Voter Suppression

2012-10-01 – Two videos are floating around the Internet to tell the story about Republican effort to suppress the vote. It’s an old story, but it has new vigor this year. Maybe this time they’ve gone too far. Maybe the masses will rise up and revolt against this.

The first video comes from The Newsroom. It’s mostly a wonderful presentation of the issue. I’d give you a link to it, but there is a moment in the last 25 seconds of it that I don’t want to promote. It is the moment that has given this video its name: the American Taliban. To me this is like calling people Nazis. It may make people who agree with you feel smug and satisfied, but it ends all conversation with those who haven’t made up their minds.

The second video comes from Sarah Silverman. It’s called Let My People Vote 2012 – Get Nana a Gun. I’m giving a link to this one. Click on it. It’s hilarious. And moving.

I do have some reservations about the language. But in our world saying “fuck” is not as destructive as saying “Nazi” . . . or “Taliban.” So watch this one, have a good time, and learn something.

It’s all a matter of knowing your audience. Persuasive rhetoric is aimed at persuading. That means talking to people who are not like yourself. It’s pretty yucky. But that’s the way persuasion works.

In my youth, I would have said that tailoring a message to your audience is hypocrisy. It could be IF YOU CHANGE THE MESSAGE. Mitt Romney does this. One day he’s for a healthcare plan with an individual mandate (Massachusetts Romneycare) and the next day he’s against essentially the same plan under the name of Obamacare. And it’s not that he changed his mind, because he goes back and forth depending on who he’s talking to. You can probably think of other examples.

But there are ways of tailoring a message that preserves its meaning, but makes the message intelligible and persuasive to different groups of people. You don’t speak English to a Spanish audience. If you are speaking to children you speak differently than you do to adults. If you are talking about voter suppression to people who are losing the right to vote, you talk differently than you do if you are talking to the people who are promoting voter suppression, and you talk differently again when you are talking to people who are not sure about the issue.

And this last point is the key. Republicans say that they are promoting changes in voter ID rules and in voting hours to prevent fraud. That sounds really good. People are probably surprised to learn that there is no history of voter fraud that needs to be prevented. People probably are unaware that the new rules massively benefit Republicans. The first five minutes and 45 seconds of The Newsroom video makes this point in a very persuasive way, and then takes away all the good it did with one word.

Come, Mr. Taliban, tally me Montana
(Daylight come and he wan’ go home)
Come, Mr. Taliban, tally Louisiana
(Daylight come and me wan’ go home)

It’s six vote, seven vote, eight vote, PUNCH!
(Daylight come and me wan’ go home)
Six vote, seven vote, eight vote, PUNCH!
(Daylight come and me wan’ go home)

Day, he say day-ay-ay-o
(daylight come and me wa’n go home)
Day, he say day, he say day, he say day, he say day, he say day

(Daylight come and me wan’ go home)

2 responses to “Voter Suppression

  1. I’m a huge Newsroom fan and I am almost in physical distress waiting for the next season. I disagree with your feelings on the Taliban label. When a group uses a specious argument to deny rights to large sections of the population, that group crosses the line and joins the family of “haters” (I hate that term but haven’t found a better one). Voter suppression, immigration, prison conditions and civil rights are some of the areas were we, as Americans, do some pretty horrible things in the name of protecting the homeland. Many times, our ideas are much bigger than our actions. Fortunately, not all Americans fall short all the time and those who do are counterbalanced by others.

    I have this guideline I try to follow: if I am presenting an argument that uses the words “them” or “they” three times but doesn’t include “I” or “us” in between, I know I have an issue and need to rethink my position.

  2. John– I’m not saying that the Taliban metaphor doesn’t convey a valid message. I’m saying that it prevents the message from being heard by the persuadable audience.

    There’s a Kurt Vonegut book (I think it’s Breakfast of Champions, but I’m not sure) where a character talks about how swearing has the effect of making people stop listening to you. I’ve told this to my kids. (Of course, being a parent has a similar effect. Your kids don’t listen to you.)

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