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Monday, August 29, 2011

Rulon's views on the rhetoric in political campaigns

Rulon Hurt thrives in the deadly world of spy vs. spy where you never know who to trust, and where no one is exactly what they seem. In other words, his world is great preparation for trying to decide who to vote for in the next U.S. presidential election.

Many people are cynical about politicians, but Rulon isn’t one of them. When he was younger, his father insisted that he read Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy, and even now he will read chapters of it from time to time when his faith in the U.S. political process needs rekindling. That Pulitzer prize winning book is a reminder to him that while politicians are, after all, politicians, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some good people in politics trying to do the best they can. The problem is that politicians can’t do any good unless they get elected and to get elected they need two things: enough money to run a campaign and enough votes to win. Most of the time that means having to promise things to two contradictory constituencies, and there lies the built-in dilemma that creates most of the cynicism about political life.  

So how does Rulon decide who to vote for? Well, first and foremost, as a window into their souls, he takes note of their oratorical tactics. When Rulon Hurt majored in Communications at Boise State University, he became interested in the communication theories developed by a man named Kenneth Burke. In 1939, Burke did an analysis of Hitler’s Mein Kampf called “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle.” In it, he exposed the specific rhetorical tactics Hitler’s used to bedazzle his listeners into accepting him as their leader. When Rulon sees a politician today using those same tactics to manipulate his audience, his antenna automatically goes up. 

Hitler believed strongly in the principle of repetition to brainwash people into accepting his obviously flawed doctrines. He and his specially trained speakers flooded Munich in the early ‘30s repeating the same message over and over and giving no heed to logical counter-arguments or contradictions. Rulon sees a lot of that going on today --obviously false statements told over and over again until people start to accept them. For example: ‘Obama caused the deficit’ or, conversely, ‘the Republicans caused the deficit’ (note: I think most people after a little reflection realize that the deficit was a team effort by Dems and Repubs – both sides only hate deficits when the other party is in power)

Rulon also carefully listens to how candidates mix religion into their message. If the candidate uses specific religious doctrines as a way to attract voters (I believe in God the same way you do, therefore I'm a good guy and you should vote for me), this raises a big red flag. Also, Rulon likes to note how a politician will characterize his opponent - does he demonize the opposition. One of Hitler's most effective strategies was to demonize the Jews, Jewish businessmen, and Jewish bankers – blaming them as the root of all of Germany’s problems, including unemployment, inflation, poverty, prostitution, divorce, birth defects, and so on. When Rulon sees candidates doing this to the opposition, he gets very nervous. In fact, he sees a lot of that going on at the moment.

In my next posting, I will discuss, hopefully without giving the plot away, World of Hurt – the sequel to Einstein’s Trunk.  

Best regards,

Jim
Zurich

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