Here in the midst of another Presidential election season – or more precisely, on the upslope of another phase in the seemingly permanent wave-cycle of electoral politics – we are hearing a lot about the techniques of effective, or ineffective, political communication. The fate of candidates, parties, nations, seems to hinge on who best manages the alchemy of words and images; finds the right blend of theme, gesture, and utterance; marries the power of language with the aspirations of an audience; and, in today’s fashionable parlance, “frames” the issues in the most advantageous way.
The day after the 2006 midterm elections, the basic conservative interpretive frame emerged. A veritable chorus of commentators on the right rose up to declare that the results represented not a defeat for conservatism but rather for a Republican party that had abandoned its conservative principles. The election was less an ideological victory for Democrats, progressives, or liberals, we were told, than it was a sharp correction administered to the incompetents and big spenders who had disappointed their conservative constituents.
In the wake of 9/11, ultraconservatives have used the concept of a War on Terrorism (WOT) – a “war” with no foreseeable end and hidden enemies lurking everywhere – to tighten control over the American public, undermine civil liberties, advance their own foreign policy agenda, distract attention from their own controversial domestic agenda, and intimidate the opposition.
We can expect terrorism to remain a dominant media story throughout 2004, and terrorism-related media-worthy events to be used in service of the political goals of the far right.
In the face of the media-dramatized WOT, it has been hard for dissenting voices to be heard. Opposition to conservative policies and actions, and to Republican candidates, is met by accusations that the opponents are unpatriotic or seek to put Americans at risk.