Sunday, November 4, 2012

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.

Motive Disparagement

Let's take a look at the basic definition and methods behind motive disparagement. Motive disparagement can be used if an opponent’s motives and character remain ill-defined because then they can be perceived whichever way the attacker portrays them. The attacker can depict their opponent as monolithic in nature, being out of touch with “reality” and having despicable motives. Due to the motive disparagement opponents are often perceived as having no interest in the well-being of the people and more interested in their own personal agenda. Also, when using motive disparagement the “opponents” could be anyone or any group of people. With the tactic of motive disparagement, it is most important to note, the attacks do not have to be true and/or have any facts to back them up. This is why motive disparagement can be seen as equivalent to a conspiracy theory (Raum & Measell, 1974). In simplest terms, motive disparagement illustrates one’s opponent as a bad person with bad motives, even without having an ounce of evidence.

Historical Reference

Former Alabama Governor
George Wallace
Perhaps, the most notable political candidate to use motive disparagement was former Alabama Governor George Wallace. In the article “Wallace and His Ways: A study of the Rhetorical Genre of Polarization” by Richard Raum and James Measell (1974), published in the Central States Speech Journal, it is explained how Wallace was able to use motive disparagement to his advantage. Raum and Measell (1974) elaborate on Wallace’s campaign by further explaining, “In 1968, those who ‘perpetuate lawlessness’ included five separate elements – congressmen, the Supreme Court, the Justice Department, the major political parties, and the news media – but Wallace represented them as a monolithic force in order to intensify his adherents’ distrust and disgust of those who are out of step with the ‘reality’ Wallace perceived (p 32).” By using motive disparagement, Wallace was able to lump five separate entities together and portray them all as greedy, selfish and only interested in serving themselves. The reason Wallace was able to do this is because the “opponents” did not well define their motives and/or character beforehand.

Current Motive Disparagement
Although former Governor Wallace may be the most notable political candidate to use this tactic, it is by no means a "thing of the past." I believe this following video sums it up best in today's political climate.

Former Libertarian Vice Presidential candidate, Wayne Allyn Root, is a frequent commentator for the Personal Liberty Digest YouTube channel. His video playlist, Root for America, "attacks topics overlooked (or ignored) by the mainstream media and turns them around to expose the real issues affecting affecting the future of America" (Personal Liberty Digest). In this video, entitled "The Scandal at Columbia that ends the Obama Presidency," (Click to see full video) Mr. Root tries to convince the viewers that President Obama is hiding something in his college records. Although this claim is completely absurd and very few people believe him, he does present some interesting points. He explains “He [Senator Harry Reid] made it okay for anyone to play a guessing game. If Harry Reid can guess

about Mitt Romney's tax records without a shred of evidence . . ." (Root). Mr. Root is essentially describing motive disparagement. 
1) "Guessing game" - Because Mitt Romney was not clear about his tax records and neither was President Obama with his college records, this left room to disparage their character in these respective areas. 
2) "Without a shred of evidence" - Motive disparagement does not require any facts and/or evidence and more times than not there is none.

If no one has to use facts anymore, who are you going to believe?

Works Cited
Personal Liberty Digest. "ROOT For America - YouTube." YouTube. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. <>.

Raum, Richard, and James Measell. "Wallace and His Ways: A Study of  the Rhetorical Genre of   Polarization." Central States Speech Journal 25 (1974): 32. Print.

Root, Wayne Allyn . "The Scandal At Columbia That Ends The Obama Presidency: ROOT For America! - 
YouTube." YouTube. Personal Liberty Digest, n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. <>.

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