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Sean Hannity has a small....

By Jeff Softley

I don't need to complete that above headline because your mind has already done it for me. You'll see that sentence, er, fragment, throughout this column. Why? To illustrate the manner in which the Republicans use strategic, repetitive rhetoric — which often bears zero relation to the truth — to shape public perception.


I start with Sean Hannity to punish him with his own weapon of choice for his slander of the word "liberal" on his new book's cover. Hannity's new book carries the subtitle: "Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism." So, I don't see it as unfair to use the same tactic against him to imply that his fifth appendage is not of adequate size.

The tactic is obvious, simple, negative association, yet it has proved amazingly effective. Frame an argument, fashion manipulative rhetoric to shape perception and repeat, repeat, repeat.

With this methodology, Republicans successfully have cleaved the voters in the United States into manageable blocs that can be cleaved no more. Hence their outreach to Latinos, blacks and women. They've already successfully poached on working-class white males for several election cycles by negatively associating Democrats with hot-button social issues such as gay rights and affirmative action, and have portrayed the party as being against hunting, fishing and guns.

Thus, a huge segment of white males who should be voting Democratic out of economic self-interest have voted Republican. It is Republican policies after all moving their jobs offshore, failing to reward their increasing productivity with wage gains, closing factories and putting health care out of reach.

Which brings me back to Sean Hannity's small ...

In the 2004 election cycle, words will be the coin of the realm of political warfare as never before. Republican success with the tactics of smearing their Democratic opponents with negative-association evocations has gone to their heads and they've become sloppy.

The Mayberry Machiavellians of the Bush White House, led by their dweebish Rasputin, Karl Rove, have ramped up the strategic rhetoric to such ridiculous heights that it is now counterproductive. Attuned to the lies told to justify the Iraq war due to the threat from weapons of mass destruction, and the public's bullshit filter is in a very sensitive mode.

That is why mere days after announcing that 2.6 million new jobs would be created in the U.S. in 2004, the administration very publicly backpedaled from that figure, with one political cartoonist opining: "minus the million." The public isn't buying the Republican-programmed BS anymore. And Democrats finally seem poised to return fire with this weapon with the same gusto Republicans have been thumping Democrats with it for the past three decades.

As Sun Tzu said, "All warfare is based on deception." To wit, President Bush's plan to allow old-growth logging is called the Healthy Forests Initiative, and his relaxing of air pollution control standards through sheer deception to hide the amount of mercury that would be allowed in air pollution and would benefit only campaign-donating fossil-fuel coal plants is called Clear Skies.

The trick to shaping public perception comes from the repetition. If I say that Sean Hannity has a small .... enough times, it becomes the reality in the minds of those who've heard the strategic repetitive rhetoric.

In this age of media overload, repetition is the key to getting the consumers of the information to perceive it as intended and to remember it. By repeating the charge that Sean Hannity has a small .... and explaining again that the most successful attempt at weakening Democrats comes from the right's decades-long demonization of the word "liberal" you, the reader of this column, are more likely to leave it remembering what I intended you to remember.

In the real world, Webster's defines liberal with definitions and synonyms such as "giving or given freely and unstintingly," "generous," "broad-minded ... not bounded by authoritarianism," "provided in an openhanded way," "not literal or strict," "bountiful."

Yet, Republican National Convention-approved spin-meister Sean Hannity's, who has a small ...., calls his new book "Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism." This is the most vulgar example yet of the gang rape of progressives by the radical right through obvious yet effective negative-association techniques.

They have sought to redefine in the public mind what it means to be a liberal, and they largely have succeeded. Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry is always on the defensive when fending off the "liberal" charge from the right, since the right marshals its use of strategic repetitive rhetoric with the lock-step precision of the Locke High School marching band. And Republicans have become masters of deceptive rhetoric as well.

Just look at the Hannity subtitle. Hannity, he of the small ...., maliciously slurs liberals by equating them with terrorists and despots. What makes this doubly galling is that Hannity is among the first tier in the ranks of the RNC-approved radio and television hacks for the Republican Message. Hannity has a wide audience for his brand of bile.

For decades we've heard the phrase "culture war" coming from the religious right in America, particularly from the rabble-rousers on conservative extremist talk radio, like drug-abuser Rush Limbaugh's program, and on the Hannity, the man with the small ....

The Republican Party, post-Nixon, adopted the phrase 'culture war' and co-opted a willing army of zealots: "born-again" Christians, anti-tax crusaders, anti-immigration types, pro-development fat-cats, moralizers of every stripe, pro-Zionist neo-conservatives, and the baddest apple in the barrel — the Mayberry Machiavellian.

As right-wing success grew, particularly in labeling Democrats "tax-and-spend liberals" they grew ever more enamored of the process over the content. The warfare terminology reflects fully the mindset of those who gave rise to the planned and coordinated attack on progressive politics in the U.S. since the 1970s.

Beating up Democrats by altering how the public perceived them, through framing arguments became almost an end in itself. It seems to be the lone talent of the Bush administration and you can hear it in the smug tone and rhetoric of campaign spokespeople from Mary Matalin to press spokesman Scott McClellan. Nothing is ever the president's fault.

Now, according to Bush (in remarks given on Mar. 16), one million of the jobs lost during his administration are due to the Sept. 11 attack. American jobs shipped overseas are now Osama's fault. And I thought it was due to Sean Hannity's small ....

Perhaps Sean Hannity, and his small ...., should read Chalmers Johnson, the former Cold Warrior and now harsh Bush critic: "I think people are deeply disturbed by the triumphalism of the United States, they believe that pride does go before a fall, that we are behaving like a bully, like a bad winner, that we're not paying attention to fundamentals, and that our political process is in deep trouble. Washington, D.C., is almost surely the most corrupt capital of any major advanced industrial democracy."

But those words, as eloquent as they are, are not the simplistic stock-in-trade of what passes for modern political discourse — strategic repetitive rhetoric. The small .... types like Sean Hannity should look in the mirror before they go off to war against terrorists and despots and liberals.

For those wishing a greater understanding of how the process of framing works, University of California-Berkeley Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics George Lakoff has written extensively on the subject. His most recent public article can be accessed at


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