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Kathleen Reardon

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Is a Sucker Really Born Every Minute? And Are You One of Them?

Posted: 06/22/2012 1:09 pm

This week Mitt Romney had a good day - at least in terms of conviction. He came out swinging with promises about handling illegal immigration. He said, "Some people have asked if I will let stand the president's executive action. The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president's temporary measure."

Nice move! A long-term solution trumps a temporary measure. Doesn't it? It does if you're not thinking. Never mind that he won't tell us what the long-term solution will entail. It just sounds better. Will the children President Obama just protected be deported? We don't know. But Romney sounded like he had a plan.

That's the trouble in this election. What is said matters far less than how it's said. There's no doubt that style of delivery matters. It advises the listener by way of tone, facial expressions, choice of words, and conviction whether to believe what was heard.

But when the tenor of political expression becomes more important, more persuasive, than integrity, intelligence, logic, sincerity, and accuracy, we're in trouble. When our biases are so great that we cannot get beyond them, when we hear only what we want to hear, the United States of America is in big trouble.

We need to wake up! First, we fail our students throughout school when we do not teach them how to detect disconnects between what people say and what they do - especially those who seek to lead our country. We fail ourselves when we sit in front of a screen or read a newspaper or magazine and neglect to identify information sources and their biases. In short, we're turning into suckers.

Along comes Citizens United and a bad situation is made worse. Far too many of us have abdicated our responsibility as voters to examine whether what we see and hear is inaccurate and/or self-serving. As Marty Kaplan explained on Moyers & Company, "We are programmed to believe stories. That is in our genes." When someone says, "Once upon a time," we're hooked. It's that easy. We'll fall for anything if it starts off the right way and causes us to suspend reality.

We are creatures of pattern. Our communication, both the way we receive and convey information, is habitual unless we consciously choose to be astute observers. And that's exactly what we'll need to be as millions of dollars are being poured into ads to convince us of things that, well, simply aren't true.

So, what do we do? How can we combat the lies, even from the side we favor? How do we hold our leaders responsible for the truth and stand up to the fictions perpetrated upon us by Supreme Court condoned Super PACs?

The first step is simple if we think to do it. Ask questions, debate and challenge. And I mean in our living rooms or wherever we hear ads supporting candidates. It's our responsibility to protect democracy in every corner of this country where it is threatened. Under the current abhorrent conditions, the best way to do this is voter-by-voter, group-by-group, refusing to swallow whole any argument, impression, image, or story that contains even a hint of deception.

The second step is to teach our children to do the same. "That's not entirely accurate?" is what our children should hear us saying even if the source is our favorite candidate. "Hold on there a moment, I'll have to check that out. It doesn't seem right to me" is another phrase that needs to become common in homes and schools where children are learning to think about how their government functions and what should be expected of their country's leaders. Another option: "Did you see how they did that? They want us to think the candidate is on our side because he drives a car like ours, kisses his wife, or has a dog. It's deception rather than honest persuasion."

There's nothing wrong with a dog here or there in ads or showing your candidate in his or her best light, but only we as individuals can draw a line over which the candidates who earn our votes must not cross. It's not enough to excuse them because Super PACs are creating the ads. If the candidates don't denounce lies, they're a part of them.

Both sides are taking a lot of money. We're going to be bombarded with messages that have little to do with reality - ones that play on our fears and make idiots out of us because we fall for them without an ounce of resistance. We're better than that. We're more capable than they believe. We do not have to sit idly by while a bunch of maneuvering fat cats lead us around by the nose. I have an idea! Let's use our brains. Let's be critical of what they throw our way. Let's teach each other and our children to do so. Let's surprise them.


Kathleen also blogs at comebacksatwork.

 

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