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Can we see beyond propagandistic packaging,
so we can discuss politics with family and friends?

Supposedly packaging makes a product sell.  With many media pundits reporting political campaigns as sports, win-lose games that rally simplistic thinking, the assumption is that average folks aren’t smart enough to discuss nuances.  Although many in media emphasize differences of opinion, most elections are won by a hair of a margin.  Is that a sign that the country is less extremely divided than portrayed?

Knowing about people and their faiths, cultures, races, traditions, values, relationships, struggles and stories helps us counter slick, deceptive “packaging” we see during the political season.  The conventions, polls, talking heads and candidates primed for prime time create a fantasy.  They deploy propaganda to persuade people.

Seven elements of propaganda identified by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis in the 1930s are name calling, glittering generalities, transfer, testimonial, plain folks, card stacking and band wagon.  We studied propaganda in journalism classes as something to avoid spreading. 

Other forms of propaganda make people—usually women—invisible, create enemy images, stereotype racial and ethnic groups, trivialize ideas and stir fear.

It’s voters’ responsibility to identify these tactics through the maze of “packaging” of candidates and policies.  Can we do that?

The Fig Tree shares stories of people wrestling with nuances of issues.  This issue reports on diverse faiths and cultures, uplifting how pluralism can be a unifying reality in our community and world.

Media can help people celebrate different opinions and cultures, give us new eyes to understand people, treat us as thinking people interested in resolving injustices, and foster respect for human rights, dignity, dialogue and community.

Using democracy-demeaning tactics enriches some in corporate media and corporations who fund campaigns and expect payback.  The “packaging” can keep us blind to and silent about multi-billion-dollar “private” corporations depending on government subsidies and loopholes to fund executive salaries, but do not have enough to share profits with shareholders or hire more people to work.

Propaganda keeps us confused and off message.  For example, if we ask, “Where are the jobs?”  On the one hand, we’re told government should have created more jobs, so we forget that private industry promised more jobs if they had the tax breaks that are still in place.   

Blame deflects attention to vulnerable people, women and seniors, many of whom spent their lives paying into Social Security and Medicare.  When politicians repeatedly say these programs are causing debt and need fixing, the repetition tends to make people think it’s true.  We don’t even know how much we could save by cutting down on wars and corporate subsidies.

Labels foster simplistic thinking.  What’s “moral” divides many in the faith community between moral budgets that are pro-life in terms of justice and pro-life that is pre-birth only.  Churches teach that it’s about all life, but some politicians play to simplistic thinking that confuses and divides, so some in congregations don’t explore wider implications of what’s moral.

Nuances are the bane of many politicians and of pundits who prefer to predict election outcomes based on polls that bounce back and forth.  It’s as if we are expected to vote for the anticipated winner, rather than thinking about what people stand for.

Politics that address real life struggles and moral nuances might enable us to talk with family and friends about how our different political conclusions arise from our shared moral values, life experiences and faith journeys.

As the campaigns progress, what emphasis will there be on fact checks, investigative reporting, thoughtful questions and responsible journalism worthy of the political and social power media have?

Mary Stamp - editor