Distraction and Deception have come to be extraordinarily effective tools used in the political environment today. The idea that politicians can
distract the voter with meaningless non-issues to keep them from focusing on the real issues of an election and real issues of our future is both
disheartening and somewhat unbelievable.
Some politicians today avoid talking about policy by posturing instead. And what has me most confused is that the American public seems to fall for
this technique every time. I actually thought we were smarter than that.
In a Democratic primary debate of the 1988 election, Gore said that Dukakis was handing out "weekend passes for convicted criminals." He was
referring to a very successful weekend furlough program for prisoners (actually begun by Dukakis’ predecessor). On a weekend furlough, a convicted
felon, Willie Horton, had committed a rape and robbery.
Even though Dukakis didn’t initiate this furlough program, he was held responsible for not changing the policy. And that was about all that was said
But a campaign’s director of GHW Bush’s was listening and told Bush’s campaign manager, "The more people know who Willie Horton is, the better
off we'll be." And they were right.
The popular “Willie Horton Ads” of that campaign inexorably attached Dukakis' face to the scary-looking Willie Horton, a murderer and rapist, and
Bush soundly defeated Michael Dukakis with this deceitful and distracting form of the dirtiest politics.
After noting where the Republicans were headed with these Horton ads, Ken Swope, who produced some of Dukakis’ ads, realized with dread, "This
campaign is going to be about patriotism and racism. It’s not going to be about competence."
(Just last week, John McCain’s campaign manager stated, "This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people
take away from these candidates.")
After the 1988 election, nobody could really remember why they didn’t vote for Dukakis except that “he had something to do with pardoning Willie
Horton”. Which was patently and entirely false.
This distraction technique (complete with images) is being used more than ever in the presidential election of 2008. Some examples are:
Barack Obama is friends with Tony Rezko
McCain cheated in the Rick Warren Interview by hearing the questions beforehand
Obama is a Muslim
John McCain can’t remember how many homes he has
Obama is a sexist
McCain is senile
Why Politics of Distraction and Deception Works:
For virtually a generation now, US culture has been geared toward increasingly fast-paced imagery and sound bites, with no time, by design, to
spend any real, critical thought on what we’re seeing and hearing.
This is, I believe, one consequence of the miserable education system in the US, where far too much attention is given to passing standardized tests
and snapshot images, without encouraging critical and rational thought around the causes and reasons for a particular subject or event.
This is how History is taught: "When did World War I start? When did it end?"
When something happens is not usually as important as why. Whether WWI started in 1914 or 1603 is far less important than the
socio-political currents in Europe at the time. But a real understanding of those issues is difficult and complex and takes precious TIME. It’s much
easier and faster to just memorize the dates. And then the dates can be 'tested' in a standardized, multiple-choice test. And we can move on.
This may be demonstrated, or experienced, by the mass-cultural trends in the US today. Watch nearly any broadcast advertisement. Most are filled with
images presented for one second or less. Images that are intended to establish a picture, a feeling, an emotion... with no real substance.
Companies pay millions for advertisements. They would not do so if they did not work. This includes advertisements for candidates.
So this leaves us with a society that is conditioned to make major decisions - some of them vital, for instance the course of our nation - based on
trivial, snapshot images and word bytes that have absolutely no substance.
And the culture as a whole seems opposed to caring. We KNOW that there is more to either campaign than how many houses one owns, or what one's
religion is. But that pure tripe is what gets the attention. It’s dramatic and emotional and can hold our attention for longer than talking about
the boring old economy, health care or the worthless education system that brought us here in the first place.
This makes it very difficult, and possibly impossible, for a real leader, who wants to address in depth the many and complex issues we face, to gain
And sadly there is no quick fix for this... as the current US manipulators wish. It took years for us to get ourselves into this situation, and now we
have at least one entire generation that is conditioned to "think" in this way. It will take an extended, concentrated effort, led in part by
those most afflicted, to cure our culture of this obsession with sound-bite trivia at the expense of real substance.
Thanks to Open Minded_Skeptic for his contribution to this post, some in written form and some in open-minded and enlightening discussion.
Great post BH. This thread made me start to wonder when the political mudslinging really started and after a quick google search its been happening
since the days of George Washington.
From the site i found they were very cut throat and came right out to what they were thinking at that time.
* 1800: Jefferson hired a writer named James Callender to attack President Adams. He wrote that John Adams is "a repulsive pedant," a "gross
hypocrite," and "a hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensiblity of a
* 1876 the opponents of Rutherford B. Hayes spread around a rumor that he had shot his own mother in a fit of rage.
* A Democratic newspaper told voters that Lincoln should not be elected president because he only changed his socks once every 10 days.
* 1912: Theodore Roosevelt is shot in the chest while preparing to give a campaign speech, then proceeds to deliver it anyway: “I don t know
whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a bull moose!”
* 1828: a Republican pamphlet said Democrat Andrew Jackson was "a gambler, a cock fighter, a slave trader and the husband of a really fat wife," an
insult for which he never forgave his opponents.
* 1844: Democrats call Whig candidate Henry Clay on his "supposed baggage train of gambling, dueling, womanizing and "By the Eternal!" swearing."
* 1836: Congressman Davy Crockett accuses candidate Martin Van Buren of secretly wearing women’s clothing: “He is laced up in corsets!”
Its sad to me that politics are so nasty. In a country where people come here for freedom in religion, thought, ways of life etc, the politicians and
the partisan groups insult and demean those who have different thoughts from them, this goes against the grain of what America stands for.
What is unfortunate, people are to lazy (of course not us ATS members ), to check the mud that politicians throw to see if its true or not. People
dont want to take the time to really see what a candidates worth is and what they can bring to the table to make this a better country.
America is a work in progress just like an individuals life ,mistakes are and will always be made, and the political family also learns by its
mistakes, what may look good on paper could be a failure when put into action.
The political mudslingers look for these failures to pin on the opposing party to make them look worse than oneself.
No one is perfect, our country is not perfect and certainly the people who run it are far from perfect, but in politics i guess we are not allowed to
be less than perfect.
I wish the old "let he who is without sin, cast the first stone" (change sin to perfection) be applied to campaigning. When you tattle tell on
someone they well respond with a tattle tale of their own, and it just goes on and on.
The spineless Democrats have to fight fire with fire. Sen Kerry did not fight back when the Swift Boat ads were shown, and that cost him the election.
Sen Obama's campaign knows they have to hit back hard at every little item if they want to pull off the election. It may be a shame, but the
Republicans are not about to stop a technique that has worked so well for them time and time again. We can say we want the campaigns to be about
issues all we want, but the truth is negative ads work.
People eat this stuff up. Which, I might add, is a sad commentary on the American voting public.
Some of us are entertained by this (where some of us get very annoyed by it), and the politicians know it. Some would rather focus on the juicy
gossip and half-truths of an election than the actual issues.....which the politicians also know, so they don't spend the bulk of their time talking
about the issues.
Just look at the "election" discussion on ATS.....for the most part, it isn't about the issues, it's about the gossip and the half-truths. These
are what grab the attention of some and entertain them.....while it makes others want to vomit a little.
A big section of the American voting public is looking for entertainment, not issues. That's why these tactics work; the politicians are playing to
the "short attention span" section of their audience.
Originally posted by skeptic1
A big section of the American voting public is looking for entertainment, not issues.
Exactly! And most "News" programs are now Entertainment programs. People want to sit down at their TVs and be entertained. And why is it important
to the networks that they have the most viewers? Because their sponsors give them money based on how many viewers they have, not how good their news
I admit, I'd rather sit down and watch Keith Olbermann for an hour than CSPAN or even my favorite for real news, Link TV. Olbermann's much more
entertaining. Pretty colors and bright lights. But I don't get my news from Olbermann. I watch him to see his reaction to the news and to
It's no wonder people are making their decisions around this election based on sound bites. I visited a dog forum today to find people saying that
there's a 50% chance that Obama is Muslim and that Sarah Palin stopped that bridge to nowhere, so they knew who they were voting for. These people
are watching network "entertain-news" to make their election decision. I wonder if they'll even consider reading the non-blog sources I
I get all my political news from "The Daily Show". They make fun of both parties equally. "The Colbert Report" is a nice follow up that skewers
Fox News and blowhard commentators from both ends of the aisle.
To me personally, this is the most terrifying and important issue that has emerged in the 2008 political season. Thank you, BH, for a
well-thought-out and well-presented OP.
I think you identified one of the most important factors -- education. Not only are our schools focusing on teaching easily-testable "facts" rather
than critical analysis, it is my impression that very little time is spent teaching kids to examine sources.
This is based purely on personal observations, so may not be true elsewhere (I hope it's not). I'm in my mid-thirties and recently went back to
college to take undergraduate science classes at a well-regarded public university. I have been appalled at how poor the study skills of the kids
entering the program from our public schools are. These kids have never been taught how to read a graph, how to check sources, how to take notes --
so many skills that are needed in sorting through the glut of information to make sense of it all.
Especially these days, when information is available in so many forms and it is so difficult to tell the difference between legitimate news sites and
propaganda sites, it is a disgrace that these skills are becoming obsolete.
Thank you for also bringing up the educational mess. I remember the old school teachers who did not let students get away with anything. I remember
being told by the principal if I misbehaved once more he was going to spank me. I behaved from then on. My first grade teacher was strict, but when I
met her as an adult, I told her how much I loved her and thanked her for setting me straight.
Now, the students are always right, and the teachers can't correct them. Everyone gets at A, and there is no competition. If boys are active, they
are diagnosed with ADHD and other "disorders" and drugged up for school.
It's either home schooling or private school if you want your children to get a decent education.
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