Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Handbook of Political Manipulation

Politicians employ an array of tactics to disorient, confuse, mislead, and coerce the public. They draw these tactics from marketing (black pr), psychological operations in warfare (psychops), intelligence (disinformation), parliamentary tactics, and agit-propaganda. These tactics can be referred to as political manipulation.

There are many Americans who are either naive when it comes to such manipulation or prone to following conspiratorial cul-de-sacs. In the information age it is vital to know how one can be manipulated if one is not sensitive to information sources, quality, plausibility, and "effects." The following is a list of kinds of political manipulation, based particularly on the American political experience. Some of the terms are neologisms for illustrative purposes:

Ad hominem argument - Discrediting or rejecting an argument based on who someone or some group is rather than what he, she, or it is arguing.

Appeal to authority - A favorite of elitists and self-described intellectuals, an appeal to authority makes a truth claim based on the reputation of a person, group, or other source.  It is often done to diminish an argument made by a person on the merits or according to evidence.  The most famous recent appeal to authority argument is that the "science is settled" regarding the manmade global warming hypothesis, according to a group, the IPCC, whose members and backers receive billions of dollars in grants and other benefits.

Appeal to emotion -  The argumentum ad misericordium, or "appeal to emotion," is one of the most prevalent manipulative political techniques.  It is the use of emotion to persuade people to support, or to intimidate people to reject, an argument based on emotion rather than on evidence, reason, or self-interest.  A subset of this is the infamous "do it for the children" argument, which should have its own fallacy of argumentum ad infantium

Astro-turfing - Paying or employing people or groups to appear like part of a "grass roots" movement. Pioneered by Democrat master tactician David Axelrod.

Bait-and-switch - Named after the marketing technique of advertising a discount or rebate on one product and "switching" the customer to another product once in the store (or on the lot, in the case of used car salesmen).  In politics, it may be the call for "reform" of an industry to lower costs and then the erection of a massive new spending program.

The Big Lie - Pioneered modernly by Adolph Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, the big lie is so preposterous that many people do not suspect that one would utter it.  The current master of the big lie is manmade global warming alarmist Al Gore.

Black-boxing - Requiring that citizens or other people divide themselves into predetermined groups. One example is the mandatory classification of Americans by "race" in government forms like the census. This reinforces self-identification as belonging to racial or other types of groups (often artificially).

Bogeymen - The attribution of political phenomena to groups who are accorded disproportionately high levels of influence. Examples of these groups and their members include Freemasons, Rosicrucians, Merovingians, Bilderbergers, Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission, and even the entire religious ethnic group of Jews. This tactic oversimplifies political reality, misleads and radicalizes fringe elements on the political spectrum, and alienates those of similar ideological affinity. In popular culture, the legend of "Keyser Soze" ("the king who speaks too much" in German/Turkish) in the film The Usual Suspects is one example of such a "spook story."

Chameleon effect - The ability of a politician to adapt to his surroundings, or to portray what his audience wants to see.  This effect is reinforced by a lack of details about a candidate.  Generally the more unknown or mysterious the "real" politician is, the more effective he can be at imitation and misrepresentation.

Class Warfare - The strategy of leftists to pit the less successful against the more successful by arguing that one "upper class" systematically represses the lower classes.  This class narrative is contradicted by upward mobility, both in particular cases and in general (the relatively high percentage of those who move across groups, including from the supposed upper class to the lower classes and vice versa).

The Common Good - The black hole of justifications for leftist causes into which all rationality and caution is thrown. Defined be elites and politicians, this nebulous entity is also referred to as "the public," "the public interest," and "the people."   

Context-dropping - Distorting something a person says or writes by extricating it from its context so as to render the meaning completely different. One easy way is to remove a soundbite or line from a satirical piece without qualifying it as satire. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh is constantly attacked by groups like Media Matters using the context-dropping technique.

Controlled opposition - The opposition to a party or group is infiltrated and manipulated until it is taken over and used as a foil to the benefit of the subverting party. It operates either by making a caricature of the opposing party through antics and scandals, or by channeling popular opposition in an ultimately futile and demoralizing direction.

Cultural relativism - The equivocation of cultures for the purposes of diminishing pride in the target's or targets' particular nation, religion, ethnicity, race, or other source of identity.

"Dancing Bears" - The use of political operatives to harness opposition and provide a caricature to one's constituency. Usually done in order to mobilize one's base for political action against a political party or movement. It plays off people's tendency for bivalent (either-or) reasoning. Pioneered in Russia, one example is the use of the ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the party LDP in order to marginalize ultra-nationalism and to make politicians like Vladimir Putin look "moderate" by providing a foil. This tactic may elicit the secondary effect in the audience that "politics is a circus," and may therefore demobilize or disenchant citizens and dissuade them from being more interested or active in politics.

Decry what you do - This is a favorite of followers of Alinsky, such as Barack Obama. The idea is to condemn the very behavior that one is doing. Many times one can find out what a radical is up to by paying attention to what he is condemning. An example might be Barack Obama condemning the Republicans for partisan rhetoric. The very act of condemning the Republicans for partisan rhetoric is itself partisan, but it gives the impression that the condemning party is the victim.

Dirty hands argument - A fallacious argument that implies that a person, group, or other entity cannot do or mean well because of a past mistake or offense. Sometimes used to smear a group, party, or nation whose members may not represent the previous membership.  Dirty hands arguments are often unbalanced in presentation, historically removed, or paint a tendentious picture.

Demonization - A broad term that includes overt or subtle defamation of a person or group with the intention of making it appear evil or insidious to the public.

Disinformation - Disinformation is a broad category of political manipulation whose origins can be traced to intelligence techniques. The KGB are the unquestioned masters of dezinformatsia and much more on this subject can be found by reading about this Soviet agency's tactics.

The goal of disinformation is not merely to misinform, but rather to condition the target to respond to information in a predictable pattern. Response patterns elicited may range from knee-jerk revulsion to ideas that threaten the mental integrity of the subject to uncontrollable fits of rage and other types of irrational behavior. Disinformation can be a one-time operation or part of a coordinated campaign working in tandem with miseducation, usually of young people.

Diversions - The introduction of tangential or irrelevant issues in order to preoccupy the public while more important events take place. One examples may be the Tiger Woods saga, which ran during the healthcare bill debate.

Divide-and-Unite - Sowing the seeds of discords among groups and then appearing as the "savior" to unite them.

Echo Chamber - The repetition of a rumor, scandal, news story, or issue be several ostensibly different information sources in order to condition public opinion.  The practice works by giving the false impression of independently arrived-upon "consensus." 

Fall guys - Disposable fall guys of politicians who take the blame for illicit activities.

False flag operation - Staging an event or secreting evidence in order to create the false appearance that one's opposition is responsible for some scandal or atrocity. Often used as a justification for repression or for more power and authority.  The Reichstag fire that ushered the Nazis to power is one famous example.

Fiat money - Money based on the "full faith and credit" of a government. It is not money as a "store of value," but rather a store of debt. When people trade imaginary (i.e. ultimately valueless) fiat currency for goods and services, it may signify in practice the transition stage from capitalism to socialism. Since people do not own fiat currency, it is not their property; it is legal tender, and therefore can be arbitrarily seized by the government within the legal framework of a fiat currency system (as unjust as that may be from a natural rights perspective). The money belongs to the government, it does not belong to the citizenry.

Flooding - Creating a virtual ocean of reinforcing or complementary signs, symbols, and messages that provide internal referents for the target, essentially indoctrinating him or her into believing in a false representation of reality.  Nowadays, Americans virtually swim in an ocean of cultural marxism. This is largely due to the "flooding" of Hollywood, news media, and other outlets with symbols and messages that overtly or covertly reinforce Marxist messages.  One example is the overwrought emphasis on "sharing" as the primary lesson a child should take away from kindergarten and daycare (as opposed to becoming the best person you can be).  The term is based on the metaphor of the fish who isn't aware that he is wet.

Framing - A sophisticated technique that "primes" a person for his reception of subsequent information. It basically operates by providing a theme and then associating information with that theme. An example may be mentioning a Vietnamese restaurant before discussing the Iraq War. The term "quagmire" is sure to come up.

Front groups - A political party or movement's proxy groups who do not formally announce their affiliation with that party or movement. These may include "non-partisan" 501c(3) groups like Media Matters, which is a Democrat-run think tank founded by the Clintons and John Podesta. Under the umbrella of Cultural Marxism, front groups can include radical feminist, environmentalist, pro-choice, or pro-minority groups.

Fueling the Fire - The agitation of a group through incendiary tactics in order to expose the radical elements and to discredit the group to the broader public.

Fusion - A Trotskyist tactic whereby a party or group is radicalized by the groups who affiliate themselves with the original party or group. One example is the formation of radical environmentalist groups who latch themselves onto the Democrat or even the Republican party and then steer the agenda to the hard left.

Gerrymandering - Originally, the redrawing of districts to benefit politicians or political parties.  The term derives from Governor Eldridge Gerry, whose redistricting of Massachusetts resulted in one district that resembled a salamander. The practice no longer applies primarily to the configuring of district boundaries to the benefit of one party at the expense of another, but also applies to the rigging of the electoral maps to favor incumbents. See horse-trading.

Grandstanding - When a politician, committee, or party abuses public office to make an ostentatious display to an audience.  Typically done for public relations purposes, such as to shore up image, communicate values to the base or to moderates, or to stage a veneer under which to covertly work at cross-purposes to the public message.

Hidden Taxes - These taxes are designed to condition the people not to notice them. These include federal taxes obtained from withholding and the VAT tax. From a non-technical point of view, it also includes intentional inflation, which benefits the large banks and investors that receive access to the money at the origins of its insertion into the economy.

Hit-and-run - Not only a tactic of the "drive-by media" (as Rush Limbaugh labeled it) where news outlets disseminate sensationalistic stories on a daily basis without context or follow-up, it can also be applied to politicians who switch agendas so fast that the average citizen does not know what is next or cannot keep up.  May create a sensation of omnipresent "crisis," it is often used by fascistic and pseudo-fascistic regimes.

Horse-trading - Named after the very subjective business of trading horses, it applies to shrewd bargaining by politicians, usually with wink-and-nod agreements as to the true import of legislation.  Certain regulations, for example, harm particular businesses more than others.  Businesses that benefit from a regulation may donate more campaign contributions to the politician who indirectly assists them.  Other politicians may "keep score" of such veiled transactions and pass their own regulations, with the implicit agreement of the other horse-trading politicians.

Insinuation - Implants an idea in the minds of the audience members by asserting the opposite of the intended message.   Example: "Now I would never suggest that my opponent believes himself to be above the law..."

Jujitsu - In martial arts, the use of an opponent's weight or force against him. In politics, this is the encouragement of an enemy to continue to act or to heighten or increase its actions to the point where that behavior becomes unsustainable. This often requires perverse incentives and false rewards, such as when politicians provide welfare benefits to the community in exchange for votes. One example is the Cloward-Piven strategy.

Kabuki Theater - Named for a form of Japanese puppet show, this is a type of political debate where both sides (tacitly) agree to put on a show for the respective target audiences. This may reduce public tension and apprehension by airing grievances, and bolster the images of the political participants by making them appear more principled than they actually are. Also known as a dog and pony show.

Kickbacks - A return of a portion of funding, particularly public funding, to a politician who helped make the funding possible.  It may also refer to a secret payment for an explicit or implicit service rendered,  which may include "turning the other way" and ignoring corruption or illegal actions.

Laugh it off - Similar to, and perhaps a subcategory of, ridicule. This is when one meets an accusation head on and laughs it off. This can be done in combination with strawman arguments. One example might be when the president laughed off the idea that he was engaging in some sort of "Bolshevik plot." Hardly anyone accuses him of that, though many people are legitimately concerned about the creeping socialism under his administration.

Leader-rappelling - When a leader appears from out of nowhere to become the head of a party or movement. These may be relatively unknown politicians who speak in populist terms. Most effective when the opposition is weak, captured, or effectively demonized. One example is two-year senator Barack Obama.

Logrolling - Refers to the practice of favor-trading by representatives in Congress.  By these means, legislation that might not be passed because it favors one state or district at the expense of others can be passed in exchange for the quid pro quo support of other such legislation by fellow "logrolling" representatives.  The term received its named from representative Davy Crockett of Tennessee, who condemned the practice. 

Mainstreaming - Discussing a controversial topic in an offhand way in order to make it appear acceptable. One example is the mainstreaming of the term "teabag*ing" in major news media to the point where the president of the country feels free to use the sexually explicit slur to demonize his opponents.

Misrepresentation - Portraying an event, group, policy, or politician in a disproportionate or distorted manner.

Moral relativism - Equivocation of morality with the implication that there is no such thing as right and wrong or good and evil.  It plays to the advantage of regimes that desire to steal, kill, and violate the rights of people without being questioned and without consequences.

The Noble Lie - Based on a question in Plato's Republic, the noble lie is rationalized in the mind of the liar by the justification that "it is better that the people do not know the truth." 

Pandering - The misrepresentation of a person or party to cater to the tastes of a prospective constituency or benefactor.  Examples are a politician taking on an awkward southern drawl when speaking to a southern audience, speaking like one is at a hip-hop concert to inner city black youth, or wearing a flannel shirt to speak to Iowans.d   

Pawns - Unsuspecting actors who are manipulated by politicians in a game of which the pawns are unaware.

Plantation farming - The use of dependency to cultivate a political client group. May include minorities or hypothetically, civil servants.

Planting - The use of apparent sympathizers or plants to infiltrate, spy on, influence, and/or potentially sabotage a group.  In intelligence terminology, roughly equivalent to a mole.

Plausible deniability - The ability to persuasively argue that one is not connected to a person, group, or event.  It may include other tactics, such as hedging one's lie with some truth (a "half-truth"), or making one surprisingly candid statement to gain credibility so that a future lie is more effectively received.

Poisoning the well - In debate, the tactic of preemptively using unseemly and usually personal information to discredit what an opponent has to say. Typically done as an ad hominem or personal attack intended (to paraphrase Alinsky) 'to freeze, personalize, and polarize' a target.

Political Correctness - The technique of silencing opposition to an idea, party, politician, policy, race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual preference by stating or implying that such an opinion is inappropriate, insensitive, racist, discriminatory, biased, or judgmental.  It preys on the desire of most people to fit in or to be non-controversial.  It draws on the assumption of the civil society that each is entitled to his or her opinion, but by extension that one cannot understand another person's or group's (usually meaning, a minority's) perspective, and therefore criticism of that person or group is somehow invalid.  Political correctness is routinely tilted in favor of progressive or leftist positions.

Politics of the Middle - A set of tactics to alter perception of a policy, politician, person, or party by manipulating the perceived middle or mean.  This includes misrepresenting the middle to falsely convey what is considered mainstream; excluding the middle, which artificially portrays polarization by omitting "moderate" positions (this can also happen naturally); or shifting the middle, which may be an incremental process taking place over the course of years to move a group, party, or nation to the political right or left.  Shifting the middle may be the result of a series of compromises benefiting one particular group or ideology, or may occur due to systematic propaganda.

Pork-barreling - The allocation of public funding for dubious special interests.  The origin of the term comes from the Civil War era, when pork was a marker of a family's general well-being.  The term has come to be associated with piggishness, excess, inefficiency, and suckling special interest groups.

Potemkin Village - Made famous by the idyllic villages constructed to please Tsarina Catherine the Great on her river-tours of Russia, a Potemkin Village is a specially constructed or designed exemplar of a program or policy intended to sell it to the public or to policymakers. At the core, these Potemkin Villages are hollow or false, like the hired men and women and the facades erected to please Catherine on her voyages.

Prospect theory - Technically, the theory that people are risk-averse in a domain of losses, and risk-seeking in a domain of gains.  For most intents and purposes, this means that a politician can be more coercive by proposing to take something already possessed by the public away than he can be by offering something more.  One example is that each time there is a budget crisis, politicians have a tendency to threaten essential services, putting the public in an immediate domain of losses.  This causes people to be risk-averse and therefore seek to avoid change to the status quo. Another implication is that people are far more radicalized when the issue is taking away a benefit that they already have, rather than a prospective benefit they have not received yet.  This is a tacit assumption of the Cloward-Piven strategy.

Protection racket - This is a form of coercion that occurs when one party threatens unpleasant consequences for non-compliance with a policy. This may also be concordant with the practice of supplying protection money. When banks or businesses donate money to politicians or a political party to persuade them not to regulate their respective industry or to otherwise punish them, this may be an example of a protection racket.  May be prefaced by the line, "you wouldn't want something unfortunate to happen to..."

Puppets -  When a politician appears to be independent, but he or she is actually a puppet of special interests or hidden parties.

Pyramid scheme - Generally speaking, a pyramid scheme is a system where those higher up (or earlier on) in the chain of trade or production benefit more than those near the bottom (or later on) of the chain. The Federal Reserve's creation of fiat money is an example of a pyramid scheme, since the value of money is greatest at the top (especially considering interest received from the Treasury for printing the money), and it is worth the least at the bottom, as it trickles down throughout the economy. Fractional reserve lending backed by the FDIC is also similar to a pyramid scheme, only inverted; the base of lending ("holdings") is often much narrower than the gains accrued by the bank after investing or loaning funds based on those reserves.

Quisling - A politician who constantly compromises with his purported opposition, especially on fundamental issues.

Race-baiting - Antagonizing an individual along racial lines, either by implying without grounds that he is racist (making him "prove a negative," e.g.), or by placing him in a situation where he is asked to defend himself or some persons associated with his "race" against presumably oppressed racial minorities.

Red herrings - Issues, phrases, or words meant to derail debate or opposition. A poignant example is the manner that the public funding of abortion seemed all of a sudden to be the only major issue prior to the House's "healthcare reform bill" vote. This was largely due to the fake opposition of Bart Stupak and the dirty dozen supposedly opposing the bill due to "matters of conscience." Fundamental questions such as the morality of putting the life, liberty, and property of citizens at the disposal of government bureaucrats seemed to fall by the wayside.

Repetition - Generally speaking, a tactic to ingrain an idea or image in the mind of the target audience using repetition.  This includes chanting at rallies, which may reinforce branding, loyalty, and group cohesion. More broadly, repetition defuses critical thinking and may systematically desensitize a subject to certain stimuli.  In terms of mass culture, repetition achieves the effect of demystifying a cultural object, in essence, commoditizing it for popular consumption.  One example might be the the diminution of romantic love through the mass production of carbon-copy love songs with repetitive beats and messages.

Ridicule - A favorite tactic of leftist mandarin Saul Alinsky. It is extremely difficult to defend against because it triggers emotional reactions and not rational ones, leading to overreaction, anger, or withdrawal. The best defense is to laugh it off while ridiculing the attacker back as if you were his friend.

Sacrificial lambs - Radical politicians who sell themselves as "moderates" but then throw themselves on their swords once elected. This tactic is most effective when utilized at a predetermined time in coordination with other radicals.

Salami tactics - Developed by Mussolini and named by the Hungarian communist Rakoszci, salami tactics are a way to foster internal strife within an opposition group and then to slice the members off. If the media were able to turn social conservatives against libertarians in the tea party movement and then slice them apart, this would be an example of a successful "salami tactic." The same could be said of the tea party movement if it were sliced off from the Republican party (current tea party movement strategy is to support conservative Republicans).

Salt Licks - The creation of a group, movement, program, or cause in order to scout the political terrain (especially for fringe elements) and to steer people toward desired or ultimately futile ends.

Scapegoating - Placing an inordinate amount of blame on a person or group, usually in order to distract attention away from the true underlying causes of a problem or failure.

Scarecrows - A political operative who infiltrates a party and movement and wards off potential members.

Selective bias - The attempt to control public opinion through the filtering out of stories or information that do not promote the political agenda.  One of the most rampant forms of bias in the news media.  May be achieved through lies of omission, rather than lies of commission.

Shadow-boxing - Debating an issue that is a fait accompli in order to stall or to pander to one's supporters.

Shell game - Named after the popular street game in which a hustler engages in sleight-of-hand to hide an object under one of three shells, manipulates the shells quickly to conceal the one the object is hidden under, and asks a bettor to tell him which shell is the winner.  Analogously, the term describes a game that politicians or their mouthpieces play with the public whereby they hide information by switching the terms of a policy or debate.  One recent example is the argument that the unemployment situation is actually better than the official rate suggests.  When discouraged workers re-enter the job market, so the argument goes, it pushes up the unemployment rate. This means that the job market is getting better, although the unemployment rate is going up. This argument is a type of shell game where the "true information" on the employment situation is hidden within other indicators, such as U6 unemployment.

Showboating - Named for touring riverboat theaters, it describes a politician or party that engages in self-serving attention-seeking, even at the public expense.  May also describe a politician who shows off a skill or talent, when such exhibitionism is unwarranted, repetitive, and/or staged.

Show Trials - When politicians make a public display of an opponent in a trial whose results are pre-determined. Show trials can have willing (if paid off, for example) or coerced defendants. One possible example is the show trial of Goldman Sachs executives. Show trials may prop up the regime by "signaling" implicit messages or threats to similar groups, chilling the economic, social, or political environment as a whole, and may be used to mobilize populist sentiment. In return, the willing show trial defendant may receive reduced penalties or hidden rewards.

Stacking the deck - The tactic of pitting more supporters or opponents of a person, party, or position on one side of a debate or argument than those of the opposition.  This may be increasing the number of leftist to conservative commentators on a Sunday talk show, citing circular and repetitive references in a policy paper for effect, or otherwise overstating a case using numerical misrepresentation.

Strawman argument - Restating an argument in such an extreme form that it provides an easy target (or "strawman") to tear apart. One example might be to say "Tea party activists say that Obama will institute death panels under the healthcare reform legislation. But if you look at the House version of the bill, 'death panels' is not mentioned once..." Yet no one was arguing that the bill will actually have hooded men at guillotines, or that the bill would actually say "death panels." What was meant was that there would be panels to decide who would receive life-saving treatments and procedures. When controlled opposition provides a strawman argument for his or her interlocutor to tear down, one might call it "making hay."

Sword of Damocles - Using the threat of deadlines to pressure people into making decisions that may not be in their best interest.  May be signaled by repetitive use of the word "now" or by attribution to some suddenly arising "crisis."

Symbolic manipulation - The placement of signs or symbols in such a manner as to evoke a desired or undesired response.  One example is the symbolism of Obama's campaign logo, which uses a circle to demonstrate power and authority, and motion ahead across the circle to imply progress, forming a rising sun (or perhaps a setting sun?).  Another common trick is to use reverse perspective to draw people in, eliciting the sensation of awe or movement forward.  Symbolism is one of the most powerful forms of propaganda because it is often resistant to analysis, and therefore people can "read in" to the symbol what he or she wants to see.

Trolling - In Internet jargon, the subversion or harassment of an online community by a troll or cooperating trolls for purposes of disruption, attention-seeking, publicity, advertising, espionage, or propaganda.

Please feel free to expand on this list.

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