Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Polarized Nebraskan

Polarization Present in the 

Daily Nebraskan

Based on the article 

"Voting is a privilege for contributing members of society"

     Throughout this class, we have been exposed to multiple works from experts on polarization in the United States and in specific communities. One piece of writing I stumbled across is not by an expert, but certainly someone with a strong opinion. Zach Nold in the Daily Nebraskan gives a unique and provoking idea set, which caused pandemonium in the online and traditional readers. 


The Article

     In this article, Nold proclaims that only members of society who contribute more than they receive may vote in elections. Therefore, people who get 50% or more government financial assistance would not be able to vote based on a new law he would like created. There would, of course, be exceptions for people who are disabled, have already worked for 40+ years, and are receiving VA benefits. Now, logically, this opinion is very skewed to the republican side. However, I would like to focus on the polarizing effect it had after citizens read the article rather than the ideas in it. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sneaky Slogans

It’s truly amazing the effect that a simple slogan can have on a political campaign. Since William Henry Harrison began the trend in 1840 with “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” the slogan has been a vital tool in capturing the minds of Americans. In the current election we can track the popularity of slogans using social media to see how often they are mentioned. Since everyone and their mother are involved in some sort of social media it’s fairly easy to see which slogans the American people are getting attached to, but why? What makes a slogan effective?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Memes Erme Gward

A meme as defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary is “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” These pictures, videos, slogans, and more have swept the internet and made us all gawk and say “Erme Gward Intrenert.”

Pressure on the Videographer

Videographers and video editors in today’s society have a lot of pressure put on them, and not just professionals, but amateur videographers as well.  Professional videographers and editors are pressured by their companies to put out a good product that people will enjoy.  Amateur videographers who post on sites like YouTube want to have videos that will receive a high number of views because often times they can be paid for ads on their videos based on the number of times the video is viewed.

A Heated Debate Indeed!

As the election grows ever closer and closer, I am sure all of you are asking yourself, which of the two candidates should I vote for? Which one's ideals align most to mine?

Wason’s Task and Confirmation Bias
Chris Duerschner
Confirmation bias shows up pretty much wherever you find opinions.  Some would even say that opinions are only possible because of confirmation bias, or at least a precursor to it.  The basic gist of the concept is that people tend to filter out those things that conflict with their convictions and only perceive those that reinforce them.  The focus of this post is not, however, to explore the extent to which confirmation bias occurs or to detail its underlying mechanism, but to explain the experimental evidence that shows it does occur.  Because confirmation bias is such a simple event; it makes sense that the most well known study that demonstrates it is also simple. 

"The Party of No"?: Considering the Contemporary Manifestations of Raum and Measel's "Monolithic Opposition"

Over the course of the semester, we've learned of countless specific polarizing rhetorical techniques.  In order to contextualize their often technical definitions in the academic pieces we read, it seems necessary to consider their manifestations in the contemporary political climate.  Monolithic opposition, as described in Raum and Measell’s study, is the way in which an entity perceives or attempts to portray an oppositional force itself, rather particular elements of its ideas as unequivocally and consistently unreasonable.  As a rhetorical strategy of subversion, it derives its effectiveness from other polarizing tactics that work to establish the perception of a clearly defined battle in a political debate.  In presenting the interactions of his or her political party with another as militaristic, a politician tends to use motive disparagement (presenting the opposition’s motivations as despicable), and artificial dichotomy (portraying debate as having only two distinct positions).  These various tactics work in concert to present the same war-like picture and begin to create a frame of reality wherein the idea of a monolithic opposition is a natural extension of logic.    

Kerrey vs. Fischer: The Lesser of Two Evils?

Kerrey vs. Fischer: The Lesser of Two Evils?         
By: Andrew Nelson

           The other day I was discussing the upcoming election with a friend of mine. She raised a very interesting point in regards to the Senate race between Bob Kerrey and Deb Fischer. When I asked whom she was leaning towards she said Bob Kerrey, because her dad told her, “Deb Fischer is a land-grabbing crook.” Upon her bringing this up, I realized that I really don’t know much about either candidate myself other than that that Deb Fischer steals from the elderly and that Bob Kerrey is a carpet bagger.  Are politics in America becoming a choice between the lesser of two evils? In the following few paragraphs, I’ll address why voters in this year’s senate race oppose a candidate rather than favor a candidate and attempt to the question above.
            The campaign tactics used in the afore mentioned senate race are particularly interesting, because each candidate employs a very different style.  Bob Kerrey is practically a political celebrity in the state of Nebraska because of his extensive political experience within our state. Because Kerrey’s name is already established in the minds of voters, this election is far more about Kerrey than about Fischer. Deb Fischer has little previous political experience and before the senate race heated up, was not well known by many Nebraskans. Kerrey’s campaign supporters have used this to what they thought would be their advantage. Essentially, they saw that they were dealing with a clean canvas in the minds of voters. They could potentially frame Fischer in the minds of voters as anything they wanted. This thinking prompted the famous ad that accused Deb Fischer of attempting to steal land.

Following the release of this commercial, Deb Fischer’s campaign fired back with the following video, bringing attention to the fact that Kerrey focuses more on attacks rather than ideas.

Ironically, Fischer’s campaign doesn’t propose many ideas in this ad either, but rather contributes to the hate culture that exists in American politics.  Thankfully, television ads aren’t the only method by which to examine a race.
            The Omaha World Herald’s website Omaha.com ran a story in early August concerning the campaign styles of the two candidates. In this article the writer interviewed many residents of Burwell, Nebraska shortly after Fischer walked in a parade through the small town. Of the voters interviewed, “all preferred to talk about why they either supported or opposed Kerrey, rather than talk about Fischer,” (Tysver). And when those that supported Fischer were asked what parts of her plan they appreciated, many admitted to not even knowing what Fischer’s plans were (Tysver). Clearly, at least early in the race, Kerrey’s widespread political reputation appeared to be his demise as the polls showed him as a distant second place. Now, as we grow much closer to Election Day, Fischer’s name is much better known. And because of the aggressive Kerrey ads, people either know Fischer as the candidate who steals land, or as the candidate who is not great, but better than Kerrey. Furthermore, this effective framing by the Kerrey campaign has yielded them a huge jump in the polls, and what appeared to be a landslide election has turned into an extremely close race.
            Now, granted Kerrey’s campaign tactics are effective, are they really something that should be admired? I’ll let you be the judge of that. Because of campaigns like this one, it seems like politics are becoming more and more like a choice between the lesser of two evils rather than a choice for who we think will be a better leader for our government.
            This “lesser of two evils” thinking can be attributed to the polarizing techniques used not only in this election, but in elections across the board. The two primarily used tactics in this case are framing and the creation of a common foe.
            Framing is a strategy employed in this race by both campaigns. Kerrey’s campaign attempted to frame Fischer as a land grabber, and Fischer’s campaign tried to frame Kerrey as a carpet bagger. What is sometimes over looked though is that when framing is used so early in an election as it was, it simply creates more framing. In an online article on cognitivepolicyworks.com, George Lakoff puts it, “The only response [to framing] is to reframe,” (Lakoff). When considered in context this theory makes a lot of sense. Because if a candidate is framed, but fails to reframe, they are essentially fighting for their reputation the entire race and therefore fighting an uphill battle. This framing and reframing inevitably leads to further polarization in our political system.
            The second tactic we see prominently displayed in this race is the creation of a common foe (my main intent for this blog post was not to examine the common foe again, but I kind of had to when talking about Kerrey vs. Fischer).  Both sides of the campaign tried to paint their opponent as someone that couldn’t be trusted. They employed the age old tactic of creating a common foe intending not just to win over undecided voters, but to rally their own supporters and party members. After all voter turnout is extremely important in campaigns.  
            These two tactics when used in this campaign are inevitable leading to more polarization in American politics. These attacks also contribute to the feeling that undecided voters always have to pick between a lesser of two evils, which honestly is kind of depressing.
            Is there a way to lessen this feeling? That question is extremely difficult to answer. I’d like to say yes, but for the voters whose only source of campaign information is advertisements, the answer is inevitably no. Those voters need to research on their own, seek multiple viewpoints, and try to decipher the ideas that are hidden behind aggressive attacks. So if you haven’t voted in this election yet, I strongly employ you, ignore the TV ads, do some research, and hopefully you’ll find a candidate you actually support.

Who Cares?: An Analysis of Nonvoting

To start, a brief consideration of Freakonomics.  As Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt point out, there is pretty much no economic incentive for someone to actually vote.  A single vote is worth very little in any election, but in a general election, such as that for president, where upwards of 130 million votes are cast.  In fact, as they point out that, in the last century there has been only a single election where the outcome has been decided by a single vote.  As such, considering the increasing size of the nation, is it any curiosity that voter turnout (as a percentage) has dropped considerably from its inception?  As disenfranchised voter Luke Banda states, "A simple understanding of statistics shows that my vote does not matter."

The donut beats the vote every time
Yet, to be completely accurate, voter turnout has not dropped but instead risen over the past decade.  Rather, if the general election is any indication, the turnout has only increased from 1996 to 2008.  More people are voting in terms of number and in terms of percent.  And the reason?  It may well be the very factor that many have demonized as the degradation of modern politics: the increasing polarization of the political spectrum.

Polarization in Prediction


The ability to predict the outcome of future events is a well storied pop culture trope. And it's understandable why precognition is such a popular storytelling element, surfacing in history from MacBeth to That's So Raven. The world is an unpredictable, frightening place and knowing what will happen next gives order to it. This base level  human desire to see the future and use this knowledge to your own advantage is endlessly appealing and is a major factor in the rise of statistician and predictive political polling in the US. The use of polls to gauge political leanings is certainly not a revelation but the increased focus on formulas and demographic data has changed the way races are predicted. The sweet science of predicting who the next president will be has become much more of a personalized numbers game. In theory this would lend itself to more accurate predictions among the various prediction services. In actuality polling and prediction has become as mired in political polarization as the races themselves.  

A Number's Game

"Numbers never lie." This phrase, repeated as an endless mantra by my middle school Pre-Algebra teacher, should be fact. Numbers can never lie. But numbers can be skewed, manipulated and distorted for political motives. Leading the charge for stat based prediction is the New York Time's Nate Silver. Silver is not a pollster in the typical sense, he doesn't call potential voters or even interact with voters at all. All of Silver's predictions are a result of a complex formula that crunches millions of numbers to find the most likely outcome of an event. This method of prediction first gained attention after Silver used it to correctly predict the winner in all 35 of the 2008 Senatorial races.

This approach is far from perfect. Although Silver uses the results of dozens of polling sites and the stats of past races at the end of the day, he controls the formula. Silver can choose to lend more weight to a particular poll or factor in greater state polls if he chooses to do so. The best way to illustrate this point is by underlining the disagreement between Nate Silver and Scott Rasmussen. 

Pundits and Polarization

Scott Rasmussen, cofounder of ESPN and President of Rasmussen Reports, is one of the most highly regarded men in the political prediction industry. So when Nate Silver criticized his results as having an inaccurate and  conservative bias, people took note. Silver accused Rasmussen of using shoddy data and ineffective methods to garner results. Mr. Rasmussen predicts races in a much more traditional sense, he utilizes an army of employees who make constant polling calls, but his methods are still incredibly number reliant. America is becoming more diverse than ever and polls must adapt to account for this. After years of gross inactivity the youth voting demographic is slowly becoming more politically involved and the Hispanic and non-english speaking voting demos are also gaining in numbers. To show a true picture of America, a pollster must account for these changes and factor their numbers slightly to reflect this. 

Two Men, Two Far Different Results

One example of how two different men can produce such different results can be seen in the November 4th prediction results for Rasmussen and Silver. Rasmussen predicts a perfectly tied race while Silver predicts an 85% chance of an Obama victory. These are vastly differing numbers, not even in the same ballpark yet both can be backed by detailed and exact methods. And the battle between the two men is far from over, partisan lines have been drawn in the sand. NBC pundit Joe Scarborough recently called out Nate Silver saying that “[a]nybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue…they're jokes.” Both men have come under fire from the other side and their own personal allegiances have only made it more intense. Nate Silver's blog, FiveThirtyEight is hosted by the New York Times, a paper often accused of liberal leanings and Scott Rasmussen is a consistent contributor to Fox News. This begs the question, do people seek out polls with a history of accuracy or polls that will only confirm their own preconceived biases? The disputes in accuracy between stat based polls and traditional  polls will only increase as time goes on and political punditry becomes even more of a big business. The age of easy access to voters and rise in number crunching prediction should have eased the variances between polls but instead has done the opposites. Numbers and polls, previously trusted to be infallible, have been corrupted with the stain of political bias. November 6th may mark the end of a strenuous campaign cycle but it'll only mark the beginning of another stress cycle for those who stake their credibility and livelihood on the accuracy of prediction numbers. 


Compulsory Voting: A Solution to Polarization?

           Tuesday night, when the election is called, whoever is elected by the next President of the United States, one thing is for sure: it won't be by majority. With a 63% voter turnout, in the 2008 election, only 33% of eligible voters voted for Barack Obama. Futhermore, according to the Pew Research Center anyone who cast a ballot is disproportionately likely to be white, over 45, and have a college education. The result? Americans voting are not representative of the demographics, and potentially opinions of the rest of America. The solution? Compulsory voting.

A Whirlwind Election: The Effects of Hurricane Sandy

President Obama onlooking the devastation of Hurricane Sandy
The warm winds of the red Republican’s campaign garners strength as it comes to a collision with the cool blue tones of the Democratic campaign. Obama seems to epitomize the social issues of America, whereas Romney seems to focus on the fiscal and economic issues. They circle each other in a calculated, mechanical, and biting Viennese Waltz. Growing closer and closer, until the impact is inevitable. A hailstorm of biting rhetoric, memes mocking both candidates swiftly breeze through the net, chaotic showers of them discrediting the other, and overall calamity. Below this turbulent political storm is a nation storm torn and weathered. Is it irony that the political atmosphere and meteorological one reflect each other so perfectly? With the onset of Hurricane Sandy, many meteorologists expected the storm to escalate and manage to hit the Atlantic coast of the United States. With a speculated 90% chance of this happening, President Obama signed off on emergency declarations of various Northeastern states including Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Some political scientists speculate that Hurricane Sandy will primarily affect the Romney campaign; whereas, others speculate that it will  affect the Obama campaign. Lastly, a few political scientists believe it will effect neither.

Does anyone care about the FACTS anymore?

By: Maci Lienemann

Vampire, Carpet Bagger, Osama, Welfare Rancher, etc.  What do these words have in common? They are all terms being used to describe various political candidates in the 2012 elections. As we are nearing the final stretch, candidates are bombarding the airwaves with the most campaign ads, thus far.  Most of the ads are, as usual, negative attacks on opponents.  However, what is not so usual about these ads is the main message. A majority of this election's ads have been focused on the candidates themselves and their character, rather than the candidates policies or plans.  This political tactic of attacking a person, instead of a person's ideas is called motive disparagement.  Motive disparagement can be seen today in ads ranging from presidential candidates to ads from US Congress candidates across the states.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Battleground We Call Facebook

                It is no secret that where there are thousands of young people in one location such as a college campus, there will be a few…less than wise things said.  A popular location to share these humorous and sometimes distasteful comments is a page on Facebook called “Overheard at UNL”.  Most of the posts on this page are from students at UNL and are meant to playfully poke fun at these amusing comments.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Do Liars Always Win?

Every action a person takes has motivation behind it. The motivation someone has for going to school may be to take that first step towards getting a job that requires a degree, it may be to become a more well-rounded person, or it may simply be because he or she doesn't quite know what to do with life yet. In the rhetorical and political arenas, the motivation of one’s opponent, especially if it is unknown, is like a weapon ready to explode. If an opponent is not well defined in every single aspect of a campaign, meaning that all of their policies and prevalent details in their personal lives are not clear to the public, there is room for the opposing group to disparage their character. The opponent is painted as a one sided person who's motives are questionable, and is shown as being out of touch with reality. He or she no longer has interest in the well-being of anyone, but will do anything to further personal success. Motive disparagement attacks an individual's character without discussing concrete policies or plans the opponent may have. What is being said doesn't need to have any truth to it. If there is even a shadow of a doubt, anything that is remotely fathomable can be inserted into the situation to make the opponent seem foolish. This is how  most negative campaign ads are formulated. Dirty politics have a certain appeal to the American public. Scandals sell, and a potential leader of the free world should be scandal-free. Presidential elections use motive disparagement frequently. The 2008 election had an interesting dynamic between Barack Obama and John McCain that can be seen as we examine their campaign styles and the results of the election.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Say What?

What do Big Bird, the number 47, Batman, and marijuana have in common? They are all important topics in the 2012 election! Or so Internet memes would have us believe. Memes do a great job of simplifying "arguments," or, more accurately, any dumb thing a politician said, wore,  or smiled at. In doing so, memes successfully create fallacious arguments either for or against political candidates. This phenomenon is linked to what Arizona State professor Dr. Aaron Hess calls "vernacular spectacle." Hess believes that the general public is attracted to spectacular arguments (which are usually fallacious) and largely ignore sound arguments that take time to process and understand. This tendency is amplified on the internet. Hess's study in 2008 dealt with viral YouTube videos, but in our interview with Dr. Hess on October 23rd, he stated that the tenor of the 2012 election has lead more to memes than to videos (although videos are still very influential). An example of 2012 viral YouTube videos utilizes the same oversimplification techniques that memes do; the makers of this video took one phrase out of context and used it to build an entire fallacious argument against Obama.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Slogans and Polarization

Slogans: Polarization Cut Short?

Can Skimming a Slogan Change Public Opinion?
Dwight Eisenhower used the slogan "I Like Ike"
in 1952 and it has become one of the
most recognizable slogans to date. 
       Throughout history there has always been a need for political figures and businesses, alike, to get a message across in a few simple words: a slogan. In politics there has been an evident shift in the format and wordings of slogans in the political realm. Is this because of a demand to reach the public faster and more often with less depth or is it to draw them in to learn about the real issues and values of a candidate?

     Along with political figures using slogans for their own promotion, there is also the idea of businesses or networks, such as YouTube, using slogans to intrigue people to post their own ideas and debates that do effect the politicians as well. Visual debates can be lumped in with the issues of depth-lacking arguments as well. Arguments or opinions based purely on images can be as dangerous as ones made by slogans because of their emptiness and polarized nature. 

Episode 4: Interview with Dr. Aaron Hess

We recently interviewed Dr. Aaron Hess, assistant professor of Communication at Arizona State University, Downtown Phoenix. He reflected on his recently published article, "Democracy through the Lens of the Camcorder: Argumentation and Vernacular Spectacle on YouTube in the 2008 Election," published in Argumentation & Advocacy.

In this episode:

*How fallacies polarize
*Why 2012 is less divisive and derisive than 2008
*How memes have taken over
*What's up with YouTube comments
*How are algorithms fueling polarization

Below the jump...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Can I Pay For My Free Speech in Cash?

             As of today, there is only a week and a half before I regain control of my television. Granted, not total control, (there are hours of Pawn Star marathons and Cupcake Wars that I can sadly do nothing about) but come November 6th, a small amount of sanity will finally return to screens which have been dominated for months by political advertising. Between American Crossroads and Priorities USA, I’m even starting to miss the Sham-Wow, and am completely ready to see an end to this year’s election cycle.
            It goes without saying that the 2012 national and state races have been a slog, and citizens everywhere are looking forward to the excitement of their results and the relief of their conclusion. Of course, one of the largest factors in the volume of campaigning surrounding this fall's contest is the tremendous amount of money involved. In my last post, I explored the new entities called Super PACs and the rhetoric they produce with their millions of pooled political dollars. While not the sole cause, Super PACs (and their cousins, 527 groups) have thrown fuel onto the fire of an already heated cycle, and have ballooned election spending which has been on the upscale for several decades. My research left me wondering if there was any possible better way to elect our public officials. This time around I decided to look into public financing of campaigns, a long advocated concept that I believe could make elections fairer and help to civilize discourse.

Where's the Beef?

     In the spring of 1984, the Democratic primaries were heating up. Senator Gary Hart had gained the lead in the polls by criticizing his opponent, vice president Walter Mondale, as old fashioned. The younger and less experienced Hart was seen as more hip and ready to make changes to the current political climate. He used his image as a new style politician, and subversive rhetoric to polarize people against the current vice president. 

     During that same time, Wendy's fast food chain was launching a new campaign. This new ad campaign simply asked "Where's the beef". The advertisements and commercials were widely accepted and found their height in popularity during the height of the 1984 primaries. 

    Mondale realized he needed something to change the tide. He found what he needed during a debate when Hart was speaking for new style politics in accordance with his campaign against Mondale's old fashion ways. Mondale countered by saying "when I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of the ad, 'Where's the Beef'". 

A slogan was formed that became the basis for Mondale's campaign. It turned the tide too as Mondale took the lead and eventually the bid in the presidential primary. The slogan worked wonderfully as it polarized people both against Hart and against his ideas. The slogan questioned Hart's resume and experience; it asked if this man, who came out of Colorado without ever being heard of before, has the credentials needed to be president. It also asked Hart to focus on his policies and what he would do, rather than the flaws of the current political climate. It was an ideal polarizing slogan as well because it called for Hart to give up his own polarizing campaign, a call for moderation, while polarizing people against Hart at the same time. It said nothing for Mondale's claim, all it did was take away from Hart's.

    This year Wendy's returned to their old ad campaign with this commercial. 

Perhaps this could inspire voters today to wonder where the beef is in the current election. To wonder if there's more to a candidate than saying why his opponent doesn't deserve the election. Candidates could have advertisements promoting their own 'beef', rather than trying to destroy the credentials of their opponent. I see this slogan, used to degrade another candidate initially in 1984, as a call for moderation in the current political environment. I believe that if more candidates focused on themselves and their policies, rather than trying to say why not to vote for the opponent, that it could lead to a much more moderate nation.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Interview with Dr. James Klumpp

Our third interview is with James Klumpp, Professor of Communication at the University of Maryland. Dr. Klumpp is an internationally renown scholar of argumentation, social movements, and polarization. In this episode:

*Occupy and Egypt as contemporary examples of polar-rejective identification
*Why movements need continual energy--and how they re-energize through communication
*Why the medium matters
*How the way our leaders learned rhetoric in the 1960s affects contemporary rhetoric
*On the variant attractions of unification and polarization

Below the jump...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I've been looking for a quick way to uncover biases in the news I take in.  I found an interesting study that attempts to quantify media bias by source.  Notably, it was created by two conservative professors (who have been criticized for their method of scoring), but it looks like an interesting piece to consider and could perhaps be used as a point of reference.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Don't Talk; Communicate.

In the 2004 motion picture Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Jim Carrey's insightful character, Joel, makes a rather profound statement: "Constantly talking isn't necessarily communicating." Joel's assertion should be broadcast across this wonderful country for all to hear, and then blasted directly into the earbuds of the internet prowlers known as blog commenters. This may be prejudiced, and altogether rude, but I always picture these commenters, especially those who hone in on political blogs, as tired, middle-aged men and women sitting in their bathrobes in their dark basements at one in the morning, eyes bloodshot and arms tired from staring at the computer, shaking their fists, and forcefully pounding out hateful comments to those brave bloggers who dare share an opinion contrary to that of said bathrobe-wearing Joe Schmo.

Anonymity on the Internet

Anonymity. Some consider it one of the greatest parts of the Internet. You can say something and not worry about your boss, parents, or kids find out it was you; you can become anyone you want or don’t want to be; and you can practice one of the most frequently cited amendment to the United States Constitution  the first, which establishes free speech. Anonymous sites are often known for their raw, unfiltered material as a result of their anonymity, and the founder of the controversial uncensored online imageboard, 4chan, Christopher “moot” Poole talks about anonymity on his site at a TED talk at the TED2010 convention in February 2010 held in Long Beach, California.

Examining the "Rally to Restore Sanity"

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has always toed the line between wise-cracking faux news and biting social criticism. In interviews, Stewart has always maintained that his place is in the peanut gallery, but in October of 2010, he took an unprecedented step out of the audience and into the political playing field. Jon Stewart (in conjunction with Stephen Colbert) held the Rally to Restore Sanity in the National Mall of Washington D.C. The event's motto? "Take it down a notch, America."
The Rally's website explained, "We’re looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it’s appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler." The idea of the Rally was to attract no specific demographic or political party, instead to   bring notice the Americans who are alarmed by the dramatically polarizing tactics of both sides. Was this event an embodiment of an American moderation movement?

Unsurprisingly, the answer depends on who you ask. Stewart identified the problem behavior on both sides, calling out Tea Partiers who compared President Obama to Hitler, as well as liberals who claim that President George W. Bush should be deemed a war criminal. To put this in James Klumpp's terms, Stewart's event intended to achieve moderation through transcendence, (as opposed to compromise) by encouraging Americans of all parts of the political spectrum to rise about hate rhetoric and embrace their commonalities. Stewart's intention, however, was distorted by the various filters of the media dialogue.

Fellow pundit Bill Maher criticized Stewart's lack of a partisan stance, saying "It was all nonpartisan and urged cooperation with the moderates on the other side forgetting that Obama tried that and found out...there are no moderates on the other side." Many viewed the rally, which was a likely response to Glenn Beck's "Restore Honor Rally" earlier in the year, in the same location, as a liberal foil Beck's conservative moment. Stewart acknowledges his own left leanings, and his audience base for the Daily Show is primarily liberal, thus there was also a disproportionate turnout of Democratic and liberal citizens. Still another group saw the Rally as little more than a ratings ploy, that had nothing to do changing American politics or rhetoric.

When the day of the Rally came, an estimated 215,000 people turned out to advocate for a change in tone for the political conversation. The event itself consisted of musical artists, appearances by Daily Show correspondents. As well as speeches by Stephen Colbert and Stewart himself. The theme of Stewart's speech, is that that polarization in rhetoric and in government, does not really reflect the divisions with the populace. "If the picture of us were true, of course, our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable. Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own?" This goal appeals do the definitions of extremist rhetoric offered by Guttman and Klumpp, because it strives for the absence of divisiveness and the demonization of individuals. 

The validity of Stewart's intent, or the actual success of the resulting Rally is still contested, but seems the Stewart could be an advocate of moderation in our midst. Do you see this effort as a move to moderation (successful or failed), or a clearly partisan movement? Or even a financial ploy?

Donald Trump: A Lesson in Campaign Extremism

Donald Trump recently said, “I feel a lot of people listen to what I have to say.”  This quote perfectly encapsulates the power that Trump believes he possesses, a duty to tell the American people the unaltered truth, no matter how extreme. Trump started his career as the son of a New York mogul but over the past several years has evolved into far more than that.  A man’s journey from business magnate to political personality is not new to American politics, but Trump’s self-positioning as an answer to Obama makes him a perfect reflection of our current political state.

            To fully understand Trump’s current political relevance, one must examine his history.  Donald Trump was not always the conservative firebrand he is today.  In fact, he was originally a supporter of liberal politics.  According to the Business Week article “Trump’s Run for President Requires Memory Loss,” author Kevin Hasset reveals Trumps contributions to Democratic candidates such as Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Harry Reid and Hilary Clinton.  He wasn’t even a registered Republican until 2009, choosing to support withdrawal from Iraq and instating US universal health care.  So what changed? What made a former independent with liberal leanings decry Obama as “the worst President in history” and join the extreme political right?  The answer is a current political environment that more than ever rewards the loud and extreme. 

            Politics has always favored the bold.  The young, brash Kennedy clearly overshadowed the droll Nixon and George W.’s good ol’ boy routine was much preferable to Gore’s pale, bland demeanor. But politics has also always had a filter to self regulate extremists, favoring the moderate voice.  Those deemed too extreme by the American public (an admittedly unreliable judge of character), they were relegated to the sidelines, part of an underground fringe movement.  Fanatical proponents of views such as moon landing doubters or 9/11 conspiracy theorists were sequestered away from the public circle. The onset of the 24-hour news cycle and increase in opinion journalism has changed this balance. No longer silenced, those with radical and even blatantly false viewpoints found a soapbox to reach America.  No where is this more evident than in the “birther movement.”  The belief that President Obama is not a natural born citizen and therefore unfit for office began as a radical movement but soon found acceptance within the mainstream Republican party. Despite the release of his birth certificate in 2008 and legal evidence to the contrary, several Republican party officials demanded more evidence and they soon found a leader in Donald Trump.