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Dumbing us down

Posted: November 13, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 13, 2013 2:00 a.m.

When smoke clears on this unfortunate period of American political polarization and congressional debauchery, we will learn the man most responsible for our modern dysfunctional political intercourse is George W. Bush’s infuriatingly effective propaganda master, Karl Rove.

Rove, who began as a postal flier maven and crescendoed as political “Mad man” extraordinaire, perfected the manipulative art of tactical talking points and brain-piercing podium backdrops.

Forever etched in our minds remains the cynical “Mission Accomplished” banner. Exploiting America’s short attention span and love for quick wins, Rove hoisted that dubious sign atop the USS Abraham Lincoln, where

George Bush assured us we’d beaten the Iraqi Evildoers and now we could all return to shopping or going to Disneyland.

It was great stage propping and showmanship, and for a week or four we were high-fiving and overflowing with pride and potency while George Bush’s numbers soared on the fatherland’s wonderfully engineered quick victory.

But not quite, as most wars go, and the actual truth behind the banner had an additional trillion dollars wasted and five thousand additional American dead. But hey, “It’s politics.”

A distant relative of Rove in technique if not in bloodline, Joseph Goebbels, is quoted: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

Both men are creepy but right: Even today when Americans are asked, a goodly chunk will insist we invaded Iraq because “Saddam threatened us with weapons of mass destruction. (WMDs, as we thereafter came to learn.)

A goodly, but lesser chunk, believe we won that war with those well-placed assurances of “Mission Accomplished.” Words are powerful things — and often, a simple statement penetrates through our logic, capturing our souls, bending our ideals.

“Mission Accomplished” may have been the mother of all podium backdrops, but Bush coined many other hits, as well. “No Child Left Behind.” “Strengthening Social Security.” And the real screamer, “Securing Our Economic Future.”

The great thing about these mind manipulators is that they need not have any connection with reality or facts whatsoever. The veracity of the words or concepts matter not at all; they exist only to conjure warm, secure, patriotic, heartlandy feelings — along with a sensation that something is getting done for us by The Leader.

These effective catch phrases, spoken or displayed over and over again, become thought-drones targeting our hearts and minds for the expediency of launching wars, heightening fervor, moving poll numbers, and importantly — raising donations.

After all, “Why think when you can just feel.”

That this stuff works is made plain with the success Bush achieved and the way subsequent politicians of all sides have so completely adopting the technique.

“Change we can believe in.” “Forward.” Some have accused Barack Obama of everything from Nazism, elitism and egoism, but plainly, compared to the whoppers of Karl Rove’s creation, Obama’s propaganda seems remarkably flat and uninspired. Still, he tried.

John McCain set sail with vague promotions that ultimately had us wondering just what he was selling in the first place.

“Country First.” Yes, it’s a warm feeling, but had anyone proposed putting country second — or third? Still, associated with the five-point star on a blue background, the message looked good on backdrops and you could almost tear up securing a matching sticker to your bumper.

It didn’t work though, as the message got confused with lots of “mavericky” mixed talking points.

Buck McKeon pushes his own agenda with tri-folds and bi-folds and quarto-folds filled with sensational bullets escalating his never-ending drumbeats of war.

“No Jet Fighter Left Behind” and “Making America safe for General Dynamics” are among Buck’s more effective hits.
Yes, I jest. Barely.

Scott Wilk recently tried his hand with short-form sloganeering. I like Scott and feel that as a Republican he’s uniquely wise and moderate to represent all his constituents. I’ll vote for Scott come election time and perhaps that’s an endorsement Scott would prefer to decline. Nevertheless, into my mailbox Scott’s flier flew, and so it became fair game.

“Protecting the Community.”

I felt warm all over at first sight. Scott’s is a great piece embracing bipartisan support to constrain early release of state prisoners from overpopulated prisons as mandated by the Supreme Court.

Of course, we all want a protected community and my warm, increasingly-aligning feelings for Scott swelled until he lost me with a ham-handed but scary picture of a ski mask covered menace breaking through a kitchen window — and it suddenly appeared too obvious that Scott left rational discourse in favor of pushing fear buttons.

“I don’t like my home invaded, but when I do ... I want Scott Wilk protecting me.” So what that the U.S. Supreme Court insists we have a grave problem.

At the end of the day, it’s “Reader Beware” when eyeballs are forced toward three and four word thought-drones.

They’re meant to assimilate you and me and circumvent our rational thought. And they work, and they’re getting more populous each election cycle.

I know one political word-burst worth its weight in truth - and it reads, “Dumbing Us Down.”

Because it really is easier to feel than to think.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.



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