Character assassination through demonization is an art form practiced by most politicians, columnists, and TV news network talking heads. Their objective is to bring an opponent down in the esteem of the public. It seems natural to them – they do it so easily and often. Yet, I submit it could be more effective. If you know the principal tools, you could be more effective as a demonizer.
The principal tool in demonization is the slur (to talk about disparagingly or insultingly), also called the “gotcha”. It consists of a simple accusation, presented as evidence without corroboration. Other demonizing tools are lies or exaggerations.
Slurs are effective because accusation is everything, and the general public consists mostly of gullible people.
It should contain some smidgen of truth. Most slurs consist of one sentence. Take, as an example, a successful slur against Newt Gingrich: He called the Ryan plan “right-wing social engineering.” It’s true Newt said that, but it’s a phrase taken out of context. The phrase, taken by itself, asserts that Gingrich was criticizing Paul Ryan and his healthcare reform plan. Actually, he wasn’t, and has incorporated Ryan’s principles into his own plan. He was merely saying that a major revision to America’s health care would be best implemented by presenting it as an option, so it wouldn’t be forced onto the public, but would be accepted on its own merits.
If the target of the slur manages to find time to explain it away, simply ignore his/her explanation and restate the slur, endlessly.
Phrases taken out of context are one of the principal forms of gotchas, but another form equally effective, is the lie. Assert the target did something he/she did not do in a particular situation. An example, again with Newt Gingrich, is: He took money from Freddy Mac for peddling his influence.” This is seen as a despicable act, because Freddy Mac is despised as a major contributor to the housing bubble. Also, it is seen as hypocritical, since Newt is known to have criticized Freddy Mac and Fanny Mae’s culpability in causing the economic crisis we now have.
Again, ignore the explanation, that Freddy Mac was one of several customers of Newt’s management consulting firm over a period of eight years, that he never used his influence in any way, and that he was a private citizen at the time. According to Gingrich, his firm assisted in strategic planning.
Always look for ways to employ an exaggeration. If the target did something, magnify the effects. Admittedly, this is a form of lie, but it’s more subtle. Michelle Bachmann employed it against Newt Gingrich in a recent debate. Newt Gingrich had just explained, in capsule form, his approach toward the estimated 11 million illegals in this country. He said that under his plan, illegals who had been in the country a long time would have a path to legality. Michelle Bachman then spoke and said she thought Newt’s plan to allow 11 million illegals to stay amounted to amnesty. Had she read his plan, she would have known he would only have allowed long term, successful illegal aliens to stay.
Exaggerations can be used to assert the other guy is a flip-flopper, a loose cannon, or behaves erratically. If the guy changed his mind once, he must be a serial flip-flopper. If he made one silly decision, it’s a chronic problem with him. And so on.
Transference is a word I recently heard. If there are three parties, you, some other, and your opponent, transfer the blame from the other to your opponent. Example, in climate change, there is you (blameless), nature, and the Republicans. Transfer the blame from nature to the enemy. Their policies are leading to climate change.
Reversal is closely related. I’m doing something, and I say my opponent is doing it instead. Example: The majority in the Senate are not letting bills that might reduce spending go through, and the President threatens to veto them if they do. Yet, if one of his bills fails to pass, he says the Republicans are blocking it. Obviously, some of his Democrats didn’t vote with him.
Never give a sucker an even break. (W.C. Fields) and
If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit. (W.C. Fields)
Always remember, if the other guy is a demon, you look better by comparison.