Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Whisper Campaign, Part 3

Disclaimer:  this is some depressing shit.  Don't read it if you don't want to.  Crucial (and depressing) background reading here.

In my previous two posts, I showed how easy it is to write an email that seems damning, that is based on no evidence whatsoever, and that can nevertheless go viral and do terrible damage to its target, with any attempt at refutation being futile.  I also showed that Clinton's unpopularity and Obama's popularity are relatively recent phenomena, and that they coincide roughly with the transition from Obama to Clinton as the standard-bearer for the Democrats.  (Or, to put it another way, the Democrat with the most electoral salience.  Obama may still be the most prominent symbol of the Democratic Party, but he will never run for office again.)

I hope you noticed that two of my fictitious emails were intended to show how easy it is to target someone like Bernie Sanders rather than Hillary Clinton.  However, the conservatives had little incentive to spread lies about Sanders unless and until he won the nomination, and so I doubt there are very many out there about him.  (Maybe the conservatives had a slight incentive to spread lies about Bernie once the primaries were over and he became a surrogate for Clinton, but mostly they were targeting Clinton at that point.)  I don't mean to take a position on whether Sanders would have been a better nominee, but I think it's indisputable that he would have faced a similar onslaught of lies and distortions.  Would he have held up better?  Maybe.  But his sky-high favorability rating is not that much higher than Clinton's when she was Secretary of State (see previous post), and she proved easy to drag down.  Obama was a bit more resistant to it, but I believe his recently rebounding numbers reflect the cessation of email attacks on him, indicating that the attacks were worth at least several percentage points in favorability ratings.  (Of course there hasn't been a full cessation of email attacks on Obama, but I imagine the volume has gone way down.)  So no one is immune.

Of course some Democrats might have relatively strong immunity to this stuff.  But I just don't know how we can predict that in advance.  Conservatives put a tremendous amount of resources into dragging Clinton down over the years, so maybe she was softened for the attack.  But you could make the contrary argument:  even after years of shameless smear-jobs, her approval ratings hovered in the low- to mid-60s for years, whereas Bernie never faced anything like what she had faced.  (I'm open to the opposite case as well.  As noted, I am not currently trying to re-litigate the primaries.)  And I mean, consider Obama...  was he relatively immune because of his personality and obviously good character?  Or was he especially vulnerable because of his race and his name?  We'll probably never know.  We only know that he was either relatively invulnerable, or popular enough that his huge vulnerability didn't sink him, at least in presidential election years.  (It did push him low enough to make his job as President more difficult than it would have been.  Recall that in some states Democratic candidates couldn't even admit to voting for Obama, lest they be tied to his name.  The new widespread admiration for Obama is a very recent phenomenon.)

I've got no solutions.  I think Democrats should set up hundreds of "honey pot" email accounts to try to keep track of what is floating out there, but as I wrote in my previous post, I don't think there's much they can do with that information.  They could set up a Snopes-like site, to give people ammunition to fire back, but go back to those emails I wrote and ask yourself:  how would I refute this in a way that would convince a media-skeptical, possibly poorly-educated person?  And that brings me to my final point, which I will make in my next post, but which can be stated briefly this way:  Trump's supporters may not have been especially racist or misogynistic, but they were notably gullible, and this gullibility is maybe the biggest problem our political system faces.


Post a Comment

<< Home