A Propaganda Primer, thanks to Pat Robertson
Perhaps you heard about the telephone recording by TV evangelist Pat Robertson that greeted many Michigan Republican primary voters the night before the polls opened. As played repeatedly on CNBC and CNN, in his unmistakable voice, Robertson exhorts listeners:
“Protect unborn babies and restore religious freedom once again in America. Tomorrow’s Republican primary may determine whether our dream becomes reality, or whether the Republican party will nominate a man who wants to take first amendment freedom from citizens’ groups while he gives unrestricted power to labor unions. A man who chose as his national campaign chairman a vicious bigot who wrote that conservative Christians in politics are anti-abortion zealots, homophobes and would-be censors. John McCain refused to repudiate these words. You may hold the future of America in your hands. With all the sincerity I can muster I urge you to go to the polls and vote in tomorrow’s election. This is Pat Robertson, thank you and God bless you.”
So who’s the “vicious bigot” whose words John McCain “failed to repudiate”?
Turns out that McCain’s campaign manager is former U.S. Senator from New Hampshire, Warren B. Rudman. You might recall the famous/infamous Gramm-Rudman budget bill from the ’80s. Rudman retired from the Senate in 1992 after two terms. He wrote a book in 1996 titled Combat: Twelve Years in the U.S. Senate, in which he talks about his participation in four defining Senate debates: the Gramm-Rudman budget bill; the Keating Five ethics committee hearings; Iran-Contra; and the nomination of his close friend and associate David Souter to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In his final chapter, prophetically called “Looking Ahead”, Rudman offers a variety of comments and suggestions regarding the country and the Republican party. On pages 269-270, Rudman says (without editing, except for highlighting one sentence):
“The excess of zeal shown by the House Republicans enabled Clinton to present them as radicals, and they were further weakened by their alliance with the so-called Christian right – which, it has been noted, is neither Christian nor right. I have in mind here Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition and related groups that try to advance social and cultural conservatism in the garb of Christianity. I don’t even like the Christian Coalition’s name. The millions of Christians in this country reflect just about every conceivable political point of view. For one highly conservative group to proclaim itself “the Christian Coalition” strikes me as decidedly un-Christian arrogance.
“The New Testament speaks eloquently of love and compassion and forgiveness, but one looks in vain for those qualities in the political agenda of the Christian right, which allies itself with the rich and comfortable in our society, not with the needy and afflicted.
“In my experience, religious zeal and politics don’t mix. Look at Belfast, Beirut and Bosnia if you want proof. Does the comparison sound extreme? Not when doctors are being gunned down outside abortion clinics and innocent government workers are bombed in Oklahoma City. You can’t indulge in hateful rhetoric about baby-killers and government plots against freedom and then walk away when some people take you seriously.
“Politically speaking, the Republican Party is making a terrible mistake if it appears to ally itself with the Christian right. There are some fine, sincere people in its ranks, but there are also enough anti-abortion zealots, would-be censors, homophobes, bigots and latter-day Elmer Gantrys to discredit any party that is unwise enough to embrace such a group. In a sense the 1994 elections were misleading, because the country is more centrist today than ever – particularly the younger generation.
“If you have the good fortune to travel widely in our country, you soon realize what an incredibly diverse people we are. We reflect countless races, religions and lifestyles, and we often differ on questions of morality and behavior. The only way so diverse a nation can survive is by all of practicing a high degree of tolerance.
“But tolerance is not the way of the Christian right. Its leaders want to impose their one-size-fits-all morality on everyone. It won’t work. When any group tries to impose its values on everyone else, the result will inevitably be resentment, hatred and violence.”
Thus sprach what Robertson called the “vicious bigot”.
Before we get to the propaganda lesson, three more tidbits help establish the context regarding this Robertson/Rudman tango:
1. Rudman ‘is’ Jewish; Robertson ‘is’, of course, evangelical Christian.
2. After graduating from Syracuse in 1952, Rudman led an infantry platoon in Korea and experienced hand-to-hand combat during the final six months of the war. In his book he describes killing an enemy soldier. (p. 52)
According to Robertson’s biography posted on the 700 Club website:
“In 1948 he [Robertson] enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. After graduating magna cum laude from Washington and Lee, Robertson served as the assistant adjutant of the First Marine Division in combat in Korea He was promoted to first lieutenant in 1952 upon his return to the United States.”
However, various news reports questioned the former Presidential candidate’s “in combat in Korea” experience. U.S. Congressman Pete McCloskey in 1986, according to Time magazine, alleged that:
“In January 1951 [McCloskey] left San Diego on the U.S.S. Brekinridge along with Robertson and some 2,000 other Marines. The ship stopped at Yokosuka and Kobe, Japan; Robertson did not continue on to Korea. ‘My single distinct memory,’ McCloskey wrote, ‘is of Pat, with a big grin on his face, standing on the dock — saying something like, ‘So long, you guys–good luck,’ and telling us that his father [Democratic Senator A. Willis Robertson] had got him out of combat duty.
“Several months later… Robertson [was] reassigned to Korea. McCloskey wrote that Robertson had served as ‘division liquor officer,’ flying alcoholic beverages in from Japan for his contingent.
“The words ‘combat duty’ have been dropped from [Robertson’s] official bio sheet.”
Robertson sued McCloskey for libel, then later dropped the suit.
3. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, Rudman’s close friend, cast a deciding vote in the Court’s 5-4 decision to uphold Roe v. Wade in the 1992 case, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. Robertson’s Christian Coalition vigorously – some might say virulently – opposes abortion.
So with all that as backdrop, Pat Robertson’s phone message serves as an almost-classic primer for propaganda:
Imply a current situation by professing the need for action. Urging someone to “restore religious freedom” implies that religious freedom does not currently exist. Grossly hyperbolize the impact of the listeners’ actions … “whether our dream becomes reality”; “you may hold the future of America in your hands”. Refrain from specifically naming the ‘target’ … “a man who”. Exaggerate the impact of the target’s positions using obviously emotional, all-encompassing language … “who wants to take first amendment freedom from citizens’ groups while he gives unrestricted power to labor unions”. (This due to McCain’s calling for campaign finance reforms.) Attack an unnamed, yet readily recognizable, associate of the target by: a) partially quoting the associate; b) quoting the associate out of context, un-sourced and un-dated; c) misquoting the associate by specifically omitting qualifying language; d) calling the associate an emotionally-charged epithet, preceded with an intent-ascribing adjective … “vicious bigot”. Name the implied target (John McCain), not as “the target”, but as someone who “failed to repudiate” the words of the associate, obfuscating the proper name with the pronouns so that the undiscriminating reader/listener may mistakenly associate “John McCain” as the “vicious bigot”. Invoke all personal sincerity and divine blessing.
I encourage you to invest a few hours reading Rudman’s book for, IMO, a fascinating insight into the upper echelon of legislature power in the United States. And I encourage you to spend some time on the Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition’s website: www.cc.org .
And by the way, not that it matters, but if it’s legally and logically appropriate to refer to “unborn babies”, is it not equally logical to refer to “unborn senior citizens”, “unborn unwed mothers”, “unborn starving artists”, “unborn insurance salesmen”, “unborn crack cocaine addicts”, “unborn singers who couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket” … etc.?