It is election season, so we shouldn't be completely surprised by some of the extreme rhetoric that we'll necessarily be hearing over the next eight weeks leading up to the first midterm elections since Barack Obama was elected President in 2008. But a recent video I saw by an unnamed author got made me think twice about what is simple grandstanding and what is truly divisive.
New Political Ad
When does political speech and rhetoric become so extreme it devolves into propoganda? When do we let our rights trample our responsibilities? I believe elements of a new "Republican commercial" cross those lines.
A Republican friend of mine made me aware of the video, which is going viral on the Internet. What is simultaneously fascinating and disturbing are the flashing images of the Soviet hammer and sickle, describing the Administration as "socialist" (that's a broad term that could describe many Asian and European countries that are anything but communist along the lines of the old Soviet Union) and mildly threatening and/or aggressivelanguage ("We're coming for you").
And, most importantly, the commercial labels Democratic politicians a "Threat." This is the kind of rhetoric I made up to give voice to the character of Bill Charles in LIE MERCHANTS. I thought I was kind of going overboard in the book, but now I see that my caricature of Bill Charles is more real than I originally thought!
Don't take my word for it, watch the video and then read the rest of the post.
Let's Review - The Devil Is In The Details
What's the problem with this ad? Well, nothing for 98% of it. But, the Devil is in the details, isn't it? The 2% of the ad that invokes Soviet communism and labeling the President and the Democrat Party a "threat" is indeed the 2% that matters. It inflames and angers voters and encourages them to believe that "they" (the Democrats in this case) are not "Real Americans," as Bill Charles would put it. Taken too far, this polarization leads to separatism and potentially nationalism, opening the door to extreme right-wing policies. Let's not forget that some of the world's worst nationalist dictators were elected first and they didn't necessarily protect our freedoms of speech, assembly or worship any more than the despised left-wing communists.
I can sympathize with the legitimate gripes and policy differences that many Republicans and Independents have with the current Administration that sold itself as moderate, but has proven to be far more left of center than we bargained for. I too, am a disaffected voter. We have the right to freedom of speech and we have a responsibility to use our freedom wisely. An incendiary political ad seems almost irresponsible at a time when our nation appears so divided.
Motivations - What's Behind the Rhetoric?
Given that the ad is unlikely to convince any Democrats to vote for Republicans and Republicans certainly don't need any more reasons to vote against Democrat candidates, I have to wonder what is the real purpose of the ad? If given the opportunity, I would ask the author(s) the following questions:
- Who is the target audience?
- Given that Republicans are ahead in nearly every poll, is the provocative imagery and language really necessary?
- What is the purpose of the ad?
- Aren't the substantive facts strong enough for Republicans to win on the merits instead of invoking imagery that makes it appear that elements of our leadership are not even American?
I realize that it is out of style these days to be a moderate and see both sides of the issues. Readers of this blog will know that I hold everyone to task when it comes to divisive rhetoric, Democrat, Republican or otherwise.
It has been my experience that negative emotions are like storms, they seem powerful at first, but they always blow over. Once the thunderstorm of this election is over, I am hopeful that we can still see each other as Americans. Otherwise, the Bill Charles' of this world are out there waiting to seize their opportunity.