10/03/2012 03:09 pm ET Updated Dec 03, 2012

Political Strategy of Scare and Snare

Jerry Behn is running for Iowa State Senate on the heels of Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Paul Ryan by stereotyping and demeaning people who have hit hard times and find themselves in need of assistance to meet their basic needs of food, clothing, and a place to rest their heads.

In his recent TV promotional ad, Behn stares straight into the camera sternly warning of the food stamp recipient who allegedly defrauds the average tax payer by purchasing large bottles of water simply to collect the $7.50 bottle refund to spend as they wish. By so doing, he turns the exception into the rule.

Former Presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, at a town hall meeting in Meredith New Hampshire last January 6 branded Barack Obama as "the most effective food stamp President in American History."

Mitt Romney was captured on tape demeaning what he called "the 47%" of Americans who view themselves as "victims" and depend on the government and are unwilling to take "personal responsibility" for their lives.

Earlier, in 2011, before Romney picked him for the Vice Presidential slot, Paul Ryan spoke at The American Spectator's Robert L. Bartley Gala Dinner in which he referenced the "30 percent" who desire the welfare state to take care of them. "Before too long," warned Ryan, "we could become a society where the net majority of Americans are takers, not makers."

In reality, the vast majority of the people who Behn, Gingrich, Romney, and Ryan dismiss, do pay significant percentages of their income on taxes. They work hard, often holding a number of low-paying jobs to barely get by. And they are productive members of their communities. However, these politicians scapegoat the most powerless and voiceless members of our society for their own political gains to promote themselves and their small government agenda in the name of "Freedom."

Leaders on the political right use terms like "liberty" and "freedom" to advance their agendas, which include such tenets of shrinking the size of government and giving more control to state and local governments, ending governmental regulation of the private sector, privatization of state and federal governmental services and industries, permanent incorporation of across-the-board non-progressive marginal tax rates, market driven unfettered "free market" economies, which ultimately, they argue, will ensure individuals' autonomy: hence "liberty" and "freedom."

But how "free" are we as individuals when the upper ten percent of our population controls the vast majority of the accumulated wealth and approximately 85 percent of the stocks and bonds?
How "free" are we as individuals when corporate executives currently pay lower tax rates than their secretaries? How "free" are we as individuals when 50 million people in our country go uninsured and their only form of health care is the hospital emergency room that the remainder of the population must pay for because our government will not provide a single-payer health care system, but instead, we all must accept the exorbitant profit-motive fees of private health care insurers?

During economic downturns, charismatic and not-so charismatic leaders attempt to exploit the fears of the public in their quests for power and control. Bahn, Gingrich, Romney, Ryan, and many other politicians use the tactic of fear to scare and snare the electorate to vote them into office.

We must cut through the coded racialized and classist language, for often when politicians use the words "poor," "welfare," "inner city," "food stamps," "entitlements," "bad neighborhoods," they tap into many White people's anxieties and past racist teachings. Though White people comprise the largest percentage of current food stamp recipients, 34 percent, the common perception and societal stereotype depicts Black people as abusing the system. In addition, the buzz phrase, "personal responsibility," now has become a catch phrase to justify cutting benefits to people with disabilities, older people, young people, and those who have fallen on hard times and need assistance.

So-called "social issues" become wedge issues to attract people to a particular candidate. In the final analysis, though, when middle and working class and poor people vote for these candidates, they essentially vote against their own economic self-interests.

After careful and continuous vetting to plough through the reality from the show; the truth in their message from their appeals to fears and insecurities; their sincerity and ability to bring people together from their overt and covert attempts to divide; their talents and strengths from their bravado and performance; their attempts to maintain their integrity, their compassion, their humanity, and their empathy from their insincerity, manipulation, half-truths, and lies; their attempts to answer questions honestly rather than giving answers derived from polling data saying what they think we want to hear rather than what they actually believe, these are the things we need to consider when judging our candidates. We must rate them on the quality of their characters, on their policies, and how well we believe they will follow through on their promises.

I observe a large number of my Iowa neighbors proudly displaying American flags, the red, white, and blue flying and rippling in our strong Iowa winds on poles or porches in front yards. But patriotism and true commitment to our democracy takes more, much more; for it demands of us all the needed time, effort, and commitment to critically investigate all aspects of the great gift we have been given in our representative form of government: the gift of our vote. Anything less would be to waste our enfranchisement, to silence our voices, and to slap the faces of all who have gone before to envision and protect our form of government.