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Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Palin’

Paul Rosenberg Answers: Palin is a Naive Cynic

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 21, 2011

Last week The Situationist asked this question: Was Sarah Palin exhibiting the naive cynicism dynamic in her remarks about the shooting in Tucson (see video)?

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Several readers responded thoughtfully in brief comments, but Paul Rosenberg provided an outstanding, painstakingly thorough response over at Open Left. We highly recommend his post.

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For some related Situationist posts, see:

You can review all of the Situationist posts related to naive cynicism by clicking here.

Posted in Conflict, Ideology, Naive Cynicism, Politics | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

A Horror Movie for Palinites?

Posted by Adam Benforado on January 19, 2011

Despite my love of cinema, I tend to always fall behind on catching the latest movies.

Case in point: during the past weekend, I finally had the opportunity to see The King’s Speech, which my own grandmother watched and wrote me about . . . last year.

As a sort of New Year’s resolution, I’m attempting to be a bit more up-to-date on this front, and, thus, I’m going to dedicate this blog post to a film that hasn’t even been released yet, but that should be of interest to Situationist readers.

What caught my attention about the preview for the film was that it seemed as if it could easily be modified into a Sarah Palin 2012 political advertisement.

In the opening frames, we watch Senate candidate David Norris (Matt Damon) as he first crosses paths with the ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt).  There is clearly an attraction, but, as the film website explains, “just as he realizes he’s falling for her, mysterious men conspire to keep the two apart.”

Who are these mysterious men?

“[T]he agents of Fate itself—the men of The Adjustment Bureau—who will do everything in their considerable power to prevent David and Elise from being together.”

As one Adjustment Bureau agent explains, “We are the people who make sure that things happen according to plan.  We monitor the entire world.”

David (er, Matt) is then faced with a momentous decision: “let her go and accept a predetermined path . . . or risk everything to defy Fate and be with her.”

In the trailer, David explains, “All I have are the choices I make, and I choose her,” as the following lines scroll across the screen:

If you believe in free will.

If you believe in chance.

If you believe in choice.

Fight for it.

So . . . yes, perhaps I’m off my rocker (watch the trailer below for yourself), but I think the narrative of the film could have been pieced together straight from Palin’s tweets: (1) Americans are rational actors who can make their own choices and should be allowed to pursue freely their own conceptions of the good; (2) the agents of big government are extremely dangerous and are intent on controlling our environments; (3) Obama’s regulatory state (including the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection) is a paternalistic nightmare; . . . and, of course, (4) we must let our values and guts tell us what is right, and not allow regulators with their misguided “science” and “reason” to direct us (in one of my favorite moments in the trailer, one of the agents of the Adjustment Bureau is heard saying, “Remember we tried to reason with you.”).

Okay, readers, consider yourselves provoked.  What do you think?

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Entertainment, Ideology, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Sarah Palin a Naive Cynic?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 12, 2011

Situationist Contributors Adam Benforado and Jon Hanson have written extensively about a dynamic they call “naive cynicism.”

Their work explores how dispositionism maintains its dominance despite the fact that it misses so much of what actually moves us. It argues that the answer lies in a subordinate dynamic and discourse, naive cynicism: the basic subconscious mechanism by which dispositionists discredit and dismiss situationist insights and their proponents. Without it, the dominant person schema – dispositionism – would be far more vulnerable to challenge and change, and the more accurate person schema – situationism – less easily and effectively attacked. Naive cynicism is thus critically important to explaining how and why certain legal policies manage to carry the day.

Naive cynicism often takes the form of a backlash against situationism that involves an affirmation of existing dispositionist notions and an assault on (1) the situationist attributions themselves; (2) the individuals, institutions, and groups from which the situationist attributions appear to emanate; and (3) the individuals whose conduct has been situationalized. If one were to boil down those factors to one simple naive-cynicism-promoting frame for minimizing situationist ideas, it would be something like this: Unreasonable outgroup members are attacking us, our beliefs, and the things we value.

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Is Sarah Palin exhibiting that dynamic?  Below the video of her remarks you can read some excerpts from the transcript.

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It’s inexcusable and incomprehensible why a single evil man took the lives of peaceful citizens that day.

There is a bittersweet irony that the strength of the American spirit shines brightest in times of tragedy. We saw that in Arizona. We saw the tenacity of those clinging to life, the compassion of those who kept the victims alive, and the heroism of those who overpowered a deranged gunman.

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President Reagan said, “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election.

The last election was all about taking responsibility for our country’s future.

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Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions.  And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere. If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.

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As I said while campaigning for others last March in Arizona during a very heated primary race, “We know violence isn’t the answer. When we ‘take up our arms’, we’re talking about our vote.” Yes, our debates are full of passion, but we settle our political differences respectfully at the ballot box – as we did just two months ago, and as our Republic enables us to do again in the next election, and the next. That’s who we are as Americans and how we were meant to be. Public discourse and debate isn’t a sign of crisis, but of our enduring strength. It is part of why America is exceptional.

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No one should be deterred from speaking up and speaking out in peaceful dissent, and we certainly must not be deterred by those who embrace evil and call it good. And we will not be stopped from celebrating the greatness of our country and our foundational freedoms by those who mock its greatness by being intolerant of differing opinion and seeking to muzzle dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults.

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America must be stronger than the evil we saw displayed last week. We are better than the mindless finger-pointing we endured in the wake of the tragedy.

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You can review a list of related Situationist links in the following post: “The Tragedy in Tucson: What Do You Think?.”

In addition, here are few more:

Finally, you can review all of the Situationist posts related to naive cynicism by clicking here.

Posted in Conflict, Emotions, Ideology, Naive Cynicism, Politics, Situationist Contributors, Video | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

Sarah Palin – Objectification – Reaction – Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 16, 2009

Sarah Palin Convention - By Tom LeGro, NewsHour

Eric Deggans, has a nice article in the Saint Petersburg Times summarizing research by psychologists from Univesity of South Florida, Jamie L. Goldenberg and Nathan A. Heflick.  Their research examined the objectifying effects of thinking about Sarah Palin’s appearance.  Immediately below, you will find excerpts from Deggans’s article.  Below that, you’ll find some reflections from Jamie Goldenberg regarding the negative reaction of some conservative media to her research.

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Two researchers at the University of South Florida have developed a study that suggests . . . that a random group of Republicans and independents asked to focus on Palin’s attractiveness felt less likely to vote for the GOP ticket in last November’s elections.

“The idea is that when you focus on a woman’s appearance, this objectifies her, or turns her into an object in your eyes,” said Jamie L. Goldenberg, an associate professor of psychology at USF and co-author of the study, titled “Objectifying Sarah Palin: Evidence that Objectification Causes Women to be Perceived as Less Competent and Fully Human.” “What we found is these perceptions influenced people’s likelihood of voting.”

In their experiment, Goldenberg and graduate student Nathan A. Heflick assembled a group of 133 undergraduates at the school a month before the election. After noting their characteristics — 27 percent were male, 45 percent were Democrats, 24 percent were Republicans and the rest were independents — they were randomly separated into four groups.

Two groups were asked to write about Palin and two groups were asked to write about actor Angelina Jolie. Within each pair, one group was asked to write their thoughts and feelings about the subject’s appearance, and the other was asked to write about the person. They then asked respondents how they would vote in the coming election.

Goldenberg said that, after factoring out Democratic respondents (who solidly supported Obama), the Republicans and independents asked to write about Palin’s appearance said they were less likely to vote GOP than those who simply considered Palin as a person.

“There was an overall tendency to perceive Sarah Palin as less competent than Angelina Jolie,” said Goldenberg, noting their results fell in line with previous studies indicating that, in high status and political jobs, attractive women were perceived as less competent in ways attractive men and women in other jobs were not.

. . . .Goldenberg said the study, which is to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, may spark more questions than it answers.

“What you can’t tell from this is what did they finally do in the end?” said Joel Cooper, a professor of psychology at Princeton University and editor of the journal publishing Goldenberg and Heflick’s study. “But at the moment they thought of (Palin) as a beauty queen, they were less likely to consider voting for (her) … Knowing that is important for campaigns and how we understand each other.”

Another question: Are female politicians who play down their appearance, like Hillary Clinton, instinctively on to something?

“We wouldn’t say attractiveness is a bad thing,” said Goldenberg. “But having people focus on your appearance and not what you say and who you are, is a bad thing.”

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From Miller-McCune, here are some excerpts from “Peeling Away the Media Reaction to ‘Objectifying Sarah Palin’“:

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Over the few months time we spent on our latest study on the objectification of women in the public eye, our lives as scientists played out normally.

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But then the media got hold of our findings and the subsequent reaction was always surprising – and often appalling.
In his Psychology Today blog, Dr. Stanton Peele reviewed my (Goldenberg, the female member of the research team) appearance on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” with an insulting recapitulation. He mocked my performance, and then he drew attention to my “revealing top” (a round-neck T-shirt, worn on an 85-degree day in Florida and with no foreknowledge that I would be on national television that day).

Dr. Peele’s criticism of my failure to describe the study in a brief sound bite was not atypical of media and Internet blog reactions (although it was all the more surprising since it was written by a “scientist”). But, in Peele’s case, and others, we were silently amused by the irony. Here I was, being objectified and described as incompetent, while the people reporting our findings failed to make the connection to our research findings (some even argued that my appearance invalidated the findings)!

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We believed that, if anything, the study would be spun to be pro-Palin (“she would have been perceived as competent if only the media would have focused on her personality instead of her appearance”). However, the right-wing media reaction was most often defensive and downright hostile. There appeared to be two primary sources of contention. One, people were incensed at the comparison of Palin to a mere actress, Angelina Jolie. And two, people assumed that the study tested and concluded that attractiveness and competence are incompatible — no matter that this was neither tested nor concluded.

In response to the first accusation, the critics failed to comprehend that we are social psychologists with a basic interest in the consequences of objectifying women . . . .

The results also revealed a general tendency for participants in the study to perceive Palin as less competent than Jolie. This is not entirely surprising considering that Jolie was likely evaluated for competence as an actress and Palin as a prospective vice president of the United States. And while the majority of our participants described themselves as Democrats, the study was not designed to shed light on this difference. Nevertheless, Bill O’Reilly harped on this difference . . .and became most frustrated when I, Goldenberg, tried to explain to him that this was not a central component of the study.  [Take a look at the video below (warning: the video is quite low-quality, but it nicely illustrates how some in the media may be unable to "get it.")]

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Why is it that the media and Internet bloggers responded to this research with such an uproar?

Here is our take: For one, the nonscientific community was suspicious of our agenda. In a medium where most information serves some political/social/personal agenda, it was simply inconceivable to most people that this research lacked those motivations. In addition, the insensitive comments that were expressed over the Internet (and in hate mail directly sent to us) also demonstrate a type of dehumanization. Viewing us through a television screen or computer monitor (or not at all) most likely functioned to dehumanize us, brazening people to say things that they would never say to a “real” person.

In addition, we were confronted with real-life evidence of the tenacity of people’s efforts to protect their beliefs. This is a common finding in social psychology, that when people have an existing belief — that liberal academics will attack Palin – they will ignore contrary evidence (that this was a scientific study and it could be seen as supporting Palin).

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To read all of Goldenberg’s reflections on her first major encounter with the media, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Objectification,”Hillary Clinton, the Halo Effect, and Women’s Catch-22,” “Legal Academic Backlash - Abstract,” ” Naive Cynicism - Abstract,” ” The Situational Power of Anonymity,” Internet Disinhibition,” and The Social Awkwardness of Online Snubbing.”

Posted in Ideology, Politics, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Hillary Clinton, the Halo Effect, and Women’s Catch-22

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 10, 2008

Hillary Clinton DollMerritt Baer is a Harvard Law School student living in Cambridge, Massachusetts.   This semester, she wrote the following brief essay for a seminar on situationism.  We are delighted to publish it on The Situationist (the essay and some worthwhile comments  also can be found on GlobalComment).

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In her concession speech, Hillary Clinton dedicated her gratitude “to the moms and dads who came to our events, who lifted their little girls and little boys on their shoulders and whispered in their ears, ‘See, you can be anything you want to be.’”

Yet given the scrutiny dedicated to her pantsuits, Hillary’s vision of possibility seems limited. Indeed, a new study by researchers led by Northwestern University’s Joan Y. Chiao and just published on October 31 found that while men need only seem competent in order to be electable, women need both competence and attractiveness.

Palin was selected in the aftermath and with the awareness of how Hillary was characterized as not attractive or even female enough. In a sense this draws new justifiability for Sarah Palin’s reportedly lofty budget for aesthetics, from hair stylists to department store budgets. It seems that if she had not spent time and money on her appearance, she could have suffered yet more critique.

Even CNN’s Campbell Brown, who was far from a Palin supporter, said “There has been plenty of talk and plenty written Hilary the Nutcrackerabout Sarah Palin’s jackets, her hair, her looks . . . .When I wear a bad outfit, I get viewer email complaining about it. A lot of email. Seriously.” She continued dryly, “When Wolf Blitzer wears a not-so-great tie, how much email do you think he gets?” She makes a good point.

Meanwhile, in the midst of the pressure to look good, there is the catch-22 at work: Bill Maher calling Palin a stewardess, movies of her in a swimsuit for a beauty pageant becoming the hot new YouTube video to circulate, and widespread sexualization of Palin becoming a favorite American pastime.

It seems clear that attractiveness in general plays a part in the reception a politician gets. However, Barack Obama’s handsomeness contributed to his campaign strongly in positive ways – even becoming part of his branding, as his profile was featured on t-shirts and buttons. For Sarah Palin’s naughty librarian beauty, there is a cost to the attractiveness factor: Palin was not merely attractive, she was sexy.

And while Chiao’s study suggests that female politicians need to be perceived as both attractive and competent, a sexy woman just does not go with competence. (When does attractiveness intersect with or become sexiness? I am not entirely sure–perhaps it is merely being very attractive that veers into the category of sexy, although it seems also to encompass those who for some reason capture the public imagination, like Palin’s rough-and-tumble hobbies.)

On the contrary, female sexiness triggers that animalistic side of our brains that seems opposed to intelligent thought (while male sexiness seems often to derive from and contribute to their aura of powerfulness). Thus audiences were primed to find Palin incompetent, and eager to hear the latest evidence. Not knowing Africa was a continent was perfect news.

Yet of course Obama – and all of the other candidates – had his share of campaign gaffes. When Obama stated on camera that he had visited 57 states, no one rushed to the conclusion that he actually didn’t know the 50 states–instead, people looked for explanations: well, maybe he was including US territories. Never mind that the New York Times now reports that Palin’s Africa gaffe was leaked by a fake blogger under the auspices of a fake think tank – the story had already taken a life of its own. We looked for reinforcements of Palin’s incompetence, and we found them.

Sarah Palin VogueIn some ways, this catch-22 lends a new dimension to the “halo effect” – the idea that an attractive person is advantaged because of their attractiveness. The attractiveness halo effect was first documented by social psychologist Solomon Asch, but we may know it anecdotally to be true that attractive people tend to have more success both professionally and in the dating arena. It’s one of the reasons we have celebrity endorsements–attractiveness influences our overall perception of the person such that we assume their preferences for a product are as desirable as their looks.

Yet the disturbing implication is that while the halo effect works in purely positive ways for men, for women attractiveness is both even more necessary (see Chiao’s study) and often simultaneously crippling (see Palin’s representations).

After the final presidential debate between Obama and Mccain, newsanchor Katie Couric asked Hillary Clinton, “Why do you think Sarah Palin has an action figure and you have a nutcracker?” Clinton replied that she didn’t know. But Hillary Clinton knows better than anyone that capturing the American audience as a woman is a balancing act.

The constant criticism dedicated to Hillary’s pantsuits culminated in the marketing of a “Hillary Clinton nutcracker,” in which her thighs serve as the nutcrackers (perish the thought of imagining what a comparable doll would look like for Obama…?) Meanwhile, Sarah Palin, who took a cue and opted for the skirtsuit and heels, became the subject of sexualized mockery. Interesting too that often, the originators of derogatory material directed at both Clinton and Palin were from the ideological left, a position we associate with progressive and tolerant views,

Unfortunately, we may be bypassing qualified or even brilliant individuals because they do not navigate the femininity/competence minefield – and who can? Perhaps Clinton was wrong to urge children to believe that they can be anything they want to be. Beautiful or not, our daughters will encounter the attractiveness and competence quotients– asked to be both while the catch-22 prevents it. And the minute their delicate juggling act topples, we will be quick to caricature them as a nutcracker doll or an Africa joke.

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To read some related Situationist posts, see “The Color of Sex Appeal,” The Situation of Body Image,” “The Situation of Hair Color,” “The Magnetism of Beautiful People,” Survival of the Cutest,” “Spas and Girls,” “Fitting in and Sizing Up,” and “Shades of Fairness and the Marketing of Prejudice.”


Posted in Life, Politics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Without the Filter

Posted by Adam Benforado on October 21, 2008

Governor Sarah Palin wants “to talk to Americans without the filter” of the “media elite.”  As she explained in the vice-presidential debate, she aims to cut out the middleman in conveying information to the public: “I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you [Senator Joe Biden] want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also.”

Those statements reflect a radical challenge to our American system: the elimination of an institution—the press—that has traditionally been championed as a vital check on the abuse of power and distortion of the truth by politicians.  In the words of the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, historically, “[t]he free press meant organized, expert scrutiny of government.  The press was a conspiracy of the intellect, with the courage of numbers.”  For Palin and her coterie, it is simply a conspiracy: a loose amalgam of distorters, liars, and opportunists.

It is tempting to see the Palin proposal as a tailored response to a particular set of circumstances—after recent criticisms from the press and in the context of declining poll numbers for the Republican ticket, attacking journalists might seem to be nothing more than an isolated political expedient.  In fact, Palin’s call for a purge of the “media elite” is a central part of a broader project of knowledge management that has been practiced for decades and perfected during the Age of Rove.

That expansive approach has borrowed tactics directly out of the playbook of some of the most successful corporate campaigns of the last half century or so and has allowed the Bush administration to forge ahead on weak policies—like the war in Iraq—while stymieing potentially strong ones—like a coordinated effort to fight global warming—by controlling the information the public receives.

For many years, the cigarette industry made billions selling a product they knew to be dangerous to human health, while evading costly regulation and litigation.  They accomplished this improbable feat by keeping information necessary to make educated choices out of the hands of the public, while convincing individuals that they possessed all the relevant data and were, in fact, coming to freely made decisions.  Thus, big tobacco hid evidence of the negative health effects of smoking and spent millions on selling the image of cigarette smokers as empowered, independent-minded, sovereign consumers.  Marlboro Men didn’t need scientists or bureaucrats telling them what they needed to know to adequately assess risks; they had their common sense and their freedom to guide them.  When cancer deaths and outside studies began to suggest the great danger of smoking, cigarette companies fought vigorously in court to prevent insider documents that revealed the full extent of the problem from being released.

The McCain-Palin ticket has taken just such an approach.

Although understanding the sources of a candidate’s income is critical to assessing whether that candidate has acted independently in the past or may have vested interests going forward, for months, Cindy McCain refused to disclose key information about the McCain’s family’s wealth.  In May, after serious criticism from the media concerning the lack of transparency, she finally released part of her 2006 tax returns.  However, only her IRS Form 1040 was released, so there was no reference to the sources of her income.  And even this information was disclosed in a way meant to avoid its dissemination to the public: the release was put out on a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend.  As Republican strategist Dan Schnur joked, “Christmas Eve would have been ideal, but that would have been a problem given the election calendar.”

Moreover, the ticket has denied members of the media access to the McCain and Palin, except in prepackaged snippets, and has ensured that both of them stick to their vague talking points.  When Palin went to New York City in September to meet with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, the campaign initially refused to permit any producers or reporters to go along with the network pool camera recording pictures of the meetings and, after strong objections from the press, relented only slightly, allowing extremely limited and superficial coverage.  McCain, who once decried “stale soundbites, staged rallies, and over-managed messages,” now marches to a metronome.  Between mid-August and the end of September, he went over five weeks without holding a single press conference.

The aim has been to limit severely the information that voters encounter about the candidates and their policies.  Speaking in generalities in the lead up to a general election is standard practice and, in many ways, the Obama campaign provides no exception; yet, the McCain team has taken the practice of evasion and distraction to new levels.  As Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, explained in a moment of candor: “This election is not about issues.  This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.”  In the wake of the global financial debacle, a top McCain aid made a similar point to the Daily News: “If we keep talking about the economic crisis, we’re going to lose.”

Preventing the public from having the details necessary to make an informed decision has occurred at the same time that the campaign has emphasized how accessible and open it is—and how it remains utterly committed to “straight talk.”  Indeed, in the October 16 presidential debate, McCain went to great lengths to portray Obama as the remote and opaque candidate, emphasizing how Obama had rejected “his urgent request to sit down, and do town hall meetings, and come before the American people.”  Just as with big tobacco, the message from the Republican campaign has been twofold: first, that the campaign has been completely forthright in providing voters with all the information they need to make a knowledgeable choice; second, that Americans are empowered, independent-minded individuals with common sense who don’t need middlemen—like the press—to tell them which way the wind blows.

The strategy has a proven pedigree.  It worked, not only for the tobacco industry, but also, more recently, for the Bush administration, as it duped the American people into invading Iraq by failing to provide the public with the whole picture concerning the potential risks and costs of the war, while acting as if the calculus were utterly clear and that people knew everything they needed to know to make an informed decision.  Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and we would be embraced by the Iraqi people as liberators.  The conflict would be cheap and largely bloodless and would help stabilize the region.  Only fools and cowards would wait to act.

The same was true with respect to the administration’s approach to global warming: as Bush appointees publicly declared that they were being utterly candid and that the setting of environmental policy by the administration was transparent, they denied the public access to the facts it needed to assess the causes and destructive effects of climate change and the information concerning the impact of industry lobbying efforts.  Key reports were sanitized of language affirmatively declaring that human activity was causing global warming; administration lawyers battled in court to prevent access to records of energy executives’ private meetings with government decision-makers.  As with efforts to prevent the disclosure of documents in the context of the war on terror (including administration policies on torture, extraordinary rendition, and wiretapping), the Bush team couched its withholding of key information in terms of executive privilege and argued that, regardless, the implicated information was not relevant to anything that the public actually needed to know.

Those who said otherwise, were attacked as not only wrong, but biased and a direct threat to our country: wacky tree huggers who would hurt small businesses and destroy American competitiveness; out-of-touch liberals willing to put American lives at risk in their misguided mission to protect terrorists bent on our destruction; ardent ideologues recklessly disparaging government policy during time of war without a concern that it might endanger our troops.

The strategy of denigration of adversarial information sources in the administration’s management of public information was another proven technique borrowed from big tobacco.  For many years, the industry worked hard to cast public health advocates offering evidence of the destructive nature of cigarettes as meddling nannies who wanted to take away the freedoms of regular Americans.  Similarly, plaintiff’s-side lawyers pushing for disclosure of internal company documents were cast as malingering schemers willing to do anything for a buck.

These accounts of corrupted dispositions and grave consequences had a profound impact on the way that the information coming from these sources was viewed, a lesson that the McCain-Palin ticket has taken to heart.  By repeatedly assailing the “liberal media” as unfair and unbalanced, the campaign has both called into question each and every story critical of the Republican candidates and has forced journalists to be more cautious in their criticisms, even where they are extremely well founded.  The claim of ideological distortion on behalf of the media has also served as an excuse for the McCain campaign to refuse to participate in more open forums, which has proven to be a great boon for the campaign, given that Palin is unprepared, at this point in her political career, to answer unscripted questions where outright evasion is foreclosed.

After Palin’s devastating interview with Katie Couric at the end of September, the McCain campaign realized that they could not afford another free-form session with the press.  Thus, as both a means of damage control and a way to defuse future criticisms of the governor, they had Palin go on the offensive against the CBS News anchor: “I did feel there were a lot of things she was missing in terms of an opportunity to ask what a VP candidate stands for, what the values are that are represented in our ticket . . . . I guess I have to apologize for being a bit annoyed, but that’s also an indication about being outside that Washington elite, outside that media elite also . . . .”  Because Palin is just like you, Joe Six-Pack Hockey Mom, when the biased media attacks Palin, they are really attacking you.  As Steve Schmidt, one of McCain’s senior advisors, put it, “She’s not part of the Washington, D.C., cocktail circuit.  Elite opinion looks down with contempt at people who are not part of their world.”

Another central lesson of knowledge management coming from the tobacco industry is that truth and accuracy are irrelevant if what you primarily—or exclusively—care about are “ends.”  You do not have to prove your position; you only have to move the needle enough to make things look like a debate.   Where no information exists to support your position, you simply create it.  Thus, cigarette companies funded rival studies to draw into question arguments that cigarettes were addictive and harmful and hired experts to ensure that there was “credible” counterevidence.

The Bush administration has masterfully followed suit.  With few expert pundits supporting the Iraq war efforts, the administration simply went out and got its own to offer seemingly objective—and uniformly positive—analysis on news programs.  The “message force multipliers” or “surrogates,” as they were referred to in internal Pentagon papers, were used to amplify successes, downplay mistakes, and refocus debates for millions of Americans.  When a study by Seton Hall University School of Law and two lawyers who represent detainees at Guantanamo Bay was published, finding that just eight percent of detainees were classified as al Qaeda fighters by the military and a majority had not been found to have perpetrated any acts of hostility against American targets, the Pentagon sprung into action, commissioning a counter study from a terrorism research center at West Point that, unsurprisingly, offered a frightening portrait of a detainee population made up of dangerous jihadists.  Explaining the motivation for the rebuttal report, one of the authors offered a candid summary: the Department of Defense “had been getting a lot of inquiries related to this previous study.  They had a lot of concerns with the conclusions, but they did not have another study.”

Just as with the tobacco industry, the benefits of such an approach in the context of the war on terror were to forestall any action: with the ultimate verdict still out, it seemed ill-advised to change course or break from the status quo.  Since there was a debate over the dangerousness of the detainees, Guantanamo had to be kept open.  Since there was not utter consensus that coercive interrogation methods amounted to torture, they had to be continued.  Since there was an active dispute over the legality of government wiretaps, they had to remain undisturbed.  Making things look like a debate meant that feet could be dragged for months, if not years.

Nowhere was this truer than with respect to the administration’s policy on climate change.  The aim for the Bush appointees at the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and elsewhere was never to prove that global warming had its origin in natural causes, but rather to sew a seed of doubt so that inaction could take root.  In February 2007, when a report by top climate scientists from 120 nations was released explaining that global warming was unquestionably real, man-made, and required immediate responsive action, Vice President Dick Cheney delivered a response worthy of an expert defense lawyer for Philip Morris: “We’re going to see a big debate on [climate change] going forward . . . the extent to which it is part of a normal cycle versus the extent to which it’s caused by man . . . [It’s] not enough to just sort of run out and try to slap together some policy that’s going to ‘solve’ the problem.”

For the McCain-Palin campaign, the goal has been to move what should be settled points of fact into the realm of confusion and dispute such that existing negative stereotypes respecting the Democratic presidential candidate can persist.  That status quo is that a black man with a name like Barack Hussein Obama is going to be viewed by many with suspicion, fear, and distrust.  Hence, you don’t have to conclusively prove that Barack Obama is a Muslim; you only have to allow your surrogates to repeatedly raise such a claim.  Nor do you need to prove that Barack Obama is an al Qaeda operative; you only have to emphasize, at rallies and in television commercials, that he pals around with terrorists.  You don’t have to prove that Barack Obama wants to mandate teaching kindergarten students how to use a condom; you just have to insinuate it enough that it sticks.  If we aren’t absolutely sure that Obama isn’t an Arab spy bent on corrupting our children, we can’t possibly elect him president.

The same is true with respect to attacks by the McCain campaign playing on existing notions about “tax and spend” Democrats and elitist, leftist professors.  You don’t actually have to prove that Obama would raise taxes; you just have to assert again and again that Obama wants to spread the wealth around, pitting the haves against the have-nots and favoring the latter.  You don’t have to prove that Obama is out-of-touch with mainstream America; you just have to hammer on how he held a campaign event with celebrities in Hollywood and how he believes that rural voters cling to guns and religion out of bitterness.  Given the dire economic situation, if it is an open debate whether or not Obama will take more out of our pay checks, voting for him would be reckless; if there is a chance that he doesn’t understand us, our beliefs, and our struggles, it would be foolish.

As a number of writers have pointed out, this strategy of muddying the waters has been especially effective because of the press’s tendency to try to appear balanced: when pointing out untruths propagated by the McCain campaign, many writers and commentators have felt compelled to also mention significantly less-erroneous claims by Obama.  The result being that members of the public are liable to come away mistakenly convinced that both sides bend the facts equally to suit their needs.

To its credit, in recent weeks, the press has been far more disciplined in calling out McCain and Palin for their deceptive claims and pressing for more details, but much damage has already been done.  With one-third of voters, in a recent survey, sure that Obama is a Muslim or open to the idea that he could be, and over fifty percent believing that he would raise their taxes (despite the fact that his tax plan would reduce taxes for 95% of Americans), Palin’s proposal to excise the media from the presidential election conversation is particularly disturbing.

We deserve to know what our candidates think so that we can determine what types of leaders they will be.  Despite Palin’s arguments to the contrary, we are not going to learn those critical facts if we just listen to what they want to tell us.  Filters keep us safe and healthy.  Sure, you can have a drink right out of the East River, but in the end all you’re going to get is a bad pain in your gut.

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To read some related Situationist posts, see “A Convenient Fiction,” “The Situation of Swift-Boating,” “The Situation of University Research,” “The company “had no control or influence over the research” . . . .,” ” Deep Capture – Part VII,” “Industry-Funded Research,” and “Industry-Funded Research – Part II.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of the Palin Family’s Success

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 6, 2008

Adriaan Lanni and Wesley Kelman wrote an interesting piece in Slate this week, “Working-Class Hero: How the Palins’ enviable blue-collar lifestyle could help the McCain campaign.” Here are a few excerpts.

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Most of the initial reaction to Sarah Palin’s selection . . . threatens to obscure a seductive and misleading subtext in Palin’s biography that may play a key role in the election: the way she embodies the hope of a blue-collar life without economic insecurity.

Palin’s background reminded us of an Alaskan we met several years ago. We had just moved to Anchorage for a temporary job in the state court system and struck up an illuminating conversation with a bricklayer while on a hike outside town. He made a surprising amount of money—he had moved to Alaska because its wages were so high. He also had enviable stretches of leisure . . . . He exuded optimism; his life was good and he knew it, and there was no resentment of yuppies like us.

Palin’s family, warts and all, has some of the same features. Husband Todd’s two jobs—commercial fisherman and oil production manager on the North Slope—required little formal education and provide ample time off. Yet they pay extremely well. . . .

Mr. Palin’s income alone would put the Palins at about the same level as many well-educated, white-collar workers we knew in Anchorage. It is also enough money to enjoy a quality of life that is, at least to a certain taste, superior to what is enjoyed almost anywhere else, either in cities or in the countryside. Like the bricklayer, the Palins can hunt and fish in a place of legendary abundance. Their hometown may be a dingy Anchorage exurb, but it has cheap, plentiful land bordering a vast and beautiful wilderness, which is crisscrossed by Todd (the “Iron Dog” champion) and the Palin children all winter. . . .

This free and easy life is radically different from the desperate existences depicted in Barack Obama’s speeches. . . .

This disjunction between the good life for many Alaskans and the not-so-good life for working-class families elsewhere suggests several strategies for the McCain campaign. . . .

While Democratic policy tries to help blue-collar workers by making it easier for them to attend college and get office jobs—that is, by encouraging them to cease to be blue-collar—Palin’s Alaskan story offers hope from within the blue-collar culture. She validates the goodness of life in rural America because she has embraced a particularly exotic, turbocharged version of this life. Her biography, bound to be emphasized by Republicans, thus makes a powerful appeal to one of the country’s most decisive constituencies.

The rub, of course, is that however genuine it may be, Palin’s family life may not be possible outside Alaska. . . .

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To read the entire article, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Education, Life, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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