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.

           In 2008, Barack Obama and John McCain both had presidential campaigns that quickly escalated to an ugly, personal fight, not too unlike President Obama and Governor Romney's campaigns todayIn this attack ad that paints McCain as an ignorant rich man, President Obama does two things. First, he makes Senator McCain seem out of touch with the American public. Second, he makes him seem like he doesn't care. He is now an elitist character, who practices "country club economics" and is very hard to relate to according to middle class Americans. This is what motive disparagement is all about. In a short 31 seconds, President Obama made Senator McCain seem like the worst possible leader for America, without talking once about his political policies. The sad thing is, this method of destroying an opponent's credibility without acknowledging the truth actually works. The result of the 2008 election illustrates that, and if we take a closer look at polls from 2008, we can see just how effective President Obama's use of motive disparagement was.
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In 2008, according to, President Obama had favorability polls with a 46 point spread (69% favorable to 22% unfavorable). Senator McCain, however, ended with a 10.8 point spread (52.3% favorable to 41.5% unfavorable). These numbers mean that President Obama did an excellent job of making Senator McCain seem unlikable, and Senator McCain had a hard time combatting that. About 40% of people polled thought that Senator McCain was an unfavorable candidate for presidency, which is a large number when compared to President Obama's 23%. 
           President Obama's campaigning methods were more effective in 2008 than Senator John McCain's were, illustrated by the polls above. President Obama preached about hope and change, something the American people desperately wanted to believe in, and made his opponent seem like an enemy of the middle class. John McCain tried to make Obama seem unfit to lead by presenting him as a celebrity in various political ads, while trying to focus on making his policies clear to the electorate. Through the extent of the campaign, McCain was not successful in establishing a well-known credible image of himself, which allowed President Obama to paint him in a negative light, working to his advantage in the end.
There are many reasons why McCain's campaign failed, but one was because he was shown to America as incompatible with the middle class, and he failed to redefine that image. In modern elections, it is not enough to be an excellent politician. You have to have an excellent grasp on foreign and domestic affairs, but that is the bare minimum. In order to be elected, you must be the most likable candidate out there (unless you are John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, or George W. Bush). You have to appeal to all kinds of people in order to get elected. If your character is called into question, it is almost impossible to be likable, and therefore elected, without combatting the negative image of yourself effectively. Motive disparagement promotes lying, manipulation, and dishonesty; politics just wouldn't be the same without it.

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