Marjorie Taylor Greene has photoshopped an image of herself in a military vehicle and “toting” a high-velocity rifle as she rolls into the United States Capitol.
Has she any sense of the perception she has created of January 6, 2021?
Now, Green portrays herself as a warrior rolling into the capitol with a gun and in a military vehicle. The perception is that she is evoking images of January 6. Remember this is the same member of Congress who said of January 6, “I want to tell you something. If Steve Bannon and I had organized that, we would have won. Not to mention, we would’ve been armed.”
Perhaps Green is blissfully unaware of the mixed results American politicians have received by their choice of rides. When politicians demonstrate a loose grasp on reality and an addiction to perception, those of us who love truth and democracy feel obligated to point out the problem.
The best historical example is the 1988 presidential campaign between George Bush and Michael Dukakis.
The publicity stunt by the Dukakis campaign “tanked” his chances to be president. Dukakis looked “like Patton on his way to Berlin,” observed NBC’s Chris Wallace. “A Massachusetts Rambo on the prowl,” noted CBS’s Bruce Morton the same evening.
One of the ironies of the Dukakis tank ride is that Bush also was photographed in a tank — three times during the 1988 campaign — but there was no ridicule in the press. Bush was portrayed as a strong leader prepared to battle America’s enemies.
These days, the difference between a television ad and a piece of news reporting has shrunk to nothing. Perception has become the go-to strategy for politicians. A sort of P. T. Barnum obsession with “fooling” people with hyperbole, layers of exaggeration, false claims and outright lies has spoiled the River of Democracy. It is heavily polluted.
Yet perception turns out to be a double-edged sword. Politicians frequently experience heavy return fire when an ad or an announcement is perceived as damaging or hurtful to the candidate.
“Ironically, Dukakis was strong on defense of conventional weapons, but that reality was lost.”
Dukakis riding in a tank was supposed to portray the candidate as strong on defense. The media interpreted it as an attempt to cover the weaknesses of Dukakis as a candidate. Ironically, Dukakis was strong on defense of conventional weapons, but that reality was lost.
He told reporters at the time: “We’d better do something about our conventional forces instead of spending billions and billions on fantasies in the sky.”
One of the few reporters to point out the relationship between the tank ride and Dukakis’s defense plan was Carl Leubsdorf of the Dallas Morning News. “It was commonsense reporting,” he recalled. “He told us why he was doing it. That’s what I reported.”
The Dukakis campaign failed to grasp that perception had become more important than policy statements, that negative attack ads carried more “truth” than facts. Dukakis’ campaign “tanked” because the perception of the viewers was that the Democrat was weak on defense.
Times have changed since that 1988 campaign. Perception now rules the political landscape. Greene is fundraising off her violent imagery as a Congresswoman willing to invade the United States Capitol. She isn’t losing any supporters by carrying a high-velocity rifle.
Will perception come back to bite her? Or have we surrendered everything that once mattered in American life to perception? Have we all been deluded by media reports and advertising claims?
Once upon a time, Americans were not sure they trusted advertisers. Propaganda was not easily believed, yet now it passes for truth. Advertising spiels fill our screens with misinformation and misrepresentations.
Once the Food and Drug Administration fiercely curbed advertising claims that were untrue and dangerous. Now, the FDA is under fire for telling the truth.
During COVID, when vaccination was proved to be the most effective deterrent, the FDA was heavily criticized for warning against off-label treatments with hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. The FDA stopped convicted felon and televangelist Jim Bakker from distributing his fake COVID cure, “Silver Solution,” and fined him $156,000. His supporters defended him against the demonic FDA.
When the FDA halted emergency-use authorizations for two monoclonal antibody therapies, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis howled, “Without a shred of clinical data to support its decision, the Biden administration has revoked the emergency use authorization for lifesaving monoclonal antibody treatments.” There wasn’t a shred of truth in the DeSantis rant, but perception of millions of Americans saw the government and the FDA as enemies of the people.
We are far removed from any usual relationship with the truth when we allow “perceptions” created by media gurus and advertising agents to determine our decisions. Advertising claims can be as far from the truth as creationists suggesting that God put fossil evidence in the rocks to test the faith of people.
Marjorie Taylor Greene represents the lowest elements of our free speech republic. She invites us to desert reality for perception, to accept the superficial over the substantive, and to forego rational deliberation for emotional misinformation.
When such a campaign of perception flows nonstop from our politicians and preachers, we are a democracy in danger.
Rodney W. Kennedy is a pastor and writer in New York state. He is the author of 10 books, including his latest, Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy.