November 17, 2004
bill of goods
I haven’t written since the American election. I’ve talked about it. I’ve read and watched a great deal of conjecture. As usual, everyone’s exaggerating for dramatic effect, saying the Democrats were trounced, when in the end the difference was just 140,000 votes in Ohio, which is pretty small. If the 2000 election hadn’t happened, they’d be calling this one the closest ever.
What worries me is why the Republicans won. I’m not sure I buy the whole “moral values” hypothesis (ie, gay marriage drove red voters to the polls), but as a student of persuasion, I’m shell-shocked by the methods and language used in both campaigns. I’m not much bothered that the campaigns used these tactics. I’m mostly bothered that they worked.
As I see it, someone sold us Americans a bill of goods, and though the receipt doesn’t come close to adding up, we paid in full anyway. Given this, I need to know how they sold it to us, and why we bought it.
So I’m reading Lakoff, first Metaphors We Live By, then Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think. There’s a metaphoric arsenal at work in our national dialog that’s both obvious and insidious. It’s also contrary to the very principles we hold dear, such as freedom, fairness, and collective consensus.
Regardless of your political bent, you’ve got to give the Republicans credit for selling George Bush … the Connecticut-born, Harvard & Yale educated, sports franchise and oil company owning, son of a former president … as a rural-minded, folksy washington outsider … as an aw-shucks real guy … the friend of the common man. They did a great job of marketing, sincerely. My hats off to Rove and friends.
As disappointing as all this feels, I’m still hopeful for our national discourse because of the work we’re all doing with the Semantic Web. Throughout the election, I’ve fantasized about point & click accountability and easily accessed meta-layers of commentary on all that’s said. It might just be the dreamer in me, but right now I’m thinking that the more meshed we get, the harder it’ll be to sell us simpleton talking points, making things harder for the Roves of the world.
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