up our inbox – Editor]
3 – Repetition. Joseph Goebbels said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie”.
This is why truth itself can become an enemy to some, and why those telling the truth are often disregarded, maligned and ridiculed. Once again we can look to the Washington Post for an example. Remember the Valerie Plame story? Remember when the White House outed a CIA Agent because her husband, Joe Wilson, had written a letter saying that President Bush made false claims in a speech? Well there was one problem; this entire story was based on a small stack of lies, and virtually none of the narrative that was repeated over and over in the Washington Post and the elite media was true, and the Post well knew it. This very writer wrote a 40 page article on the Washington Posts’ coverage of this story. Day after day, on page one, the Post repeated Joe Wilson’s lies and perpetuated the false narrative, while at times even on the very same day on the editorial page or buried in the paper, they would tell the truth about what was going on and explain how the evidence clearly showed that Wilson lied about nearly every aspect of his story.
I have been pretty tough on the left in this article because deception and propaganda is fully endorsed by many leftist/progressive thinkers such as Mao, Walter Lippmann, Joseph Goebbels, nearly all writers from the Frankfurt School, and Saul Alinsky. The progressive leadership in this country uses lies as a tool for calculated aggression.
This is not to say that the American right is free of the problems of false narratives, group think, and ideological boxes either.
There are/were many in the State Department, elite media and some in the Republican Party who have totally bought into the propaganda from the Muslim Brotherhood–that they want peace, free elections, and so forth–when anyone who studies their history going back to WWII knows very well what their agenda is. Bill Kristol from the Weekly Standard, as well as some on the famed internet Republican Security Council, fell for the “Arab Spring” false narrative. How quickly we forget history. The Mullah’s in Iran spoke to the Carter Administration about freedom, democracy and social justice; look at what they did as soon as they got into power. The same goes for what happened in Lebanon, and then Gaza when they had elections. Now look at the disaster that is Egypt and Libya, and yet some Republicans continue to say we should help Syrian rebels with arms, which would essentially be handing Syria as well to the Muslim Brotherhood/Al-Qaeda.
Republicans would love to see a genuine democratic, pro-western revolution in the Muslim world as we had in Eastern Europe, but today many forget that it took years of cooperation between Reagan, Thatcher, and the Vatican to cultivate pro-western forces and influences in secret right under the communist’s nose. We were ready to come in with monetary, logistical and other support when those forces made a major push. We knew very well who it was we were supporting, and we had an overall strategic concept in mind. Many Republicans jumped on the Arab Spring bandwagon because they bought the pie in the sky narrative from the State Department and they really wanted to believe it. Why? Because the false narrative targeted the freedom loving sensitivities of most Republicans perfectly. In short, they selected tidbits of truth, omitted others, and made a false reality that fit ever so perfectly into an ideological box.
Some so called “neo-cons” (by their critics) of the GOP may like to shape reality into something neat and tidy, but they aren’t the only ones. Many Ron Paul supporters are just as guilty of this. They argue that the U.S. should adopt some form of neo-isolationism. While it is clear that for the sake of finances we need to have a foreign policy that is less flamboyant, trade still needs to be protected with a serious Navy; the diplomatic credibility of the United States must still be backed up with military capability. If you want to see an economic collapse like the world has never witnessed, park the US Navy at home and it won’t take long. Many Ron Paul supporters say that “neo-cons” are “chicken-hawks” who have never served in the armed forces, and who would never send their sons to die “in some Middle East hell hole” (their words not mine). While it is true that some who may be labled as neo-cons have never served, the truth is that many who agree with at least some of that policy have served and have family who are serving.
Another example of taking reality and manipulating it is the often heard claim from Ron Paul supporters that militant Islamists attack us because of our foreign policy, and the argument that if it wasn’t for “neo-cons” we would not get attacked. When I run into people who say this I ask them, “Militant Islamists attack and kill Hindus in India. What is it about Hindu foreign policy that makes Islamists do this? How about the Buddhists who lived in Afghanistan? In Afghanistan the Islamists ran the Buddhists out and blew up their monasteries and artifacts. What about the Islamists in Southern Thailand who like to kill school teachers who dare to educate little girls? When the Muslim Brotherhood took over Egypt with the aid of the Obama Administration, what is it that Coptic Christians did to cause the Muslim Brotherhood to attack them with armored vehicles? This is usually about that time where I start getting called all sorts of colorful names. The most experienced Middle-Eastern war correspondent says that those who believe the “its because of our policy” argument are fooling themselves.
We are experiencing a wholesale breakdown of critical thinking in this country and most of the learned academics I know have confided this to me directly. I have noticed this myself in my studies. How did this happen? Professor Lasch was rather fond of the old fashioned “partisan press” that we used to have before the “Lippmann Objective Model”. In those days each town had two or more newspapers, each with its own partisan or philosophical viewpoint. Each day citizens would read them all and discuss the arguments of the day at the local barber shop, soda shop, or even at work. There is no better exercise for creating an informed, thinking electorate. Today we live in an electronic society where people can just push a button and anything that puts them out of their comfort zone vanishes instantly.
We have an elite media that too often behaves as state-run apparatchiks, and we have a public university system that states openly that “A debate is something we are highly disinterested in. This is not something our university would want on our campus”. As a result we have educated people, and even professors, who strive for ideological conformity. We have a major university whose administrators reportedly “forged an agreement to conceal sexual attacks” against children, and we have a Climategate scandal in which professors from multiple universities were caught in their own emails actively conspiring to pervert the peer review process and smear anyone who would challenge the global warming alarmist orthodoxy.
American society has become a place where people get beyond offended when told that they are wrong. We have teachers who too often cannot understand the difference between being presented an inconvenient truth that scuttles their narrative and a personal attack. We have people who refuse to take the argument of another seriously, so any truths another may have will not be accepted or even considered. Truth has become the new hate speech.
This must stop.
The sting in any rebuke is the truth – Ben Franklin.
[Editor’s Note – For a short video followup on this story click HERE – you won’t regret it.]