JELLIOTT MUG-MONTANA VIEWPOINTS

Jim Elliott

Political parties manipulate the public mind in order to get their candidates elected. That’s a pretty cynical assessment but politics is a pretty cynical game because it’s based on the acquisition of power.

Individual politicians may have the best of motives, but the parties they belong to, no. The parties are like businesses, they want results.

Republicans try to get results by using emotion and Democrats by using logic; very different approaches each with often successful results, but as far as technique is concerned the Republicans are ahead hands down. Why? Because it is easier to get people to respond to emotion than to logic. The Republican says, “this is what you are feeling” while the Democrat says “this is what you ought to feel”. The Republican

approach is, I think, the wiser of the two, politically and it is certainly the easier because it doesn’t ask much of the voter in terms of thought. Whether they know it or not the Republicans are borrowing from a form of psychotherapy known as “Restatement Therapy” developed by a psychologist named Carl Rogers in the 1950s and 1960s. The way it worked was for the therapist to repeat to the patient what the patient had just said, allowing the patient to “hear” their own thoughts from another person. Rogers

was non-judgmental, allowing the patient to direct their own healing without injecting a moral judgement, which can be problematic when the client’s beliefs are not healthy for society.

Republicans listen and repeat, also, and they also choose the easiest emotions to manipulate, fear, hatred, and anger, none of which require much thought. Worry, yes, but thought, no. This technique not only reinforces what their public is thinking, but it validates its legitimacy no matter how unfounded.

Democrats have chosen the much harder path of educating the voter which requires effort on the part of the voter. It also increases the resistance of the undecided voter because it implies that the voters can’t think for themselves, as exemplified by Democrats saying that the public is “voting against their own self-interests”. This can be seen as insulting on two fronts, that the voter doesn’t know what their self-interest is, and that the Democrats do.

Republicans also hire people to determine which words work best to sway the emotions of the public and then actually follow the advice they have just paid for. Here are a couple of examples; the inheritance tax, assessed against the estates of only the wealthiest Americans, is renamed the “death tax”, implying that everybody with the proverbial pot and window have to pay it. Another is replacing the more emotionally charged expression “global warming” with the more neutral, nobody’s fault, “climate change”.

Democratic thinking invites the expression “you can always tell a Democrat but you can’t tell them much”. There are similar Democratic experts volunteering ways to frame the issues, but for whatever reasons the party refuses to adopt the suggestions. George Lakoff is a noted communications expert whose book, “Try Not to Think of an Elephant” is an important guide that Democrats might follow—in fact, Lakoff wants them to follow it, but has had no success. Essentially Lakoff says that you can present

all the facts in the world in favor or against an argument and it will not change minds; not until the facts are accompanied by an emotional and believable reason such as explaining how helping other Americans get ahead is a patriotic act.

The differences in the approaches that the two parties take is also due to the fundamental difference of the parties. Republicans have a much narrower political spectrum to deal with and can agree on what’s important to all of them. Democrats take up almost the rest of the political spectrum. If politics were about ice cream the Republicans would be vanilla and the Democrats all the remaining 935 or so flavors, each one with different fans. That makes pleasing every Democrat more difficult, but not impossible because there are issues that could be used to unite them, such as all ice cream is cold and sweet. The only problem is that Democratic party leadership doesn’t know how to do that. Republicans do.

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