Wednesday, December 19, 2007

That Old Rugged Cross

Posted By on Wed, Dec 19, 2007 at 9:32 AM

Another politician has been caught sneaking a subliminal message into a campaign ad and, in a response that's becoming entirely too predictable, he's trying to laugh it off as a big joke. "I will confess this: If you play the spot backwards it says, 'Paul is dead. Paul is dead,' " Mike Huckabee says of his Merry Christmas ad in which a white cross appears over his shoulder. How gullible do they think we are? Remember when George Bush insisted that showing the word "RATS" in an ad about Al Gore's prescription drug proposal wasn't meant to be a subliminal message? There's an interesting book out now, The Political Brain by psychologist Drew Westen, about how political ad makers—and Republicans are much better at it than Democrats—have learned to use emotional cues to activate neural networks in people's minds and influence what they believe and feel and how they vote. An infamous case in point: the Republic National Committee ad against Harold Ford Jr. in his 2006 Senate race against Bob Corker. "In that campaign," Westen writes, "an ad showing a scantily clad (or unclad—you couldn't tell because of the way the image was—accidentally?—cropped) blonde sex kitten crowed, 'I met Harold at the Playboy party!' All the while, Corker was on the stump, asking which of the two men was the 'real Tennessean.' The answer, by the way, was that they were both 'real Tennesseans,' one from Memphis and the other from Chattanooga. The goal, of course, was to get white voters to think about which of them was really 'one of us.' And funny how that ad just happened to activate latent networks about predatory, hypersexual black men who want our white women." In Huckabee's ad, which his campaign manager Chip Saltsman discusses here, the appearance of the white cross is no accident. It reinforces Huckabee's open appeal to conservative Christians subliminally and makes it more powerful emotionally for the evangelical zombies who are about to make him the Iowa caucus winner. It's a little scary, isn't it? Ron Paul doesn't often make very much sense, but he got it right on Fox News: "It reminds me of what Sinclair Lewis once said. He says, 'when fascism comes to this country, it will be wrapped in the flag, carrying a cross.' "

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