Wednesday, July 25, 2012

GOP's Break-up with Obama boyfriend Ad: He tried, you tried.



Politicista hates this ad produced by the Republican National Committee, the one I call the "Break up with your boyfriend Obama ad." I agree with her that it is condescending. It infantilizes voters who were moved to vote for candidate Obama in 2008 but who are now disappointed.

And yes, I cringe, somewhat, because Romney, with all his millions, couldn't even buy my vote. But as someone who analyzes messaging and rhetoric from time to time, I'll give credit where credit is due: this political advertisement is clever; it plays with the enthymeme of President Obama as boyfriend or lover. The boyfriend-like image has been so strong with him that some writers on the left have taken to telling voters that President Obama is not your boyfriend. Bill Maher, in discussing President Obama's conservative streaks, has also told liberals that the president is "not your boyfriend."

Nonetheless, it could be argued that the president himself tapped into that kind of connection, the genuine love so many people have for him, with is rendition of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" earlier this year. He was poking fun of himself and showing his awareness of unrest among supporters.


As for the GOP ad in question, note the language of giving permission to "let go." It's the same kind of comforting words some give to a person who's tried desperately to save a long-term romantic relationship: "He tried, you tried: it's okay to make a change." In other words, "It's okay to let go." The language also invokes releasing the relationship (or the loved one) to die in peace.

It's actually not an appeal to so-called liberal voters, but an appeal to the independent voters who fell in love with Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign, their hearts swelling with visions of hope for human cooperation and a better America. These are the voters the GOP hopes to woo to their side. The GOP knows that it has no chance of wooing those who ideologically oppose all that the GOP stands for or those who don't and will never like Romney, much less love him.

Effective suasory discourse by nature does not target the group with which it finds no common ground, no in-road to identification that will build cooperation. It targets those who it may potentially persuade. To quote Kenneth Burke:
"Rhetoric is rooted in an essential function of language itself, a function that is wholly realistic and continually born anew: the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols."
The symbol here is "President Obama as failed boyfriend."

Now, if those independent voters who are the targets of this ad would step back for a moment, they would be insulted by the ad because the ad appeals to them as though they are emotional teenagers in love. Also, the supposed facts of the ad have been massaged to some extent. And Politicista makes an excellent point, does the GOP really think people can forget that they have acted as unreasonable obstructionists?

However, this appeal may nonetheless work because studies indicate that humans do not vote with their brains; they vote with their hearts, leaning toward their unconscious biases. This is why the Southern Strategy works so well in areas where racist beliefs are prevalent or the culture has been racialized.

If a white poor to lower-middle-class voter has been conditioned to believe that those people of color over there want to take what little the white voter has is stronger than the belief that the GOP candidate favors the rich, that voter may be persuaded to vote for the candidate who will vote against the financial interests of the poor in favor of the wealthy's interests.

In addition, Americans also often share the unconscious bias that everyone will get pie. That means they believe that with hard work they too may attain wealth or the semblance of wealth, and so, they will gamble on voting for the rich man's candidate to also be their guy.

A voter who sees this commercial who has been unconsciously feeling that perhaps they made the wrong choice when they voted for Barack Obama in 2008 may be swayed to vote for change, for Romney. And that, too, is a rhetorical maneuver. The ad replaces President Obama as the candidate of change with someone who will reverse the nation back to Bush-era status, GOP candidate Romney--not change.

Back to Politicista's assertion that the Republican (and Tea Party) members of Congress have been obstructionists. Indeed, they have. They have followed Rush Limbaugh's lead: they have hoped President Obama fails and they have done everything within their power to make it so. Therefore, if they are the ones whispering to independents that it's okay to make a change, independents should be uneasy the way a divorced woman gets uneasy when a former, controlling spouse calls to say, "Baby, come back." 

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