In a classic example of what is either near-terminal naivete or a clueless attempt to stir up outrage and make news of a non-story, Politico revealed yesterday that they had documents and comments from the Republican National Committee that suggested that they planned to use "fear tactics" in their fundraising efforts during this year's campaign. Yahoo News and other outlets quickly jumped on the bandwagon, amping up the outrage over this blatant manipulation and disrespect for potential contributors.
While stifling a series of yawns I read the articles, and I'm left wondering what desert island the authors lived on for the last 50 years. The use of irrational fear to get money or votes is not just an old tactic, it's been the standard tactic of fundraisers and campaign tacticians on both sides of the political divide since politics was invented. I know, I used to have a job where I would call old people up and tell them that if they didn't give us money the Democrats were going to take away their guns and their pensions and make them learn Spanish.
These tactics literally go back forever. The Romans convinced citizens that the Carthaginians wanted to roast their babies alive in religious rituals to stir up popular support for the Punic Wars. Edward III convinced everyone that the Jews were responsible for the plague so that he could seize their assets to pay to get the crown jewels out of hock. The Sons of Liberty convinced Americans that the Quartering Act would put British soldiers in their daughters bedrooms. Lyndon Johnson won election to the presidency with a commercial which implied that Barry Goldwater wanted to nuke our children.
Anyone who has a job as a reporter or a political columnist and has only just discovered this or thinks that anything in these RNC documents is shocking, is too ignorant and clueless to be taken seriously. It would be more shocking if a political organization like the RNC was going to decide not to use fear to motivate contributors. Fear works. Fear motivates. This is because sometimes that fear is justified and it's easy to supply evidence that people of an opposing political philosophy are up to no good.
It's also disingenuous to suggest that these "leaked" documents says anything about Republicans and the RNC which isn't equally true of Democrats and the DNC. For every cheap shot the Republicans take at Obama or Reid or Pelosi the Democrats have an equally harsh criticism for Fox News or the Tea Party movement or Glenn Beck. While the RNC is telling their constituents that Democrats are communists, the DNC is telling their supporters that Republicans are corporate lackeys. The Democrats are going to take all our money and make us work for the government. The Republicans are going to shut down the unions and ship our jobs overseas. Two sides of the same coin.
All of these claims have a kernel of truth in the middle of them, which is why they work so well. None of them is the whole truth or a realistic analysis of any issue. You can't explore issues in detail in a 5-minute fundraising phonecall or on a 4×6 color postcard. They have to keep it simple, hit a few key concerns and move on. The more powerful the fear you play on, the more money and support you get.
What's more, the press is hardly innocent. They play on fear to sell newspapers or attract viewers for their advertising. They are in the business of manufacturing and merchandising scandal and outrage by presenting stories which make people afraid, including stories which stir up fear that political parties and their organizations are lying to you and unfairly manipulating the political process. This is what media empires have been built since before William Randolph Hearst told Frederic Remington, "you furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war."
This is the way the game is played, folks. If you find it shocking to your delicate sensibilities, then I suggest you don't play, and certainly don't pretend you're qualified to be a journalist. Politics is like making sausage and quite often the process is even uglier than the results. But please don't come back and tell me the answer is federally funded campaigns, because if you do I'm going to suggest that the RNC use that idea as the next thing to scare the old folks with.