Chapter Four: THEMES OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY

What is a theme? It is the message that sticks with you after the event has passed. Did you see the movie “Dr. Zhivago”? Whenever you hear Lara’s Theme (“Somewhere, My Love” – composed by Maurice Jarre), do you feel that sense of sorrow; the haunting feeling of love lost? That’s what music can do. It can cause you to be overcome by emotion. Images are just as powerful, and words have emotional power as well. The feelings they create can overwhelm you. We are all susceptible to these emotions because we are human beings. But are there powerful themes in the Democratic Party? Let’s look at a few examples.

With Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the network news extensively covered the devastation caused by the hurricane. That, at least, was the outward appearance. However, as you watched more and more of the coverage, a theme began to appear. The first indication was in the reports that President Bush delayed the federal response to the tragedy, thereby causing needless deaths. The second indication was in the rumors that National Guard troops had been deployed to bring about security in New Orleans and had been ordered “to shoot to kill”. The third indication was when a rap singer named Kanye West was quoted as saying, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”.

If you hadn’t figured out the theme before that moment, it hit you in the face: REPUBLICANS ARE RACIST! The news reports seemed to dwell on the devastation in New Orleans as living proof of this assertion.

This message was a bit tough to receive. Those of us on the Republican side of things had to take a moment to get over the shock of the accusation.

But how did we know this was a theme? The answer is because it resonated. It had impact. It’s what we remember. And it’s also where the melodrama takes off. The TV coverage is of people talking about the problems Republicans have with their image. How should the Republicans behave now that their racism is on display? You begin to see the picture painted with the bad people wearing black hats, and those bad people are Republicans.

Normally, the themes of the Democratic Party are more subtle. You see images of devastation followed by an interview with a Democratic Congressperson saying, “Someone has to take the blame for this!” It is left for the viewer to determine who the “someone” is. Hints are given: George Bush, on vacation in Texas, didn’t take the tragedy seriously. The city of New Orleans has a large population of poor people who are mostly of dark skin color. Poor people were not given the assistance they needed, and the inference is that Republicans wanted it that way.

Sometimes the themes are just totally off-the-wall. The anti-war efforts of Cindy Sheehan come to mind. This was a movement in the August to September timeframe of 2005 that involved a mother whose son was killed in Iraq. Maybe you could categorize this as just another anti-war protest, but this time there was a difference. Ms. Sheehan was requesting an audience with the President of the United States to help her understand why her son died. Several months earlier she had met with the President, but she was demanding another meeting. This time she wanted to hear “The Truth”. The theme of her anti-war cause was never explicitly stated, but her point was abundantly clear: DEMOCRAT BLOOD IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE BLOOD OF OTHERS.

I suppose Ms. Sheehan should get credit for distilling the anti-war message down to a coherent theme for the Democratic Party. This theme is much easier to understand than one trying to get across the point that the Democratic Party supports our troops, except those soldiers who support the Republican Party. Or that the Democratic Party mourns the deaths of our soldiers, even though they died supporting an unjust, immoral, and illegal war.

It is a complicated message, and is actually an “Anti-Military” theme. If you are wondering how a “We support the troops” message becomes an anti-military theme, consider the Pro-Palestinian message. It is similarly complex, in that it expresses support for the Palestinian people but not their leaders and not their mission (destruction of the Jewish state). Likewise, you might support the troops, but not their leaders (from the President on down) and not their mission (peacekeeping in Iraq). The Pro-Palestinian message is actually an Anti-Israel message. The Pro-Troops message is actually an Anti-Military message.

But this idea of assigning a higher value to Democrat blood is an incendiary theme! It is truly one of the most divisive and partisan messages you can deliver, and it was delivered day-in and day-out for six weeks. It did upset a few people and caused some counter-demonstrations, but the theme was played over and over during the summer of 2005 with the customary “affirmation of silence”. That’s the characteristic of the anti-Republican culture at work: you are conditioned to expect to hear that Republicans are bad. When Kanye West made his accusation, there was clamoring support from Democratic Congressmen, particularly those with dark skin color. The Kanye West remark was celebrated for its honesty. It appeared that only Laura Bush, the President’s wife, was “disgusted” with the comment.

There are two points to note about Mr. West’s assertion. First, this kind of anti-Republican sentiment is culturally endorsed (as evidenced by the general lack of outrage to the comment). Second, it is extracted from a list of recurring themes that are replayed day-in and day-out by the Democratic Party.

You say you are not aware of the themes? Let me give you a quick list, and see if they sound familiar. I’ll go over each of them in more detail, but right now, here they are, in bullet format:

* Republican are bad people (racist, homophobic, and bigoted).
* Republicans are destroying the environment.
* Republicans are harming our children.
* Republicans are stealing from our Seniors.
* Republicans are shredding the Constitution.
* Republicans are turning the economy into a catastrophe.

There are just six of them, and the first one is a bit of a catch-all. I’ve found that without too much trouble, they can be memorized. If you can commit them to memory, you won’t be surprised when you hear one or more of them covered on any network news program on any given day of the week.

Sometimes they are subtly presented, but often they are punctuated with an exclamation. A commentator or some other public figure will provide the thematic context by explaining how the particular news situation of the day shows Republicans are (pick one or more) bad people, destroying the environment, harming our children, stealing from our Seniors, shredding the Constitution, or turning the economy into a catastrophe. It passes for “analysis”, but it is that part of the news that “aids our understanding” and reinforces the anti-Republican culture.

I can see some examples are going to be needed here. We’ll go over each of the themes in turn.

REPUBLICANS ARE BAD PEOPLE
I mentioned that the “Bad Republican” theme has three separate components. Let’s start with the first component: Republicans are racists. We know that Republicans are cast in the role of wearing the black hats in our cultural melodrama. In that role, Republicans are certainly cast as being mean-spirited, but do they embody racism? Isn’t that a bit extreme?

In the classroom, we learn that racism is a human trait; that it arises from our tendency to favor people who are similar to us and stay away from people who are different from us. But does this universality hold true in the political world? Take, for example, an organization dedicated to ending racism. The A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) works to build unity against racism. You would think that it would work across party lines within the United States. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. A.N.S.W.E.R. works almost exclusively with factions of the Democratic Party, to the exclusion of the Republican Party. Why is that? Is it because there are no racists in the Democratic Party?

Let’s refine that question a bit. I know it’s hard to believe, but is it possible that the Democratic Party think racist behavior relates only to Republicans? See if you can get a Democrat to name someone in his or her own party who is a racist. Even with historical figures like Jefferson Davis who took our southern states and seceded from the Union in order to perpetuate slavery, or Governor George Wallace who defied federal intervention to keep schools segregated, you will find that many Democrats won’t be able to name a racist member of their own party. Even with Senator Robert Byrd’s history of involvement with the Ku Klux Klan, you won’t find acknowledgement that a Democrat could be a racist. Within the Democratic Party, there appears to be widespread acceptance of the “fact” that only Republicans are racists.

My favorite example is that of the late Senator Strom Thurmond. He was a Democrat until he was in his sixties, and then switched parties to become a Republican. While he was a Democrat, Senator Thurmond was well respected, and nothing was made of the fact that he fathered a child with a black teenage maid at his family home in South Carolina. However, when he became a Republican, all of a sudden he became a racist. When Senator Trent Lott praised Senator Thurmond for some of his accomplishments late in life, Senator Lott was condemned by Democrats for supporting racism. The point to note is that the defining behavior for racism is not your attitude toward people with a different skin tone. It’s your political party affiliation!

Another example occurred here in Colorado in 2005, when former U.S. Senator Hank Brown was being considered as a candidate for interim President of the University of Colorado. President Betsy Hoffman had announced her resignation, and candidates were being considered for the position she had just vacated. Senator Brown is a Republican, and state Senator Peter Groff, a Democrat, was quoted as being disturbed about Senator Brown’s concern for people with dark skin color: “I wanted to make sure there was a commitment to diversity…I wasn’t sure the senator had a commitment at a level that was high enough for my issues or my concerns,” said Groff.

The University of Colorado, under President Hoffman, had less than two percent black students in its undergraduate student body. To my knowledge, she was never criticized for a lack of emphasis on diversity. When Senator Brown’s name was tendered, however, the concern voiced by Senator Groff was that of racism.

Fortunately for Hank Brown, he had a very public record of affirmative action initiatives from his tenure as President of the University of Northern Colorado. He wrote Senator Groff a letter that outlined these programs, and the accusations of racism died down.

The problem is that most of us aren’t like Hank Brown, and don’t have a record of public achievements in affirmative action. We end up being like Laura Bush, and simply respond that the accusations leave us “disgusted”.

Let’s move on to the second part of the “Republicans are bad people” theme: Republicans are homophobic. You will find that the same point can be made in regards to being homophobic: There are simply no homophobic Democrats. Homophobia is a purely Republican phenomenon.

Homophobia normally relates to those individuals who have a prejudice against homosexual people. It speaks of a person having a fear of the diversity within the human race. However, in a manner similar to the use of the word “disenfranchise”, the term takes on a vastly expanded meaning in the Democrat Party. Here the term becomes the well spring for the darkest characteristics of Republicans. Homophobic Republicans have deep personality flaws. They embrace torture! They join the military and become the enemy of humanity! They are capable of the most despicable acts!

I know it sounds far-fetched, but this is where you will see the Hitler/Nazi/Fascist references. If you are a Republican and choose to run for public office, gird your loins! At some point the Democrat Party will accuse you of having some sort of Nazi tendency. It has simply become an expected part of our political discourse.

Not always are the accusations or the characterizations so extreme. There are subtle manifestations. I’ve noticed, for example, that if a Republican is being introduced to a gay couple, the person doing the introductions will often quietly make sure that the person of the Republican persuasion is made aware that the people he or she is going to meet are gay. While it appears to be a kind and gentle thing to do, it carries the implication that the Republican in question would tend to behave inappropriately if the sexual orientation issue were not explicitly covered. It is a “caring” put-down, but it is a put-down none the less.

You will also find that the word “homophobic” is essentially a pejorative, used much in the vein of the word “Conservative”. It allows us to think disparagingly of Republicans. If you are a Republican, you will implicitly be considered homophobic and racist. It is a part of our American culture.

So now we’re getting close to the end. The third and final part of the “Republicans are bad people” theme deals with bigotry. If you are a Democrat, you are not bigoted. It is essentially a Republican trait, and it brings in the religious component of the debate.

The dictionary definition of the word “bigot” relates to intolerance for the beliefs of others, including political and ethnic beliefs. However, the Democrat Party uses this term as a code word for the manner in which members of “The Religious Right” hold to their Christian values and beliefs. The idea is that if you are evangelical in your approach to your faith, you clearly have to be intolerant of others. Again, the word is used as a pejorative, and it does not make sense to try to point out all the ways you are tolerant when the Democrat Party refers to you as a bigot. We’ll go into greater detail on this issue later on. (The interrelationship between politics and religion is worth a chapter of its own.)

Racism, homophobia, and bigotry: these are the components of the “Republicans are bad people” theme. I realize there are many other ways to describe Republicans as “bad”. President Bush is called a liar, a moron, and a miserable failure. Republicans are generally depicted as insensitive, self-absorbed and uncaring. Do you need an “in your face” example? Take a look at political cartoons to see if they reflect the anti-Republican culture. Don’t take for granted that a cartoon is simply innocent non-partisan fun. They actively support the anti-Republican themes, and they tend to reinforce that most basic of themes: Republicans are just plainly bad people.

I have just one final point to emphasize on this first theme. It often appears in its softer form: REPUBLICANS ARE MEAN-SPIRITED. I used this phrase at the start of this section, and I’ll bet you read right over it. Don’t be misled by the terminology. It is not an attempt to understand the spiritual being of Republicans. You will not find many instances of people from the Democratic Party being characterized as mean-spirited. The term is applied almost exclusively to Republicans, and it is meant to quietly convey the “Republicans are bad people” theme.

REPUBLICANS ARE DESTROYING THE ENVIRONMENT
The second theme I’ll talk about is the one that gets me the most agitated. I’ll not spend too much time on it, but this is the one that really gets to me. It makes me mad.

I was born in Oregon, in the town of Roseburg. I can remember our radio station claiming that “Roseburg is the timber capital of the nation!” I had an uncle that worked in the forests, running a motorized device called a “donkey”. It was used to drag logs up the side of a mountain to a location where the logs were subsequently loaded onto trucks. It was over fifty years ago, and it was a time that provided strong before-and-after pictures of a forest being literally stripped of timber in accommodating the demand for lumber.

Americans have come a long way in the last fifty years. We now think of our forests as renewable resources that need care, not something that we can destroy and abandon. I like to believe that the idea of “leaving the land we occupy in better shape than we found it” is a common sentiment shared by most Americans. While I think a poll surveying environmental attitudes would overwhelmingly show that sense of “husbandry”, I would accept a response rate of 70% or greater as being enough affirmation. We simply value our planet and feel the need to protect it.

So this is a “non-issue”, right? Not so fast. Perhaps the strongest and most frequent theme of the Democrat party is that Republicans are destroying the environment. It starts early. In Colorado we had a recent instance of an elementary school teacher having her students write their Republican congressman and implore him to stop polluting the environment. In our political contests, the Democratic candidates will emphasize they are “for the environment”; leaving the lingering implication that Republican opponents are against the environment. In the 2004 race for U. S. Senator in Colorado, Pete Coors, the Republican candidate, had an advertisement run against him that featured dead fish. A Coors employee accidentally discharged fermenting beer into Clear Creek, suffocating fish in the stream below the accident site. While this would seem to be an industrial accident to some observers, it became a pitch by the Democrat party to illustrate how Pete Coors hurts the Colorado environment. It may not have been a fair characterization, but it worked.

And why does it work? It is because the theme of Republicans destroying the environment is accepted in our culture. It is a “given”.

The theme has gotten new legs with the global warming issue. Here, the abstraction of the concept lends itself particularly well to the anti-Republican culture. Just as Republicans “don’t care” about black people, they don’t care about the environment. It’s the abstract nature of the issue that allows it to become a political weapon, and it is being used to demonstrate how insensitive and out-of-touch Republicans are. As I said, I get agitated over this issue. It seems totally unfair to cast millions of people as being “against the environment”, but in our anti-Republican culture, it works.

REPUBLICANS ARE HARMING OUR CHILDREN
This theme is loaded with emotion. It incorporates a broader view of children, from birth all the way to the twenty-something age group. Here you will find examples of young children having to bear the stigma of standardized testing. A little further along will be children reaching puberty and having to deal with the trauma of abortion politics. Even later in the age group comes the wrenching emotional grappling with very adult issues such as the military draft.

The perception that runs through the “harming our children” theme is that the problems are catastrophic. Having to engage in standardized testing ensures problems with self esteem and self actualization. It’s not simply that you as a child have to endure the testing, it’s that you are having to conform to a standard. This may cause you to feel inadequate (in the case where you don’t do well on the test) or to be destroyed in your life’s quest (in the case where the tests cause a detour in your prospective area of study). The idea that the tests help measure the effectiveness of teaching seems to get lost in the political milieu.

The issue of children and abortion politics is, if not a catastrophe, certainly extremely troubling. Here we compound the tragedy of a pregnant youngster with the political issues of parental notification, involvement by institutions, and the rights of people who are not yet adults. You would think that an unexpected pregnancy in a young female would be a time for nurturing and support. Unfortunately, it is too ripe a target for political action. The children get caught in the crossfire, with Republicans being cast as the villains.

The final childhood catastrophe exploited by the Democrat Party is the extension of “children status” to those people joining the military. Even after the age of 18, if you voluntarily join the military you are assumed to be exercising flawed, child-like judgment. The idea is that no adult in their right mind would choose to enter the military voluntarily.

This one actually makes sense on a gut level. The desire for peace is a universal human need. The aberration is the person who wishes to engage in war and killing. What doesn’t feel right is to say that those who wish to participate in the military are in favor of warfare. There is a difference between working to prevent or minimize the extent of warfare and working to encourage and engage in warfare. I don’t think anti-war advocates understand that difference.

Regardless, it is all an issue of politics, and depicting someone as being a person who wants to draft people, engage in warfare, and generally behave in an anti-social manner is a little over the top even in politics. It is more elegant to simply depict the person as being one who wants to harm our children.

REPUBLICANS ARE STEALING FROM OUR SENIORS
This is a theme that comes and goes. In general, the wealth of our country is controlled by older people, so it would make sense to assume that if anyone is stealing from someone, they would steal from those with the money. However, the approach used by the Democrat Party is to cast Republicans as the ones stealing from those least able to protect themselves: the elderly.

What is being stolen? Principally it is Social Security benefits and prescription drug benefits. How does the theft occur? By changing systems that have been in place for a long time. Entitlement programs become programs that people depend upon, and to take away that upon which you depend is stealing of the worst sort. Thieving Republicans are to blame.

Watch for examples made of people who have to adjust their lifestyles because of sickness or infirmity. Republicans may not be the cause of the sickness or infirmity, but the strong impression will be left that Republicans make the plight worse, and in fact seem to rejoice in the problems they cause. You will see the technique of using anecdotal evidence to represent widespread problems. A person will be caught in the “donut hole” of prescription drug benefits. (Never mind that the individual is paying less for prescription drugs than he or she did before. Just keep in mind that the person is having to suffer because of the inept Republican antics.) Another individual will explain how the uncertainty of Social Security benefits causes them great personal stress. (Never mind that the individual is adequately covered. Simply take note of the pain and anguish the Republicans are causing.)

Older people are not the most disadvantaged and impoverished group in the United States, but that will not be the impression provided by the Democrat Party.

REPUBLICANS ARE SHREDDING THE CONSTITUTION
This is a theme that hinges on perceptions. From a Republican Party standpoint, the Constitution of the United States is a revered document. I don’t mean that in a cynical sense. Republicans do tend to view the Constitution as something very special. (They actually think the Founding Fathers really knew what they were doing.) The Constitution ends up being both flexible and rigid. It elegantly lays out principles of governance without having to define them in minute detail. It creates a sense of ownership for all Americans, simply by being something that is valuable and needs to be protected. For a document that is short in length, it is really quite an amazing piece of work.

To the Democrat Party, the Constitution is a prop. Going back to our earlier analogy, the Constitution is simply a theatrical item used to make melodramatic points on the stage of American politics. It can be a good thing or a bad thing. Let’s look at a few examples.

Suppose that you are interested in the Presidency of the United States being an elected office that is determined by a nationwide vote of individuals rather than a vote of the states making up the country. You think that the Presidency should be determined by the overall popular vote, rather than the sum of the electoral votes of the 50 states.

There are two ways to approach the problem: work with the Constitution and amend it, or take the easier route of working around the Constitution. If you felt that the Constitution had special significance, you would be inclined to work the problem by amending the Constitution. If you felt the Constitution were more of a prop, you might avoid amending the Constitution and simply work to have each state cast its electoral votes for the winner of the popular vote throughout the country. That would change the intent of the Constitution, without having to change the Constitution in the manner it sets forth. Simply by getting each state (particularly the less populace ones) to cast their electoral votes in a certain fashion, you get the job done.

And here is where the difference in perception comes in. The Democrat Party would argue that the Constitution has an inherent role in promoting democracy, and a country-wide vote is pure democracy. The Republican Party would say that the Constitution speaks for itself. While the Constitution recognizes the ideals of democracy, it sets up a representative government with powers vested in states. Republicans might say, “Simply look at the language of the Constitution, and do what it says.”

In the eyes of the Democrat Party, the Constitution is sometimes bad for the country and sometimes good. It depends on whether the Constitution gets interpreted in favor of Republicans or Democrats.

The outcome of the 2000 Presidential Election is perhaps the best case in point. It captured many of the themes of the Democratic Party. We saw the “Republicans are stealing from seniors” theme, with older voters claiming their votes were accidentally placed for the Republican candidate when they meant to vote for the Democrat. We had the “Republicans are racists” theme with stories of people with dark skin color having difficulty getting to polling booths. We had the “Republicans are bigots” theme, with Republicans unable to understand how “making every vote count” translated into the divining of the intentions of voters submitting blank ballots, partially punched ballots, and dual-punched ballots. It seemed that any spoiled ballot was really a sign of a voter doing his or her best to vote for a Democratic candidate.

But the big one was the “Republicans are shredding the Constitution” theme. This came about when the Republican Party thought it was unfair to have recounts done in selected Florida counties without applying uniform rules across those counties. The idea being that giving unequal treatment to voters within a state violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. There was no “shredding of the Constitution” when the Florida Supreme Court said that the unequal treatment was okay. The problem came when the decision was appealed, and the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the unequal treatment was NOT okay.

Suddenly, Republicans were guilty of Constitutional shenanigans. They had trampled on the Constitution by allowing the Supreme Court of the United States to determine the outcome of an election. Republicans not only weren’t letting every vote count, they were shredding the Constitution!

It’s interesting to me that a similar legal challenge occurred in Colorado’s 2004 election for the Congressional Representative of District 7. There was a flaw in the counting of provisional ballots. The Congressional District spanned parts of three counties, and the provisional ballots used by the counties were not counted in the same fashion. The Democratic Party sued, in the same fashion that the Republican Party sued in the 2000 presidential election. This time the Republicans lost, but the good news is that in both cases, our highest courts upheld the validity of the Equal Protection Clause.

So what does all of this mean? It means that a person needs to do some research whenever you hear that “Republicans are shredding the Constitution”. It is a claim that is often made when a court decision goes against the Democratic Party, and is an accusation made whenever the Democratic Party is using the Constitution as a prop. Watch for it when the Democratic Party wishes to attach Constitutional Rights to non-citizens. You will find that it makes little difference what specific language exists in the Constitution. The Democratic Party will cite the Constitution in cases of rights for illegal immigrants and enemy combatants. It doesn’t matter that the Constitution is essentially a document that spells out what our federal government can and cannot do. The Democratic Party will use the Constitution to promote certain behaviors and attitudes. Whenever the Republican Party takes exception to these views, out comes the accusation of “shredding the Constitution”. It makes the melodrama interesting.

REPUBLICANS ARE TURNING THE ECONOMY INTO A CATASTROPHE
You would think that the behavior of the United States economy would be essentially non-political: “It is what it is.” Organizations like the U. S. Commerce Department or the Bureau of Labor Statistics simply collect economic data and report it. Data may be reported as “preliminary” and be subsequently revised, but the idea is to make it accurate and consistent so that it can be compared to historical data and conclusions can be drawn. It is not meant to be a political football.

That being said, the problem with economic data is that (thanks to people like Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes) we now know that monetary policy and fiscal policy have far-reaching effects on our individual lives. Monetary policy (using interest rates and credit availability to influence the quantity of money available to us) and fiscal policy (using taxation and government spending to influence our consumption) can cause our economy to boom or bust. Understanding their effects can help us know when to refinance a home or bail out of the stock market. It’s important stuff!

Where does the political dimension come in? It happens with the time delays associated with economic policies. Things don’t happen overnight. If you lower taxes to stimulate the economy, you don’t see the effects for a couple of years. If you increase government spending to stimulate the economy, you create deficits that carry over to the next generation and “saddle our children with debt”. In a nutshell, doing what needs to be done for the health of the economy may not be what needs to be done to ensure political survival.

Even so, there are still things we know are true and can count on. For example, when the economy is recovering from a recession, a leading indicator is a turn in the stock market. Employment numbers, however, won’t improve for several more months. Employment will NEVER be a leading indicator. It just makes sense that employment follows a turnaround in economic expectations. You wouldn’t hire new employees unless you expected business to improve, and a lot of business people have learned to wait until they are sure business is improving before they start hiring.

Because the economy is always changing, there is always news to convey to a waiting public. Why not use it to advance a political agenda? Here’s where the “Republicans are turning the economy into a catastrophe” theme comes in. It turns economic reporting into political sport. I’ll provide an example to help illustrate the point.

Below are two news releases from two separate news organizations. The first is from an Associated Press story posted on the Internet by Yahoo! News:

*****
Consumer Confidence Falls on Job Worries
By Anne D’Innocenzio, AP Business Writer
7/26/05

NEW YORK – Renewed worries about the economy and jobs sent consumer confidence downward in July, breaking a three-month winning streak.

The Conference Board said Tuesday its Consumer Confidence Index fell to 103.2 from a revised 106.2 in June. The July figure was worse than the 106.2 analysts expected.

In May, the index rose to 103.1 from April’s 97.5.

Lynn Franco, director of the private research group’s Consumer Research Center, said the dip was “no cause for concern.”

“The overall state of the economy remains healthy and consumers’ outlook suggests no storm clouds on the short-term horizon,” Franco said in a statement. “Even the steady upward tick of fuel prices at the pump has done relatively little to dampen consumers’ spirits. Yet, while there is little to suggest a downturn in activity, there is also little to suggest a pickup.”

One component of the consumer confidence report, which looks at consumers' views of the current economic situation, fell to 118.5 from 120.8. Another component, the Expectations Index, which measures consumers’ outlook over the next six months, declined to 93.0 percent from 96.4 in June.

The Conference Board’s gauges are derived from responses received through July 19 to a survey mailed to 5,000 households in a consumer research panel. The figures released Tuesday include responses from at least 2,500 households.

The outlook for the labor market was mixed. The number of consumers expecting more jobs to become available in the coming months edged up to 15.8 percent from 15.4 percent, while those expecting fewer jobs moved up to 16.8 percent from 16.4 percent in June. The proportion of consumers anticipating their incomes will increase in the months ahead declined to 18.6 percent from 19.9 percent.

Consumers’ overall assessment of ongoing conditions was somewhat mixed in July. The number of those claiming business conditions are “bad” increased to 16.9 percent from 15.3 percent. However, those saying conditions are “good” improved to 28.7 percent from 26.7 percent.

The employment picture was also mixed. Consumers saying jobs are “hard to get” rose to 23.8 percent from 22.5 percent, but those claiming jobs are “plentiful” remained at 22.5 percent.

Consumers’ outlook for the next six months was marginally less favorable than in June. Those expecting business conditions to improve fell to 17.6 percent from 19.5 percent. Consumers anticipating that business conditions will worsen edged up to 9.6 percent from 9.0 percent.
*****

The second story appeared in the Rocky Mountain News Business Section (page 9B) on July 27, 2005:


*****

Consumer confidence dip ‘no cause for concern’

Americans’ anxiety about the economy and their jobs resurfaced in July, sending a widely followed measure of consumer confidence downward and ending a three-month winning streak.

The Conference Board said Tuesday its consumer confidence index fell to 103.2 from a revised 106.2 in June.

The July figure was worse than the 106.2 analysts expected. In May, the index rose to 103.1 from April’s 97.5.

Lynn Franco, director of the private research group’s Consumer Research Center, said the dip was “no cause for concern.”

“The overall state of the economy remains healthy and consumers’ outlook suggests no storm clouds on the short-term horizon,” Franco said in a statement.

“Even the steady upward tick of fuel prices at the pump has done relatively little to dampen consumers’ spirits.

“Yet, while there is little to suggest a downturn in activity, there is also little to suggest a pickup,” he said.

Consumers’ sentiment contrasted with an upbeat assessment of the economy last week from Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.

Greenspan said he expected the economy to keep growing even as a flurry of job cuts from major corporations were announced.
*****

In both stories, if you ignore the headline and the first sentence, the next six sentences are exactly the same. Evidently the Conference Board released its monthly survey results, and the Rocky Mountain News and Yahoo! News posted those results in the text of their stories.

What’s interesting about each story is not the text within the story, but the headline and the lead-in to the story. It struck me that there was not much news in the report, but it provided an opportunity to hit the public with a standard anti-Republican theme. Because we keep hearing that Republicans are turning the economy into a catastrophe, we expect to hear that job prospects are a problem.

Ms. D’Innocenzio, reporting for the AP, notes in the text of her piece that “The outlook for the labor market was mixed.” She also notes that “The employment picture was also mixed.” However, the headline doesn’t refer to anything about mixed results. It states that “Consumer Confidence Falls on Job Worries”. The Democrat Party knows that “Job Worries” is an emotionally-charged term. It implies Republican failures and gets placed in headlines as often as possible. In the case of Yahoo! News, the headline writer took advantage of the opportunity. The Rocky Mountain News let it pass.

You’ll have to take my word for it, but these two economic news stories are actually fairly minor examples of “spin” in a news story. You will be able to find much more interesting examples just in reading a daily newspaper or surfing the Internet. In fact, I’ve wondered if any post-secondary school ever tries playing the game “Guess the Headline” to see if students can fathom the inner workings of headline writers. The way the game is played is to present students with examples of text from various news stories of the day, but remove the headline and lead-in to the story. Based upon the content of the story, the students would then list their best guess for the headline to the story.

What would be the outcome of the exercise? My guess is that you’d find most of the student headline suggestions would relate to the content of the story in some specific way, perhaps using a catchy turn of phrase. When you then see the headline that is actually used on the story, it brings the anti-Republican perspective of the headline writer into sharp focus.

Once the students get the hang of the game, a more sophisticated exercise is to get them to try to write a headline that mirrors the style exhibited by the headline writer for the news service they are examining. As they learn how to match the tone and style, they get a solid understanding of the technique used to set anti-Republican themes to news stories.

For extra credit, students might be invited to analyze the political party affiliations glossed over in the news stories. Here you will have to get away from the Business section of the newspaper and look more at the World News section or the front page itself. Whenever you see phrases like, “informed sources say…” or “a bi-partisan group acknowledged…” see how the tone of the story changes if the political party affiliation of the group is disclosed.

Would the meaning change if instead of “informed sources say…” the text actually read, “informed sources, all of whom are Democrats, say…”? Or what if the phrase “a bi-partisan group…” actually read, “a bi-partisan group of one Republican and 23 Democrats…”?

I think critical readers of news stories implicitly do this. They look for a “false consensus” to be presented, where the story implies that everyone believes a certain way, or feels a certain way. They also look for selective quotes, where it might be noted that two points of view are presented, but the “money quote” comes from just one side of the debate. It takes a little extra effort, but once you start doing it, there is no going back. You get hooked.

You start to show tendencies of becoming a “political junkie”.


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