Written for the Huffington Post:In the last post Zach Friend and I wrote, we detailed the recipe for a Republican Talking Point. In the short time since then there has appeared a perfect example: the “Ground Zero mosque.”
It isn’t at Ground Zero, it isn’t a mosque, and the xenophobia aimed at it is shameful.
But that hasn’t stopped this talking point from being repeated millions and millions of times. Try Googling it. As of this writing, it yields 105 million hits.
Now trying Googling the more accurate “Islamic cultural center” plus “Ground Zero.” I get 2.9 million hits — a Talking Point-to-Truth ratio of more than 36 to 1.
But remember, a xenophobic frenzy has been whipped up over the idea of peaceful Muslims practicing freedom of religion two big Manhattan blocks from Ground Zero. Without that frenzy we wouldn’t be getting even 2.9 million hits. Probably more like the 345,000 hits that come up for “Islamic cultural center” and “Los Angeles.”
That makes a Talking Point-to-Truth Ratio of … about 300 to 1.
As Zach and I predicted, many Democrats are among those repeating this talking point, even when they think they are fighting it. They really should know better by now. Republicans have been taking us to school on this for decades.
- A Republican Talking Point is built on an intensely emotional image, one designed to lodge itself in your mind just because it’s so vivid, like, say, “death panels.”
- That this image it is false only makes it more powerful: outrageousness gives it an extra charge.
- Because of the image’s dark appeal, the talking point earns constant repetition. And, in the way of lies constantly repeated, that starts to make it feel true.
It’s always the same: their side throws out a bogus-but-intense talking point, and our side argues the facts. The facts don’t matter with these things. All that matters are emotion and repetition.
Those, by the way, are the core principles of advertising, and that is no accident.
Not that there’s anything wrong with advertising — if it is in some degree connected to reality.
But at its worst, the modern Republican Party has left reality behind — has transcended “the reality based community” in the famous phrase from the Bush administration. This version of the GOP no longer uses marketing to sell a political philosophy. Apparently, marketing itself has become the political philosophy: if you’ll buy it, that makes it good.
Even when, as in this case, it so clearly works against both our core values and our national interest. While this phony controversy undermines freedom of religion, it also gives support to the terrorists’ own bogus talking point: the supposed “war against Islam.”