Allen West and Propaganda

If Joseph Goebbels was around, he’d be very proud of the Democrat Party, because they have an incredible propaganda machine… Let’s be honest, you know, some of the people in the media are complicit with this and enabling them to get that type of message out.

By itself, this is an incredibly stupid thing to say about any group or person, unless, of course you are talking about the CIA who, after the War, “borrowed’ some of the propaganda master’s underlings for their own use.

This is even more incredible coming from the mouth of United States Representative Allen West (R-Fla.). Or maybe not, West, after all, is known to say some pretty “incredible” things.

This story from the Washington Post is only one of a multitude showing the lack sensitivity and knowledge of the history of propaganda and its use by various religions and governments to keep the minions in line.

I will admit Goebbels perfected the concept of propaganda and many of those concepts and the incorporation of the new mediums of radio and movies, are still being used and studied today. In fact, I use a number of Goebbels “theories” and methodologies in my classes in the field of “Persuasion.”

The history of “propaganda” is long and has a very religious bent. The term “propaganda” first appeared, at least in written form, in Pope Gregory XV’s Sacred Congregation for Propagating the Faith, circa 1622. But the idea of using “manipulative and emotionally based language tactics” to gain support for a faith or realm is neither new or, in itself, sinister.

Not unless you are addicted to the Home Shopping Network or late night infomercials.

A short history lesson of the Abrahamic faiths shows that the basic tenets of propaganda can be seen in the holy writings of all three faiths – Torah, Bible and Qur’an. If one were to expand the religious search, all religions, living and dead, mythology or “true,” use multiple forms of propaganda as tools to gain converts and maintain order of the faithful.

“Propaganda” is defined as a persuasion tool that relies on the use of misdirection, misinformation, erroneous or misleading facts, and emotion rather than fact to convince the target audience that side is right and the other is wrong. In fact, propaganda relies heavily on the idea of a false dichotomy to be successful. If used correctly, there is only “Black” and “White,” no shades of “Gray.” To paraphrase the words of George W. Bush, you’re either with us or against us.

The list of tactics is long and I will not list all here, but a few are worth mentioning and are favored by religious leaders, politicians and communication faculty alike.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc – If it came before it must have caused what came after, even if the connection between the two incidents is remotely possible. I use a friend’s belief that one specific golf cap is his luck cap, because the day he bought it, he achieved the ultimate in golf’s rewards, a hole-in-one. It must have been the hat.

Slippery Slope – Once you take an action, your fall to the extreme and negative consequences is inevitable and unstoppable. A bit like being on a Teflon slide when told that if one uses marijuana one is a murderer. Why? Because if you use pot, you will want something stronger, like heroin; and if you use heroin, you will rob stores to support your habit; and if you rob stores you will need to have a gun; and if you have a gun you will shot and kill someone, so… If you use marijuana, you are a murderer.

Card Stacking – The use of highly biased positions and statements to support one’s positions without regard to facts or the opposition’s position. This usually culminates with the absolute “we’re right and they’re wrong” position by the speaker.

Name Calling – Seemingly a favorite in the world of today’s politicians and religious leaders, as well as those of no-religion. I tell my students that as soon as the opposition falls into this paradigm, through your hands up, smile and say “I win.”

Fear Mongering – The darling of religious and political propaganda. If you do not do as I say, you will be punished, or attacked, or find yourself suffering in hell. Do as I say and you will be saved.

Weasel Words – My personal favorite; using language to hide the real problems. Saying that your home is now “underwater” rather than devalued below the mortgage amount; that you are being down-sized rather than fired; that you are experiencing financial insecurity rather than you are poor, without a job and are about to lose your home and your family.

We see such propaganda daily in product advertising, in news releases from churches, corporations and governments, and from the pulpit and holy books.

The problem is that we take this information at face value without questioning the message or messenger. We want so much to be told what to do, that the world is not riddled with “chaos,” that a better life exists if only we believe, that we will allow others to think for us instead of thinking for ourselves. We have lost our ability to be critical thinkers.

We are told that specific authorities are right, no matter what the evidence says – from teachers to parents to ministers/priests/rabbis/imams. We kowtow to one’s title or perceived authority as “proof of the truth,” and when we question that authority, we are punished, jailed or threatened with sanction.

The difference between Goebbels NAZI propaganda and today’s American political propaganda is that the punishment is not imprisonment (usually) or death (mostly). And to be proper, Rep. West should have made the comparison to the various religious propaganda machines which are much older and far more effective.

When asked if he were in fact comparing the NAZI propaganda minister with the Democratic Party, West reportedly responded,

Once again, you guys will take whatever I say, and you will spin it to try to demonize me and demagogue me. What I’m talking about is a person that was the minister of propaganda, and I’m talking about propaganda. I’ll be prepared to wake up tomorrow and you guys make up some crazy story; whatever.

Really, Mr. Agnew… ah, Mr. West? That is what you said and you avoided answering the question concerning the meaning. Or are you just practicing a form of propaganda perfected by Goebbels known as “argumentum ad hominem,” argument by attacking the person? Or more correctly, “argumentum impetu turba,” argument by attacking the press? 

About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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