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September 20, 2017

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U.S. election is all about images

What do you think of the candidates for president and vice president? Is Obama an uppity elitist, me first-country second, Muslim politico who associates with terrorists, has never accomplished anything, and just doesn't understand? Is McCain a clone of George W. Bush, ever-obsessed with victory, an impulsive, irresponsible chameleon who is almost always wrong? What about Joe Biden? Does this gaffe-prone, long-winded babbler get very tired hopping around with a foot in his mouth? As for Sarah Palin, is she unable to read a newspaper or answer any question that requires knowledge?

Psychologists who study how the brain works state that if an assertion is repeated often enough, people are likely to believe it whether true or not. The simpler the claim, the more believable it becomes with endless repetition. A mantra that a candidate is totally unqualified has far more impact than any explanation why. The political spin-masters exploit these tendencies to believe in their ruthless efforts to create images that will cause the opponent to lose.

American voters might say they are sick of all the sloganeering, but many seem to enjoy the reality show drama of it, just waiting and hoping to see the blunder that will cost their enemy the election. This goes a long way toward explaining the rabid attention to the instant "who won?" polls after each debate. The claim to be the winner is more important to the politicos than issues of substance.

This kind of psychological warfare is aimed primarily at the skeptics and the confused who might cross party lines. Democrats tend to muddy the waters on government philosophy while Republicans focus on culture wars. They both search for slogans that denigrate the other candidate and inspire fear of his or her leadership — because that has been shown to win elections.

The latest imagery onslaught is Governor Palin's assertion over the weekend that Obama "is someone who sees America as being so imperfect that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country." Repeat this until the undecided believe it. If you have noticed that Obama tends to hold his chin a little high during debates and has drawn huge crowds, then it is easier to spin ads that portray him as an elitist and a phony messiah. When Obama gives a nuanced reply on the issues, he's a professor, not a leader. When he disagrees with McCain, he is a naif who just doesn't understand, repeated over and over again. All of this proves that he is a dangerous choice, unfit to govern.

Make no mistake, the Obama campaign also abandoned the high road when opinion polls showed it was leading to defeat. Democrats must have been given a wake-up call by recent findings of the respected Pew Research Center that almost one-third of American voters believe that Obama is a Muslim or that he could be. Some ten percent of Americans apparently believe that we may be in the Book of Revelation's "end times" and that Obama could be the Antichrist.

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