Ruling via fear, intimidation and obfuscation | Wis.Community

Ruling via fear, intimidation and obfuscation

[img_assist|nid=51968|title=We are all GOP now|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=144|height=150]Formal communications theory stresses that a message can be disrupted by "noise." The theory doesn't regard noise in the way we usually do in our daily lives. It's not decibels, or static on your earphones or speakers. Rather, it's an oversaturation of competing messages that distract, confuse and ultimately neutralize the ability of most recipients to make sense of anything that does manage to break through the logjam of information overload.

In physics, the analogy would be wave interference. Throw two stones in a pond and watch where the waves that each creates intersect -- they often cancel each other out. In politics, if you seek change and someone else seeks either the status quo or regression, they win merely by canceling out your message with their own interfering messages. The quality of the message is irrelevant. The strength and direction of its propagation are all that matters.

In modern American politics, where Republican ideology is -- according to most polls -- not favored by most voters and citizens, how does the GOP manage to persist in maintaining power, even when it's just a minority? Well, they take advantage of the noise concept in applied communications theory.

If your messages like Republican messages are generally unapalatable, you can misrepresent yourself by using rhetoric and disinformation. But even better, you just yell, as often as possible. Because disruption in the marketplace of ideas -- like filibusters and disruptions of the political process itself -- creates what amounts to wave interference that neutralizes the messages from your opponents.

At some point, citizens throw up their hands in surrender and beat a strategic retreat from the marketplace of ideas. It's too noisy, confusing and frustrating. Everyone turns them off, even though it's mostly the GOP running the race to the bottom. This GOP strategy, while ultimately self-destructive, often continues to win.

The latest example in my own experience involves my 80-something mother. I posted about a week ago about how I visited mom in her northern Wisconsin home and monitored the competing TV ad campaigns in the recall election of Democratic State Sen. Jim Holperin. The July 19 primary recall election (Republicans might want to add "extraordinary" to that pair of adjectives) in Holperin's 12th District is already causing mass confusion, adding to the GOP-induced meme that government is broke and Democrats morally broken. But it's the GOP that has caused most of the dirsuption, first by their draconian votes in Madison and now by their campaign tactics and their over-the-top, pervasive rhetoric.

Mom, a stalwart and fairly well-informed voter, wants to cast a ballot for Holperin. But she doesn't get around well right now so she asked her local city clerk for an absentee ballot -- something she's never done before despite being a regular voter. She was surprised when the absentee ballot arrived to find only two names on the ballot -- both Republicans.

That confused her. She'd read in the newspapers about "fake Democrats" and assumed that might have something to do with this turn of events. I reassured her, noting that two real Republicans are running in the district's July 19 primary. I noted that she could either ignore the primary or cross over and vote for one of the Republicans, then later vote for Holperin in the August "general" special election. But that worried her. What if the election officials suddenly decided she was a Republican and wouldn't let her vote for Holperin? What if this was a mistake or just another GOP trick? They'd come up with those "fake Democrats," after all.

Again I attempted to reassure her. I supplied mom with the following official election FAQ:

1)  Do I need a photo ID?

NO.  A poll worker may ask you to present one (as a test run) when you vote. However, if you don’t have one, you will not be turned away.  Instead, you’ll be allowed to vote, and you’ll get a reminder that an ID will be required at the next election. 2)  Can I vote before August 16 (early voting)? YES.  Early voting is different from absentee voting.  You may vote early anytime between August 1 and August 12 by visiting your town or city clerk’s office in person during the clerk’s regular business hours.   3)  Can I vote absentee? YES.  You may request an absentee ballot from your town or city clerk anytime after August 1. When you receive the ballot, fill it out according to the instructions on the ballot envelope and return the envelope immediately sothat the ballot is received before August 16. [Special exceptions are made for military ballots.]

But even the official FAQs left out that someone else has to witness and sign your absentee ballot or it is likely to be disregarded.

Thankfully, mom has proper ID even under the GOP's retro Voter ID law, but many seniors may not, and may stay away or inadvertantly turn away from the polls when they are asked to produce idenfication -- even on a test basis -- to get a ballot. Also, they may stay away from the DMV or other places where they can obtain a proper ID, because of the sheer hassle and unusual chore. Arguably, Republicans anticipated these troubles and engineered them into their excellent new voter-suppression law.

Bottom line: Republican tinkering with election law and Republican gaming of the recall elections have confused even my mom, who is an informed citizen, a regular voter, a habitual C-SPAN viewer and ID-equipped. She's determined to vote for her man, and she will with the help of her family, but many other citizens in good standing are going to find the process confusing, insulting and intimidating. And they may just throw up their hands and walk away. Score a win for anti-democratic and anti-Democratic Republicans.

As always, it's easier to break something than to build something, especially something lasting that is easy to understand and works reasonably well. Republicans are busy breaking stuff, not because it's good public policy that benefits most citizens, but because it serves their own political interests.

And by the way, even the term "fake Democrats" is an example of what political scientist George Lakoff calls framing. Even though the term refers to the act of Republican candidates posing as Democrats, the phrase itself is pejorative toward Democrats. But it's handy, so news media use it constantly. A more accurate term would be "disguised Republicans" or "stealth Repubilcans." The phrase "fake Democrat" demeans Democrats even though it seeks to demean their opponents.

Published

July 11, 2011 - 10:08am

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