A brother-in-law made up stories to tell our kids and grandchildren as they grew up. The whole family of kids and ex-kids talks about the Apple Grinch who lives in the cellar of his home and who will, on occasion, grab a little kid with his gnarled hands and commit unmentioned and unfathomable acts. The brother-in-law, an artist, would occasionally embellish the story by drawing a caricature of this monster so that the kids and ex-kids could see what he was talking about. Every kid would have a spell of nightmares and sleepless nights following this presentation, but there was some ambivalence; they hated the story, but also loved it. The kids knew that it was make-believe, but even with parental disapproval they encouraged my brother-in-law to tell and retell and embellish and expand the fables of the Grinch. The brother-in-law was a hunter and had an old trophy head and rack of a deer in the recesses of the cellar basement of his home in northern Michigan. To add to the fantasy of the story, he put the rack on an old stump in a dark corner of the cellar and covered the stump with an old sport coat. From the entrance of the cellar to the dimly lit corner, it was easy to conclude that the Apple Grinch was just waiting there for any kid who dared to venture further into the space. That the cellar door was padlocked only added fuel to the fire of fantasy.
I thought of all this as I watched and read various accounts of the Republican convention this past week. Except that rather than creating an Apple Grinch, the Republican Party has substituted Obama as some kind of monster who is going to destroy everything in sight. During Paul Ryan’s speech he took President Obama to task for allegedly having “funneled out of Medicare” $716 billion dollars. Furthermore, every one of the thousands of people cheering that line, as well as the millions watching on TV, knew perfectly well that Ryan made his career by arguing for funneling large amounts of money out of Medicare and his own program for handling Medicare included Obama's $716 billion dollars. Another example can be found in the recent attacks on Obama’s handling of welfare. Romney falsely accuses the Obama Grinch of eliminating the work requirements on welfare. Everyone either knows that it’s not true or can easily find it out. These men are simply telling stories about what they know their target audience wants to hear even though the statements contradict even their most well-known beliefs.
As one of the campaign representatives has implied, they are not going to let facts get in the way of a good story, ala the Apple Grinch. Like my brother-in-law, the scarier the story the better it is received even though people know it’s not true. The blatant falsehoods in Romney’s campaign are possible only under conditions in which the target audience will not hold them accountable for false statements. Like the Apple Grinch story, the intended audience is not expected to believe the falsehoods and they know there is some other function the Obama Grinch story serves. The obvious falsehoods communicates to working class white voters that Romney and Ryan share their values. For example, it is well documented that white working class voters in the past have been motivated to go to the polls when race is made an issue via invocation of welfare. The Harvard sociologist Lawrence Bobo reported in a 2004 paper that fully 24 percent of whites in his study agreed with the claim that “Blacks prefer to live on welfare.” A large part of the Republican base consists of elderly folks who receive the benefits of Medicare. A statement made to scare the hell out of them by threatening to take away this entitlement is intended to reinforce the notion that the Obama Grinch must be removed from office.
It is important for citizen-voters to behave like parents with regard to these made-up stories. Just saying . . .