Don’t look now, but the media deceived you: the 2012 presidential election wasn’t really as close as they wanted you to believe. Nonetheless, it did for a brief time become competitive, and for a fleeting moment it even appeared possible that Mitt Romney had a chance to be elected President of the United States. If that prospect scares the living crap out of you, you’re not alone. I can’t think of anything that a Romney presidency wouldn’t have made worse, and I can think of many things that it would have made much worse. What caused this near catastrophe? One word: propaganda. One of the most intensive, nastiest, multi-pronged propaganda campaigns in history.
When you look at what he was up against, President Obama’s reelection was truly miraculous. The Republicans failed to unseat him; and yet their campaign of deceit was, in a way, quite successful just because it made the race so close. Essentially, the GOP has two options now: (a) conclude that their tactics didn’t work, and play like grown-ups in the future, or (b) conclude that they just didn’t go far enough, and be even nastier next time around. I’d bet the deed to the oil field on the latter.
In the next few posts, we’ll take a look at some specific propaganda factors that likely played a key role in making this election a race instead of a slam dunk.
Factor # 1: Partisan Sabotage
From day one of Obama’s term, many Republicans and other assorted right-wingers were focused on one goal: to make certain he didn’t get reelected. To accomplish this, Republicans in Congress did their best to make certain he failed at everything he attempted so they could portray him as a failure come election season; and it didn’t matter to them that this meant thwarting his plans to boost the economy and put Americans back to work. They were willing to sacrifice millions of American citizens for their own political capital.
Okay, okay. You’re gonna respond that when it comes to obstructionism, “both sides do it”. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t support that canard. While Democrats supported Bush’s major initiatives about 43 percent of the time on average, Republicans have supported Obama’s major initiatives only about 3 percent of the time on average.
And note that there is a difference between opposition and obstruction. It’s essentially the difference between not liking something a president proposes and not liking the president no matter what he proposes. You’d expect that one party would oppose the other’s objectives about half the time; that’s the whole purpose of having different parties — they’re supposed to balance each other out, and result in a more (nearly) perfect union. At least that’s theoretically how it was supposed to work in those days of yore before the GOP was seized by power-obsessed, no-compromise ideologues.
There’s also a difference between run-of-the-mill obstruction and sabotage. The latter is what happens when you have one party conspiring to block everything a president does in order to make him look bad and get unelected. And for an added touch of chutzpah, they nominated one of the conspirators as the vice presidential candidate.
It seems strange to recall in my high school civics class making a presentation in which I urged my fellow students and future voters to “vote for the candidate and not the party”. That may have been sound advice at the time, but I can no longer recommend that anyone ever support a Republican in a national election — not just because the core of the GOP has devolved into a cult of Medieval ideology, tin-hat paranoia and vituperative scapegoating; and not just because it practices the most venomous and dishonest propaganda imaginable. But also because it resorts to juvenile stonewalling for political gain. Had this particular assault succeeded, it would have set a very dangerous precedent indeed.
Factor # 2: The Bully Pulpit
It has become quite common — a virtual epidemic — for “conservative” churches to use their influence for political proselytizing, thumbing their noses at the IRS guidelines for tax-exempt organizations to which they’ve agreed to adhere. They know they can get away with this abuse of privilege because the government won’t dare crack down on them, lest they howl about “religious persecution” and elicit outraged sympathy among the ill-informed.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of supposedly subtle exhortations such as “I’m not going to tell you how to vote, but vote your conscience”, wink wink. But quite often, ministers are direct conduits for the most insane and hateful of anti-Obama (read:anti-Democratic) rants: he’s the Anti-Christ, he’s a communist/socialist/fascist, he’s destroying the country and the constitution, etc., etc., etc. Some preachers even tell their congregations that they’ll “go to hell” for electing a non-Republican. Yes, seriously.
This alliance between political “conservatives” and religious “conservatives” is a bizarre one indeed — among other things, it unites followers of a guy who urged taking care of the poor with followers of guys who say that taking care of the poor encourages indolence, while taking care of the rich encourages industriousness. But it is nonetheless a very powerful alliance, an alliance that is arguably much more effective than the sum of its incongruous parts.
When political arrogance mates with religious arrogance, the offspring is a whole new breed of super-arrogance, resulting in an overwhelming sense of (to use a word that right-wingers love to pronounce with a snarl) entitlement. These people believe they have an inviolable right to have their way. They were quite unprepared for the possibility that their boy might lose, because they really and truly believed that they had God counting the ballots for them. (Even Mitt Romney reportedly was so assured of victory that he didn’t even prepare a concession speech — but he definitely did prepare a transition website for his administration.) When defeat did come, they took it as a sign that Americans had abandoned God (and/or vice versa) and that the End Days are near, just as they have been for a couple of millennia now.
But churches aren’t the only bully pulpits in operation. It also has become a common practice for businesses to pressure their employees into voting Republican, even by issuing thinly veiled threats of termination if they don’t. Again, this is sometimes just a matter of a supposedly subtle hint. But in the case of Bob Murray, Ohio-based CEO of Murray Energy, it was a bit more blunt: he apparently forced his employees to miss work without pay in order to attend a Romney rally, and also pressured them to make donations to the Romney campaign.
After the election, he promptly made good on his threats by firing 156 workers, after uttering a typically arrogant “prayer” asking God to deliver America from its evil ways in supporting Obama’s reelection. Nor is he the only tycoon to take out his political frustrations on employees at the bottom rung. There’s a budding epidemic of that as well.
One sad byproduct of this right-wing arrogance, bullying and acrimony has been the destruction of many personal relations between friends and relatives who have differing political convictions. I have heard of many instances in which Obama supporters have had angry right-wingers sever all ties with them — or have themselves been compelled to sever ties with right-wingers who were being unbearably nasty toward them. So if you voted for Obama, you might want to keep it to yourself if you prize your associations with certain Obama haters. You know who they are. They’re the same ones who called you to gloat after the 2004 election.