Politicians know what you’re thinking

The majority of Americans have an educational blueprint that is targeted by politicians.

It is a common theme of elitist political thought to try to understand the voting behavior of the masses. To many college students this is an all-too-familiar concept. An economics major might wonder how any rational politician would support the gas-tax holiday. A philosophy major might query why American affluence fails to help third world nations. And a history major might ponder why history seems to be on a repeat playlist. Essentially, the question that many ask is: How can so many Americans become fooled so easily?

Although your correspondent will not make any attempt to answer this question entirely, it can be addressed by examining the rhetoric that supported successful political initiatives. In his recently published book, “Sowing the Seeds of Sacred” visiting University professor Mika Aaltola suggests carefully worded rhetoric plays a fundamental role in the shaping of mainstream political thought. Rhetoric creates a community of listeners that can be adjusted for various belief systems.

Politicians create communities of followers when addressing political topics. When the Sen. Hillary Clinton camp builds of frame of “we feel your pain” she automatically forms a bond between her image and those who are suffering from economic stresses (regardless of the source of that suffering). When Sen. Barack Obama champions a message of “change” he becomes appealing to those who are dissatisfied with the status quo (regardless of the exact definition of change). Although upon first glance such analysis may be viewed as terribly obvious, further evaluation of political rhetoric yields more intriguing conclusions.

Politicians have long sought to conjure up thoughts that have been ingrained in American mainstream thought and link them with a certain political agenda. Aaltola suggests that one of the most effective methods of achieving this is via the methodology of decontamination. Fear of declining into previous evils has a great campaign power. When speaking to a Judeo-Christian base, politicians will often select terminology that alludes to the wholesomeness and sacred idea of the American family. Aaltola further notes, “Among the most important politico-religious resources in contemporary world politics are the rituals of purification and sanitization.”

Around three-fourths of Americans do not hold a bachelor’s degree, and the education curriculum of K-12 grade is relatively standardized across the United States. Hence, a political blueprint can be formed that maps the knowledge base of the majority of Americans. Because this education exists before we have developed the intellectual tools necessary to evaluate what we are learning, the conclusions many young Americans draw are the same. Communism = bad; Capitalism = good; Freedom = good; Individualism = good; War = sad, but necessary to preserve freedom. Although this is a gross simplification of the blueprint created by our education system, an example may have been helpful to understand the concept.

So how do politicians utilize this blueprint to their advantage? Perhaps the greatest example was the push for the war on terror by making terrorism analogous to a disease. In a 2006 press briefing, President George W. Bush describes himself and the prime minister of Iraq as having, “discussed the plague of terrorism which is being fomented and fueled by al-Qaida.” By diagnosing terrorism as a disease, he automatically creates two ideas in the American subconscious. First, if terrorism is a disease it must be eradicated. Second, a cure is needed to achieve this task, and Bush obviously prescribes his counterterrorism strategy as the antidote.

Decontamination is also used to promote the illegitimacy of certain political players. Immediately after the September 11 attacks, President Bush gave a speech stating that, “no government should promote the propaganda of terrorists.” The primary way for so-called “contaminants” to enter into a community is through education. An example of this might be those who read about multiple religious practices become less likely to follow a single religion. It then becomes no surprise that the speeches of Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders are rarely aired in their entirety, if at all, in mainstream American media. It is much easier to portray Osama Bin Laden as an uneducated fundamentalist terrorist in some cave in Waziristan, than the educated ideologue that is observed in his films and fatwas.

Bush was not the only politician who used an exploitive narrative to encourage political support. In 2003, Condoleezza Rice (then the Nation Security Advisor) was repeatedly quoted saying, “the west can’t afford to wait for the mushroom cloud.” This facilitated a sense of urgency to go into Iraq before it was too late. This statement perfectly illustrates that a mushroom cloud alludes to Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Cold War, which once again plays into the fears of declining into a lesser past.

Rhetorical analysis tools such as these will be crucial to properly evaluating the upcoming presidential election. A few months back Sen. John McCain attacked Rep. Ron Paul for suggesting an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. McCain declared, “It is that kind of isolationism sir that allowed Hitler to come to power.” The evils of Nazism and the Holocaust are drilled into the American blueprint throughout the entirety of our education. By connecting Ron Paul to this universal evil it created a tremendous blow to the ideologies of his foreign policy in the public eye. So this campaign season, if you find yourself asking “how can so many Americans be fooled so easily” remember many times the deepest references to educational blueprint are marked by the loudest applause.

Those at St. James’ Street welcome comments at [email protected]