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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, March 25, 2003

 
Fear Sells

In another chapter in the ongoing debate about whether we will scare off moderates with strident liberal rhetoric I must note Kevin’s post on Calpundit about the marketing of ideas and the politics of fear. If you read the article by Chris Mooney to which he links you see that it is about framing ideas. It's interesting in and of itself.

But then Kevin hurls a zinger at the misplaced idea that only a positive message will work.

It's true that doom-and-gloom messages by themselves don't sell, but something similarly negative does: fear. And it sells big.

Not fear of things like eventual environmental collapse (she's right about that), but fear of people. Conservatives have very successfully gained ground by convincing moderate swing voters to be afraid of liberals: liberals "blame America first," they have contempt for traditional values, they are atheists, they're soft on child molesters, etc. etc. These are not people who should be in control of our government…

Fear sells…


I could not agree more. It works and it works well. And, there is nothing more important than taking back the realm of what is considered “normal” in political discourse in this country. "Permissive liberals” have been so successfully demonized many have actually stopped calling themselves that. They have even made us believe that our ideas are offensive.

I would once more like to point out that there is no evidence that the vast majority of Americans are as conservative as the right wing ranters like to pretend. At least by any definition of conservative I’ve ever known. For instance, this survey found that 70% of employees admit to viewing or sending adult-oriented personal e-mail at work.

According to U.S. News & World Report, March 2000, the pornography industry brought in revenues of $8,000,000,000 (8Billion) in the year 1999. That exceeds the total revenue of the Rock and Roll and Country Music Industry combined.-

The south has the highest divorce rates in the country and the highest numbers are amongst born again Christians.

ABC averaged 24.1 million viewers during the first hour of the "Bachelor" finale … opposite the controversial "Victoria's Secret" special on CBS, which drew an audience of 10.5 million, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Oh , and by the way, the Dixie Chicks album went from number 6 to number 4 on the Billboard chart this last week.

Popular culture tells the tale. The idea that liberalism is something confined to a few deadheads on the coasts is a shibboleth. It is a highly successful propaganda ploy that has convinced many millions of Americans that they aren’t what they are and has created a straw man in its place to conveniently set aflame. It is quite brilliant and it will not be turned around by mealy mouthed appeals to sunshine and happiness.

As for the other side, David Niewert has some words for the left on the politics of fear:

The mainstream left has been content to make jokes about the stupidity of militiamen instead of recognizing the actual threat they represent. There has been little recognition of the way the far right is able to insinuate its ideas and agendas into the mainstream; indeed, the left's dismissive attitude about right-wing extremists has only helped further their ability to penetrate broader society.


Americans aren’t radicals. The right wing of the political spectrum actually is hurtling headlong into radicalism and a lot of that is due to their acceptance of truly freaky and dangerous elements into their mainstream. The Lott affair provides a lesson. They have developed a need to be seen as not being racist. Yet, the party is crawling with confederates, anti-semites and anti-immigrant haters. They have also made common cause with a bunch of end-days fundamentalists and self-styled militia. There should be a concerted effort to make the urbanites who profess such solidarity with the pick-up truck crowd confront this and explain it.

Of course I agree that the democrats have to offer a positive agenda. But, survey after survey shows that Americans already agree with the Democratic domestic agenda. And even though I believe whole heartedly that national security is going to be the number one issue in 2004, it consistently polls lower than the economy and education, areas in which the Dems traditionally hold a large advantage, particularly when jobs aren’t plentiful. So, clearly it’s not liberal ideas per se that so-called moderates don’t like. In many ways they are quite liberal themselves, at least compared to the stereotype we are fed of the “average” American from the heartland. But, still the Republicans hold enough of an edge nationally to control the congress and (sort of) win the presidency while rendering the political opposition virtually impotent .

Fear trumps everything. They created a monster and called it “liberal” then scared everybody into believing that it is extremist and dangerous.

Nothing we say will get past that until we expose the other side. What Neiwert has pointed out in his series on Rush, Newspeak and Fascism is that something actually is happening and it’s dangerous as hell. We don’t have to make anything up. We don’t have to construct a straw man. It’s real. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with pointing this out. Indeed, it is an obligation

Kevin said:

…we must convince the middle third of voters that they should be afraid of what extreme conservatives are doing. When they are more afraid of them than they are of extreme liberals, then the real work can start.


Yes. Playing by the old rules is going to kill us.