Thursday, February 4, 2010

Talking points

There is no question that the political right has the best message work (propaganda). Their ability to convince credulous people of clearly false ideas is second to none. On top of really sophisticated "talking points" they have convinced most of their sheep to trust only rightist pundits and disregard everything said by centrists, independents, or leftists, even if their points are based in cold hard facts. George Orwell would be wide eyed and open mouthed in astonishment.

Take the sub-prime mortgage crisis as an example; the GOP convinced almost everyone I know that "big government" was to blame, through regulation. The idea was that the banks made their suicidal loans because of legislation passed by Carter and later reinforced by Clinton (no mention of George H.W. Bush's involvement mentioned... of course). In reality, the legislation in question (the Community Reinvestment Act) was only responsible for 25% for the loans made. The majority of those insane loans came from banks taking huge risks because they chose to; they knew that when people were unable to repay, they would just socialize the cost of their failure. They gambled with our money and lost big, then asked us to bail them out, and we did. Somehow, government is always to blame -- even if they aren't.

So how does the political right manage to pull off these Orwellian maneuvers? This is the 21st century after all, most Americans can read (kinda), so how do you convince hordes of people to believe that grass is not green, but it is instead blue? One important tool is controlling the topics of discussions, and one way to do this is with talking points. I have yet to chat with a rightist that didn't rely heavily or entirely on talking points and very specific or isolated minority examples to back up their claims. They have been trained to try to keep the conversation centered on one idea, or point. Example conversation:

"Evolution is just a theory."

"But you understand a theory is not a mere hypothesis or idea, you do know that a theory is the highest possible level of acceptance that human discovery can achieve?"

"That doesn't matter, what matters here is that Evolution is just a theory."

"Do you even know what that statement means? A theory is a fact. It has been tested again and again, pitted against all evidence, peer reviewed, and subjected to the harshest forms of professional scrutiny."

"You are getting off the subject! Look, Evolution is just a theory."

By sticking to a talking point, and inserting it over and over, you hope to drive the point home; or at least get the point to stick, so people begin to associate Evolution and theory even if they don't have an opinion of their own yet. A talking point doesn't have to be based in fact, it can be complete bullshit, it doesn't matter; and if the target isn't buying it, get emotional, or use appeals to emotions, or even emotional blackmail. Talking points are crucial to control conversations, and public political discourse in general. The GOP knows this, while the Dems seem to lag miles behind.

Here are some juicy links containing talking points on health care reform and financial reform, complete with comments from critics and the author himself, Frank Luntz:

I am going to try to dig up some good leftist talking points, I wonder who helps organize their propaganda (whoever it is he/she seems to be slacking). A person could make a full time job out of debunking talking points with facts and reality; numbers from the CBO, independent or outside analysis, think tanks, etc. Maybe I should look into that!

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