Lucky me! Although I'm a registered Democrat, I received in last Wednesday's mail a fund-raising appeal for the Republican National Committee signed by none other than Chairman Michael Steele. Now, nobody expects this type of mailer to be profound or scholarly. It has one purpose only, and that is to motivate people to write checks. So, let's analyze what issues and kinds of "reasoning" the top Republican strategists think will get their "base" to open their wallets.
The mailer came in four parts: a letter (dated "Monday Morning" -- I kid you not!), a questionnaire (the "2009 Obama Agenda Survey"), a pledge form, and a postage-paid return envelope. To give credit where credit is due, I consider three of the 15 survey questions to be phrased in a reasonably objective fashion, e.g. "Should English be the official language of the United States?" More typical, however, were items characterized by the linguistic legerdemain that has become standard in political circles.
One common trick used to turn allegedly informational surveys into political statements is to incorporate into the items certain assumptions, "facts," and terminology with subjective and emotional connotations. Here's Exhibit #1 from the "survey": "Do you agree with Barack Obama's budget plan that will lead to a $23.1 trillion deficit over the next ten years?" All of a sudden Republicans are against budget deficits, having squandered the balanced budget environment they inherited from the Clinton administration. And where did that $23.1 trillion figure come from. (It's strange, I didn't see a footnote.) And did the Bush/Cheney tax cuts increase or decrease the national deficit? Simplistic questions are not designed for people who prefer complex answers.
Item #9 reads "Do you support the creation of a national health insurance plan that would be administered by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.?" Using the words "bureaucrats in Washington, D.C." is like, well, throwing peanuts to a hungry elephant. Notice that the alternative -- trusting the administration of healthcare to the profit-oriented private sector -- was not provided as an alternative.
I really love #7: "Do you believe that Barack Obama's nominees for federal courts should be immediately and unquestionably approved for their lifetime appointments by the U.S. Senate?" Presumably if someone answers "No," it will be interpreted to mean that it's OK to delay hearings and to oppose the nominees regardless of their qualifications.
I can't resist quoting #13: "Are you in favor of reinstituting the military draft, as Democrats in Congress have proposed?" Are Democrats (as a group) really advocating this? Again I searched in vain for a footnote and found nothing -- not even from Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, or the Weekly Standard.
The four-page letter, though, is a real classic. Of course it trots out the old reliable "liberal media elites" and the "ultra-biased media" phrases guaranteed to boil the blood of most right-wing conservatives. It states, without any evidence whatsoever (maybe because it doesn't exist?) that "the media acts (sic) as though the outcome of the past election was a unanimous, 100% vote in favor of Barack Obama." (I guess Fox News, et. al., are really not part of the media -- at least not the media the conservatives love to hate.)
The letter accuses Obama of proposing changes that will "stifle our fragile economy" and (if you can believe this) "undermine our nation's sovereignty." I'm sorry, but that last one is over the edge in my opinion, even for a political hit piece.
Generally speaking, it appears that the Republican hot button issues are taxes, deficit spending, immigration, big government, the media, and unions -- and of course preventing health care reform if it reduces the influence (and profits) of insurance companies.
Despite the gross inaccuracies, innuendos, and misrepresentations, I think the letter is insidious for two additional reasons. First, it refers to "Democrat legislation" and the "Democrat agenda," deliberately avoiding use of the word "Democratic." The intent is clear, despite the sophisticated but slimy strategy: to subliminally disparage the entire opposition Party and everything it stands for. Secondly, the letter never specifically refers to "President Obama"; the authors apparently believe that showing respect to the man who legitimately won the office (without benefit of a 5-4 Supreme Court decision) would rankle the people from whom they want contributions. They may be right.
I've marked the letter up good, correcting the grammar (apparently English isn't the official language at the RNC) and pointing out the logical and linguistic fallacies. Now I'm putting it into the postage-paid return envelope and sending it back to the "Republic" Party. With the money I save by not enclosing a contribution, I'll re-join the ACLU.
Ronald Wolff publishes the blog Musings from Claremont, where this article first appear. Republished with permission.