Friday, July 27, 2012

Pernicious email propaganda

It's out there again. During the 2008 presidential campaign, a chain email was widely circulated that, among other outrages, had President Obama saying, "My wife disrespects the flag for many personal reasons. Together she and I have attended several flag burning ceremonies in the past, many years ago. She has her views and I have mine. Of course now, I have found myself about to become the President of the United States and I have put aside my hatred."

Come on now. What president would ever say that about his first lady? Barack Obama didn't say it, not then, not now, not ever. The email is nonsense. More than nonsense, this lie upon lie is once again being circulated with the hope that by repeating it over and over, the smear will gain credence.

Totalitarians understand this well. Perception is power. Propagandists in Germany in the 1930s showed the way. "Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it," is a statement attributed to Adolf Hiter.

And what is the big lie? In this email's case, it is no more and no less than that the president of the United States is blatantly anti-American.

The Tampa Bay Times examined this e-mail point by point, then reported, using what it called its Truth-O-Meter: "It would be difficult to tally the many, many ways this e-mail is false." But it's hard to dispatch a delusion.

What's going on here is not about simple political differences of opinion. Those differences are solved regularly at the ballot box. Positions on the Defense of Marriage Act, and whether the Second Amendment is about a well-regulated militia or individual possession of guns, are issues on which people of good will may differ. It's appropriate for each voter to decide whether Barack Obama or George W. Bush or James Buchanan is the worst person to ever be president. Voters can pick the candidate who holds views compatible with their own on gay marriage or the Affordable Care Act or support for Israel or bank deregulation.

But if a voter reads that Michelle Obama is a witch who attends regular meetings of a coven, a voter should stop for a moment and ask, "Say what?"

When a voter reads that the president or first lady hates America, especially after watching that president and that first lady for three years, it's pretty certain that somebody just made it up. As the Truth-O-Meter found in checking into these charges, "This chain email, like most that we've checked, is false." Maliciously so.

For voters, the only non-malicious, rational reaction is to hit "delete."

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