A Brief History of Political Hatred
- Bob FertikWant to meet our members? Click 'Join' above!
This morning Joe Scarborough had a segment that was unconsciously amazing. He replayed a comment he made on yesterday's Meet The Press about how deeply the Republican Base hates President Obama - and how counterproductive that hatred is for the Republican Party. "You can't scare children and dogs," he said. Then he explored that topic with his Morning Jo(k)ers.
Scarborough tried to retrace the modern history of political hatred, but could only get as far as Clinton. He couldn't even remember the hate-mongering campaign that put Bill Clinton in office - the 1992 primary from the right by his own right-hand man, Pat Buchanan, against George H.W. Bush. "Peasants with pitchforks" was Buchanan's own description of his angry "populist" movement. Even though Buchanan lost the primaries, GHWB gave him (and Pat Robertson) the consolation prize of a primetime speech at the Republican Convention. Buchanan (and Robertson) used their time for angry anti-liberal "Culture War" hate speeches.
Continuing backwards, GHWB beat Mike Dukakis in 1988 by employing the infamous Lee Atwater, whose philosophy of politics was to savage his opponent as viciously as possible. Atwater's campaign featured the racist Willie Horton ads, perhaps the most vicious TV ad ever run.
Vicious TV ads began a decade earlier in 1978 with NCPAC - the National Conservative PAC - founded by John Terry Dolan, Charles Black and Roger Stone, with help from Richard Viguerie and Thomas F. Ellis. In the 1978 Senate campaign, NCPAC's shock ads "took out" veteran Democratic Senator Dick Clark. Thrilled with their initial results, they attacked six incumbents in 1980, and beat four - John Culver (IA), George McGovern (SD), Frank Church (ID), and Birch Bayh (IN). They narrowly missed Alan Cranston (CA) and Tom Eagleton (MO).
NCPAC proved that vicious personal attacks worked. While they started "outside" the Republican Party as an independent expenditure effort, their tactics were quickly adopted by the GOP itself and its candidates. In the 1990's, Newt Gingrich turned NCPAC's campaign messaging strategy into an everyday GOP dictionary of hatred through GOPAC.
As you know, one of the key points in the GOPAC tapes is that "language matters." In the video "We Are a Majority," Language is listed as akey mechanism of control used by a majority party, along with Agenda, Rules, Attitude and Learning. As the tapes have been used in training sessions across the country and mailed to candidates, we have heard a plaintive plea: "I wish I could speak like Newt."
That takes years of practice. But we believe that you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate if we help a little. That is why we have created this list of words and phrases.
This list is prepared so that you might have a directory of words to use in writing literature and mail, in preparing speeches, and in producing electronic media. The words and phrases are powerful. Read them. Memorize as many as possible. And remember that, like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used....
Often we search hard for words to help us define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party.
decay... failure (fail)... collapse(ing)... deeper... crisis... urgent(cy)... destructive... destroy... sick... pathetic... lie... liberal... they/them... unionized bureaucracy... "compassion" is not enough... betray... consequences... limit(s)... shallow... traitors... sensationalists...
endanger... coercion... hypocrisy... radical... threaten... devour... waste... corruption... incompetent... permissive attitudes... destructive... impose... self-serving... greed... ideological... insecure... anti-(issue): flag, family, child, jobs... pessimistic... excuses... intolerant...
stagnation... welfare... corrupt... selfish... insensitive... status quo... mandate(s)... taxes... spend(ing)... shame... disgrace... punish (poor...)... bizarre... cynicism... cheat... steal... abuse of power... machine... bosses... obsolete... criminal rights... red tape... patronage
Using these attack words, Gingrich led his Republican Revolutionaries - including Joe Scarborough - to power in 1994. Gingrich's rhetoric was powerfully amplified by rightwing talk radio, which also hit the national airwaves in 1994 with Rush Limbaugh. Somehow Scarborough has entirely forgotten the powerful force that swept him into Congress.
As Speaker, Gingrich famously shut down the federal government in 1995 because (he claimed) President Clinton made him sit in the back of Air Force One. In 1998, he used raw Republican hatred as the driving force to impeach President Clinton over the visceral opposition of two-thirds of the American people. Gingrich had finally gone too far, and his party lost several House seats that year. Gingrich's troops mutinied and put ruthless but quiet Tom DeLay in charge, along with his mumbling Speaker Denny Hastert.
Gingrich rose to power on the basis of rightwing hatred. That hatred proved too harsh to keep Republicans in power, so they toned it down on TV, and George Bush ran as a "compassionate conservative" in 2000. But Rush Limbaugh and all of his imitators Kept Hate Alive on talk radio, and now it is the dominant rhetoric of the Republican base.
Today, serious Republicans have finally figured out their Base can't win elections. But if they try to silence their Base, the Base will put Sarah Palin and the Know-Nothings in charge.
Good luck, Republicans!
Update 1: Dana Houle has a great summary of the rise of the Republican Right after Goldwater.