Lee Atwater and Karl Rove can take credit for the partisanship of America’s 21st Century politics. By playing on the ignorance of the masses, the lack of critical thinking, the fears, the prejudices, and the perverted glory people find in righteous indignation at the expense of others – Atwater and Rove changed the face of American politics.
Allow me a moment to give a personal account of ignorance masquerading as intelligence. Many, many years ago, in a neighborhood far far away, my future ex-wife and I bought a house. We moved our two young children into that old house in an old neighborhood – the one that was in our price range. Some of you you may relate to buying a home that did not exactly meet your living needs – but rather fit your budget.
Our old house had been built in the late 1800’s but had been upgraded with the most sophisticated electrical wiring of the late 1930’s. Do these terms mean any thing to you – 65 Amp service to the house, 60 Amp main breaker, a panel of 15 Amp breakers? Let me explain. When that house was rewired there were no electric refrigerators, let alone microwaves and blenders. A 15 Amp circuit was deemed more than sufficient to handle any electrical need. So much so that the electrical box did not have a place for 20 Amp breakers. The manufacturer of the electrical box went out of business – no new parts could be bought – that was about the time we bought the house.
As a young father in a family with a single income I had more time than money – so home repair was learned on-the-job, as they say. Fortunately, I had graduated from the Electronics Institute in Kansas City and knew something about electricity. Our wiring was old with crumbling insulation. I ran new Romex wires but was limited to hooking them up to the 15 Amp breakers. We plugged our refrigerator in and it worked fine – until we ran the microwave at the same time the refrigerator was on a cool cycle. I had three circuits rewired before I realized that I could mount a new box beside the old and run some 6 gauge wire to it to charge it. After that all new circuits were wired to 20 Amp breakers. But the damage was done in the minds of the women.
The women of that family hoot and chortle and gasp for breath recounting my misfortunes with wiring. I had tried to explain the difference between a 15 Amp service and a 20 Amp service many times – but understanding was much less fun than pointing and laughing. I let that issue go long ago. But Atwater and Rove brought it back to the surface.
There are some really good folks who do not understand banking derivatives. Many do not understand compound interest. To say that people understand the actuarial science of health insurance premiums would be too much. Fundamental issues of our Eco system relating to climate change are not difficult – but it does require some thought. Atwater and Rove understood this lack of ability to think critically about complex issues – so they invented their own language around the issues that would serve to bolster the Republican Party.
Here is an example – a horrendous hurricane resulting from raised temperatures in the ocean is explained as God punishing our people for moral indiscretions. The moral indiscretions happened to be in the Democratic Party platform. This was a very convenient way of declaring the virtues of God as being perfectly in line with industrial pollution.
Another horrendously misleading concept is that of reducing taxes on the very rich – the idea is that these rich folks will gladly use that extra cash to hire more help with their ever expanding front lawn. The idea is that rich people are looking for more ways to put the poor to work. Put in the correct Rovian context – the poor people bought the idea.
I doubt that Karl Rove had any idea that he would be so successful – he was hoping for a couple of extra percentage points in the vote count – what he got was a movement. And the Republican Party is about to pay the price.
Sadly, ignorance and closed-mindedness rule the day. But Rove overlooked an old axiom of humanity. You can fool all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time. but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. The some who can be fooled all of the time are not enough to win the presidency – and those who have been fooled are not going to be forgiving.