Hoaxes 101: How Birchers Game Voters and Elect Tea Party Extremists
The Senate and House votes to reopen the government and avoid Federal financial default gave us a hard look at the GOP’s “Die Hard !!” elected extremists. The Senate came in with 18 wack-jobs; the House showed up with 189 for the initial vote, then 144 for the final. These teabaggers share belief in rightie hoaxes that originated as far back as the John Birch Society in the 1950s. These are anti-socials who would rather see the United States of America default on its debt and go into recession than accept the results of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
Paul Ryan, the GOP’s vice presidential candidate from 2012, led the charge. He and the others support a “Tea Party” subset of the Republican Party. Thing is, they push Bircher paranoia for a dozen major issues; they report belief in propaganda themes that have little to no basis in fact. For example: ObamaCare is mainly a program for insurance reform. Every one of the coverage plans comes from a capitalist enterprise. But Ryan & Co. push a hoax claiming that this is “government takeover of health care.”
Yes, folks, the John Birch Society is alive and well, rebranded as the Tea Party. There’s also a public group using the JBS name that minimizes the open craziness; it’s out there for public relations purposes. The real Birchers are the billionaires and propagandists who have been around for decades and took over the nativist anti-Obama Tea Party in 2009.
The main result of this manipulation is that structured hoaxes dominate today’s GOP.
The hoaxes reflect Libertarian and Randian fantasies and Right Wing Nut Job paranoid delusions. Now they are played out in Washington by the self-described Tea Party office holders.
Consider the hoaxes as a collection. They generate disinformation and encourage actions that damage our Madisonian democracy.
Here is a selection of the GOP’s most antisocial hoaxes. Taken together they help to form a make-believe world.
The GOP Dystopia
— Economic problems are rooted in a Lower Class of 47%er welfare state layabouts
— Unions are criminal enterprises
— Government operations are intrinsically incompetent (lacking profit motive which is the only honest way to do things)
— Politicians are all crooks (especially Libruls, so voting doesn’t matter)
— Guns in homes are a sensible protection against home invasion (reflecting societal breakdown, alleged to occur 1,000,000+ times a year)
— Government is the problem (referring to what we call Madisonian constitutional democracy; denying international competition, the 1%er redistribution, and increasing automation)
— Global warming is an economy-killing leftist conspiracy
— Guns in homes are our ultimate protection from tyranny
— American Christians suffer rough and hurtful persecution
— Science cannot be trusted (typically in argument, because scientific results can change over time. The Bible is absolute.)
— The less government, the better; a.k.a., government-vs.-private-sector is a fixed sum game; a.k.a., taxes are theft
— Supporters of legal abortion are “Baby Killers”
— Media outlets (owned by multinational corporations) are biased to Left/Liberal positions
— Obama’s election victories in 2008 and 2012 were illegitimate
— Wealth redistribution to the top is what drives job creation
— Ronald Reagan maximized American influence world wide
— Democratic politicians are members of an out-of-touch elite; Democrats do not understand ordinary Americans
— The 2003-2009 mortgage debacle was caused by lying poor people (which ties in with the broader hoax that the Welfare State has produced a 47%er class of dependent losers)
— Corporations are people (which sounds funny until you consider “Undercover Boss” and the like)
— Everyone in the world should love America
— We’re # 1
— Vietnam and Iraq were examples of defending freedom and liberty and the American battlefield losses are all Americans care about
— America’s health care system is the best in the world
— American football is a great sport and uniquely important as a character builder
— Student debt is a normal part of education — nothing happening, move on
— Student debt and trashing support for Social Security — nothing there, move on
— Department of Defense is an essential and underfunded investment
— Patriot Act cancellation of Madison’s Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution is what keeps Al Qaeda from killing your family
— National Security Agency storage of “metadata” is not part of a vast invasion of private lives
— Financing for politics in America is wide open and we are the Gold Standard for free elections
— The War on Drugs goes back and forth with more victories than losses
— Prisons lower the rate of violent crime by incarcerating “superpredators”
Take a couple minutes researching any GOP hoax. The profession versions consist of three sets of elements:
— A psychological viewpoint, often laid out as an advertising campaign. It trashes either a segment of society or one of our democratically established social processes;
— Related slogans; and
— Dozens upon dozens of interconnected lies and ad hominem slanders
A viewpoint can succeed — achieving majority support — where it is unopposed and its slogans can be sold to a target population. People can lose their sense of community. Personalities are altered by irrational fears.
Never Underestimate Non-Rational Argument.
Exposing Americans to the GOP hoaxes looks to us like doing a group Total Immersion Baptism in a pig sty. Structured political hoaxes reach into the lives of tens of millions of Americans. Self-identified conservatives are cast into a Dark Side fantasia.
These high-impact hoaxes are not to be confused with “myths” or “tales.” They are designed artifacts that have been fine tuned by Ad Biz professionals.
We Can Fight Back.
They’re hoaxes. They are vulnerable to counterattacks.
This is different from trying to yell back at every lie put out by the Republican propaganda machine. New lies flood out every day. The hoaxes get a new addition now and then, but otherwise maintain constancy to enhance their effectiveness.
News Corporation and the Koch brothers’ hirelings and the Powell Memo propaganda mills generate lies and slanders by the thousands in service of these hoaxes. It’s not just Big Money selling these hoaxes. Spend an hour at a megachurch. Have a look at the “Receive, Remember, Apply” authoritarianism propounded by Salt Lake City LDS. Sample a hate-radio show or any rightie web site.
There’s only so many high-impact hoaxes they can support at one time. A few dozen. Fighting back is a manageable problem.
The major hoaxes can be identified: tagged, bagged and put up for serious responses. Focusing on the hoaxes as propaganda assets presetns as the most efficient approach. Spare the effort of taking on the thousands of lies. Hit the assets directly.
These hoaxsters assume correctly that the proportion of voters who combine critical thinking with baseline research is close to zero. Both processes take time and effort. How many hoaxes can one voter research? The propagandists face moderate resistance selling hokum 24/7.
Meanwhile, the DNC and think tank Democrats have nothing organized to generate counterattacks. They put their efforts to publicizing their own positions and focus on legislative issues. Social commentary is left for book writers and movie documentaries.
Anti-hoax counterattacks get low priorities in part because pro-Democrat experts know enough about their fields so the hoaxes lack believability. The hoaxes are coarse. The hoaxes are stupid. Lies and slanders that support the hoaxes lack evidence. The hoax projects are typical Ad Biz plays based on non-rational argument .
The hoaxes are believed by millions of Americans.
Problem remains, Establishment Democrats don’t see this as a problem they can address. People who fall for the hoaxes are written off. They are tagged as a conservative “Base.” If they are not “racists,” then they are fools.
Grassroots progressives can do better.
Of course we can. We are the face-to-face one-on-one resources for every social revolution. That has been how things have worked in America for more than 100 years.
Thing is, disabling the hoaxes is where you go to poach voters out of “The Base” of the GOP. For every voter you get from “The Base” for Democrats, you’re also taking away a vote from their teabagger opponents. Move 3% of an electorate from a teabagger to a Democrat, you’ve cut 6% into a teabagger lead.
That’s the name of a betting game. It was used as the title of a 1989 non-fiction book by Michael Lewis. Cute game, too, played by lying about the serial numbers on money. Popular with Wall Street traders. You have to read Lewis’s book to see this fits with the mind set of GOP politicians.
One difference is that a trader wins at Liar’s Poker if he can call out a lie from his opponent. With Republicans, nobody ever calls out another Republican’s lies.
Let’s consider an example. Reince Priebus, head of Republican National Committee, wrote an article with this title: “Sign the pledge: Tell Senate Democrats: Dismantle ObamaCare now and Don’t Shut Down The Government!”
He thinks he’s a rightie Albus Dumbledore? He can use a magic wand to suspend disbelief. Here’s the first paragraph:
“This weekend, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives listened to the American people and passed a continuing resolution that keeps the government running, delays ObamaCare for a year, and repeals the medical device tax.”
That’s hunky-dory in Rience Priebus’s world. He lies that House birchers didn’t bring the country into a major crisis. They were protecting us, don’tcha know.
I do not know whether Priebus plays real poker.
Truthiness and Factiness
Sometimes you see a hoax come along that supports a specific GOP goal. Getting campaign money in 2012 was supported by a hoax that Mitt Romney was not getting clobbered, that the presidential race was not a disaster for corporatist/authoritarian hopes.
Of course not. And how dare the facts intrude ???
Their “truthiness” dysfunction defrauded donors out of $250-million in the last months of the campaign. Rightie “501” organizations went around contribution limits to siphon extra moneys from GOP donors.
Professional Ad Biz GOPers lied that Romney and Paul Ryan were winning. They invented lies to support a full blown hoax. This effort extended to faked polling evidence. Fox News went wild with thier junk.
This “Romney Is Winning” hoax was challenged by InTrade and by Fivethirtyeight/Nate Silver at the New York Times. Their reports through summer and early fall of 2012 sound today like the history of Harry Markopolos reporting Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scam to the SEC in 2000.
As you may have noticed, inTrade and Nate’s NY Times blog are gone. Out of the game. InTrade and FiveThirtyEight called the facts. They are both damn well gone. We’ll see whether or not Nate gets back in the game for 2014 and 2016.
Collections and Community
Collection (n): a defined group of things or people.
Design time efforts matter. Taking on a hoax requires that you frame the argument. Best, you address the same collection that the hoax attacks. Where the hoax attacks a group of people; you defend that specific group. The hoax attacks a communal process; you defend the process at the level of the whole community.
This is a different approach from what you do countering item-level lies. For folks raised on one-at-a-time who-what-when-where-how details, this broadening approach goes against the grain. The work involved takes hours for planning and baseline research.
Identifying the appropriate collection for a counterattack is as much art as opinion-polling science.
We need to be careful. We need to apply what has been learned from other projects. Particularly, we need to use multiple sources for opposition research. There’s a room here for cooperative projects — a well designed one-page flier can hit three or four Bircher hoaxes.
Planning and practical testing matter. What works in one community might work perfectly well three states over. Maybe not. You don’t know without testing in the field and doing follow-ups to see what sticks.
This is a tough one. If they did not have overwhelming support from anti-abortion voters, there would be no effective Republican Party. Out there in the Red States these single-issue Pro-Life voters provide 20% and 40% of Republican votes.
A few of the Libertarians say they are strong Pro-Lifers — fewer than 5% of that population — and also say that making abortion illegal is a step too far.
We got into this and found a dead end trying to address theological issues. Judaism and Christianity count the arrival of the soul at the First Breath. Prior to that first natural breath the unborn child is alive, of course. But there is no soul present.
This is why miscarriages are not followed by funerals. The lost unborn child is not interred to Holy Ground. The Christian sacraments are granted to souls, not to every recently living body. You might think that logic would apply to the politics of abortion.
Unfortunately efforts to apply this argument are a cold losers for politics. Good logic, maybe. Bad for getting votes.
Even the few Pro-Lifers who accept the First Breath concept at first hearing are seen to return to the “Baby Killer” slogan later on. First Breath arguments wear off.
What does work acceptably is a counterattack strategy. This has been tested.
First off, when you talk about abortion use the word “abortion.” Avoiding the word carries a message that abortion is shameful.
There is one slogan that virtually all the anti-abortion voters support:
— A Child Is Not A Choice
The reason this works politically is that is attacks the word “choice” and all it represents. Children are not to be murdered, so they are not to be equated with neutral valueless choices. You choose what you wear in the morning. You do not choose what they see as the miracle of life.
Every time a Democrat uses the term “Pro-Choice” as part of a positive media argument, it sets these voters’ teeth on edge.
Effective counterattack gets away from diction that plays into the “a child is not a choice” behavioral triggers.
Play to win instead of keeping on doing what we’ve been doing.
Opposition research with anti-abortion voters shows that they see Pro-Life versus Pro-Choice decisions differently from Legal Abortion versus Make Abortion Illegal decisions. Reaching these voters effectively is all about framing and diction. We have to be careful.
We are in territory that favors Non-Rational Argument — the stuff of advertising campaigns.
Choose words to achieve specific communication goals. Same time, your top pay-off comes where you tag the authoritarian hubris of the Make Abortion Illegal position.
Research with anti-abortion voters works. Where mention of “Pro-Choice” is avoided in opposition research polling documents, you get between 10% and 30% check-off for Legal Abortion among “Pro-Life” voters. Critically, sticking with “Legal Abortion,” the Pro-Lifers are not asked to change their beliefs.
A hypothetical candidate who supports Legal Abortion can be competitive in very Red states.
“MyOpponentXXX Would Ban All Abortions” meets the requirements. The word “abortion” appears. The statement is a counterattack. Use it to replicate that 10% to 30% check-off from Pro-Life voters, get them to vote for the Democrat, and you can win almost anywhere.
One test of this approach came with Heidi Heidtkamp who won in 2012 in North Dakota. She puts notice that she is “Pro-Choice” in messages that go to Democrats. It was on her web site if you looked for it. But her stump speech and her ads were careful to delineate legal abortion as her preference.
Any Red State Democrat who replaces “I am Pro-Choice” with “I support Legal Abortion” and the “(MyOpponent) Would Ban All Abortions” counterattack is going to do surprisingly well on election day.
Heidi had started out down by 30% and she won with a couple points to spare. She had to have gotten two-thirds of her vote increase from North Dakota registered Republicans. Her tactics worked.
Once the “Baby Killer” tag went under the bus, Heidi was able to present her natural personality and lay it on her opponent, Rick Berg, that he had personal ethical issues and had introduced legislation that let companies fly as many as 30,000 surveillance drones in the U.S.
Early on in that Senate race you could get 8:1 betting odds on the Vegas board against Heidi. Just saying.
Obviously, you do not gain votes attacking football. Millions of Americans love watching football. Republicans use football in their propaganda as their # 1 proxy for masculinity. They have built up this connection over decades.
But there’s a big hoax here.
Football is pumped up as a game for children. Talking to female voters, that hoax is worth some attention when you are asked. The hoax is connected to these slogans:
- Football is unique as a character builder
- Injuries happen. That’s a test of courage. The broken bones heal and it’s not a serious problem.
- Kid’s leagues for tackle football are All-American — Pop Warner, for example
- National Football League needs to be protected from Librul government regulation
- Brain injuries are unproved for normal football
That’s part GOP, part NFL, part NCAA. They’re partners.
The real-world problem that gets trashed by this hoax is that football related head impacts cause a disease called CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy.) CTE has been shown to cause memory problems and premature dementia.
NFL looks more and more like Big Tobacco as they deny the football-CTE causation.
This GOP/NFL/NCAA partnership also backs having children play tackle football. That’s about like giving the kids cigarettes. Not an exaggeration.
Neurologists report that tackle football is not safe for children younger than the middle teens. The younger brains have not grown out to fill the cranial cavity. Head-to-head impacts for young players cause more severe damage to brain tissue.
Here are the most common segments for age-group tackle football:
Pop Warner Football
- TINY-MITE — 5-6-7 years old — 35-75 lbsMITEY-MITE — 7-8-9 years old — 45-90 lbs
JUNIOR PEE WEE – 8-9-10 years old — 60-105 lbs
PEE WEE – 9-10-11 years old — 75-120 lbs
JUNIOR MIDGET – 10-11-12 years old — 90-145 lbs
MIDGET – 12-13-14 – 105-170 lbs
UNLIMITED – 11-12-13-14 – 105 lbs and up
First off, anybody weighing 170 pounds is not a “midget.”
That terminological inexactitude is symptomatic of the carelessness that infests organizations that push youth football.
Second, for anybody who takes medical science seriously these kids are too young to play tackle football.
The brain injuries are no joke. NFL paid out $765,000,000 in 2013 to former players suffering CTE dementia. That payout came after decades of denying all connections between CTE and football.
NFL continues to encourage organized tackle football leagues at all ages. Emphasis on “tackle.”
We have not figured out how to work this one. Hopefully there’s no practical limit to how large a gender gap we can generate. How’s about women going pro-democrat with a 50% vote differential ???
GOP/NFL/NCAA are siding with brain bleeds.
How repulsive is that to women?
The NFL-CTE problem is documented with a Frontline piece at PBS. There’s also a feature film coming out. The Republican dystopia is broadly repulsive to everyone — football and war and money are just about it for GOP enthusiasms.
I am reminded of Philip Morris handing out cartons of cigarettes in 1998, long after they were shown to be carcinogenic. NFL franchises continue to push tackle football at all age levels.
The GOP’s hoaxes are well placed. They have millions of followers. But they’re still hoaxes. Not true now, never will be true.
We can lay into Bircher hoaxes for effective political counterattacks. Going forward, that is how we claw back voters from “The Base” and the Tea Party.
We can make this happen. Work against the high-impact hoaxes is underway. We can spread the word and win big in 2014.