Demagogues, those who invoke the human fear response for political gain, have long known this.
With that in mind, I'm just going to come right out and say that, first off, I think there are generally two types of Republicans: rich people and suckers. How Republican elites garner support from the common folk is often through demagoguery.
Whether it's Republicans covertly (or overtly) sending the message that Obama is a secret Muslim or the "family values" crowd appealing to popular prejudices of gay people, both tactics are used to garner votes. When I see these tactics being used, the only thing it tells me about a candidate is that he, or she (but probably he), must be so unqualified that he cannot win on his own merits. It tells me that, despite the crappiness of this candidate, a group of people nonetheless desperately want this candidate to win. Most disturbingly, it tells me that a group of people doesn't trust us- the common folk- to make the "correct" choice if we the people are given only the information relevant to each candidate's merits.
The propaganda suggests that some people aren't being completely clear about who this candidate is really benefiting.
For the sake of disclosure here, I don't identify with Democrats or Republicans. I will vote for Obama because I find him to be a better choice than McCain. There. That being said, I find that it's Republicans or supporters of Republicans who use the particularly reprehensible scare tactics of invoking hyper-nationalism, using red scare tactics, and alluding to the spectre of another 9/11 to gain support not on the merits of their candidate but by trying to invoke the fear response.
During the primary season, many pundits mocked Republican candidate Rudy Gui91an1 for mentioning 9-11 in virtually every speech he gave no matter the topic. His idea in doing so was, I believe, to invoke fear at the prospect of another terrorist attack, to let voters know that he had been there before and knew how to deal with these scary times, and to try to capture some of the patriotic sentiment that surely was responsible for President Bush's sky-high approval ratings.
And thus a Fannie's Room Award was born: The Giu91an1 Awards. This has the potential to be a recurring feature during the 2008 election season. Anyway, the first annual Giu91an1 Awards winners, those who have opportunistically and exaggeratedly invoked fear for attempted political gain, are as follows:
1. In the "Please Stop Using 9-11 for Political Purposes" Category
In Florida, one businessman has exploited the 9-11 tragedy for monetary gain and for attempted political gain for the Republican Party. The propaganda? A ginormous billboard featuring the twin towers still smoking from the terrorist attack. The caption? "Please Don't Vote for a Democrat." The implication is obvious: Oh dear god, we better not vote for a Democrat if we don't want another terrorist attack to happen!
Yet, rather than helping his cause, this foolish, desperate businessman is probably doing more harm to Republicans. I mean, supposedly, the Republican party in Florida has even called the billboard "inappropriate."
2. In the "Barack Hussein Obama" Category
We certainly can't forget the numerous allusions to Obama's alleged Muslim faith and all the scary implications that brings with it. The New Yorker recently caught a lot of flak for its satirical photo of Michelle and Barak Obama decked out in Muslim gear, doing a "terrorist fist jab," and burning an American flag. Well, South Carolina Senator Kevin Bryant recently posted something similar on his Senate blog. Except, I don't think it was meant to be a satire.
The fear-mongery propaganda? A t-shirt with a photo of Osama bin Laden and Barack Obama. The caption read "The difference between Obama and Osama is just a little B.S." Hardy-fuckin-har-har, right?
Like, the best this sorry politician can do against another politician is to falsely allude that he's in cahoots with a major international terrorist? I wonder if Bryant has any actual, you know, critique of Obama's policy positions or if he's just into defamation.
The thing is, it's these types of "funny" little slogans that get forwarded in emails all across our nation. Being from where I'm from, blue-collar America, I sometimes receive these Obama/Muslim forwards from people who don't know that I don't think like them. Peruse some conservative "common folk" blogs and websites and see for yourself how prevalent the idea that Obama is a secret Muslim is. Many of these people will vote for John McCain, not because they like John McCain or particularly know much about his policy positions, but rather because they believe Something Really Bad will happen to American if Obama-the-Secret-Muslim is elected president.
3. In the "Hot Mess of Asininity" Category
And no demagoguery award show is complete without at least one piece from the professional anti-gay crowd. The following example is a nice two-for-one combo package of anti-gay and anti-Obama propaganda. Professional Christian Janet Folger, who is under the delusion that the imprisonment of Christians is imminent, recently opined in her article "A jail cell with your name on it":
"I can argue why marriage matters for the continuation of civilization. I can tell you about every study that shows without a doubt that children do best with both a mother and a father. But let me cut to the chase: If we don't win the marriage battle, now on the ballot in California, Florida and Arizona, people who disagree with homosexual behavior will ... go to jail."
The elipses in the last sentence were in the original piece. Did you catch the dramatic effect? Anyway, listen up, Folger continues her dire warning:
"People in California are starting to understand just what is at stake in the battle for marriage – freedom itself.... If you care about America's freedoms, muster the courage to stand up, sign up and speak up for marriage and McCain. Because if we have a few more months like this one, and four years of a Barack Obama administration in lockstep with the homosexual agenda, we won't have our freedoms and we won't recognize our country."
At the risk of taking this fear-monger seriously, I just want to point out that Obama does not, actually, support the right of same-sex couples to marry. In fact, when it comes to the marriage issue, Obama and McCain are pretty similar. Both candidates have opposed a Federal Marriage Amendment and neither favor same-sex marriage. Details shmetails, what matters is oh dear god the world is a scary scary place in which our very freedoms are at stake! (and while you're casting your anti-gay-marriage vote don't forget to vote for John McCain!)
But seriously, with these inconvenient facts in mind, my only question is whether Folger is out to deliberately lie to her readers or whether she's merely ignorant. In any event, the result is the invocation of fear for political and/or monetary gain.
To end, I believe that many people can see when candidates and/or supporters are motivating people to vote for them by trying to invoke fear. When such tactics are transparent, they are laughable and ridiculous. Yet, it would be giving people too much credit to assume that all potential voters are capable of laughing off absurd messages. When people use fear, rather than the merits of their candidate, to garner support, I can't help but to wonder what it is these people are hiding about their candidate. If they have to try to trick masses of people into voting for someone who they would not, without this fear, otherwise vote for I also wonder if this candidate is really the best person for our nation.
Could it be that the only thing our nation has to fear really is fear itself?