Obama’s “Enemies,” Pat Caddell, and the Cognitive Dissonance Misdirection

The Cognitive Dissonance Misdirection (CDM) is as old as politics. I’ve written about it here before, but finally have decided that it deserves a formal name–especially because it has been shamelessly employed by news media attempting to minimize, obscure or bury legitimate criticisms of Barack Obama and his Administration.

Cognitive dissonance is created when something an individual feels strongly about is associated in some way with something else. If the individual strongly likes, admires, or desires the first thing, cognitive dissonance will draw the second thing into his favor. If the individual intensely dislikes the first thing, he will begin to feel more negatively toward the second thing now linked to it. This why, for example, popular celebrities get product endorsement deals, and unpopular ones don’t. When Denzel Washington or George Clooney says he likes a car, people start liking the car too. If the same car were endorsed by, say, Lindsay Lohan or O.J. Simpson, a lot of people would assume it was a lemon…and they might not even realize why. Cognitive dissonance works its influence subliminally, and that’s why it is such an effective tool of persuasion…and bias.

The media’s version of this has been perfected over the last two years. When a legitimately troubling comment, action, incident or gaffe reflecting badly on the President, his Administration, or his staff occurs, the mainstream media has often not reported the issue straight, as in “This happened,” or “Obama said this,” but by immediately linking the story to the President’s presumably biased adversaries—Republicans, conservatives, and talk radio—and making the criticism the story, as in, “Republicans are attacking President Obama’s  communications director Anita Dunn’s comments that seemed to praise Mao Zedong.” The fact that a high-ranking White House figure praising the greatest mass murderer in history, even in jest, is news, and should be criticized by Left and Right, was muted by the reporting of it.

Sometimes the mainstream media just ignored a negative story about the President or his Administration until Fox News or Glenn Beck covered it, which had the same effect. But as the device was used over and over again (for the often inept and tin-eared White House gave them a plethora of opportunities), it had other effects as well. More people began to distrust the press. Fox News, astoundingly, became the most trusted news source in the nation. And some media watchdogs, like the Washington Post and New York Times ombudsmen,  began calling their own organizations on what was increasingly recognized as bad and biased reporting. Cognitive dissonance doesn’t work as well when one is aware of it.

Now, as the media’s favorite politicians and party teeter on electoral disaster, its favorite President uttered a disturbing word in reference to his political opponents. The word was “enemies,” and he told a Hispanic network interviewer that those enemies needed to be “punished.” Once again, the mainstream media ignored it, leaving the criticism to conservative bloggers, Fox, and Sean Hannity. A week after the remarks, however, a Democratic pollster and commentator, Pat Caddell, collaborated with Doug Schoen on a powerful op-ed for the Washington Post. The remarkable essay said, in part:

“President Obama’s post-partisan America has disappeared, replaced by the politics of polarization, resentment and division.

In a Univision interview on Monday, the president, who campaigned in 2008 by referring not to a “Red America” or a “Blue America” but a United States of America, urged Hispanic listeners to vote in this spirit: “We’re gonna punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.”

…What a change two years can bring.

We can think of only one other recent president who would display such indifference to the majesty of his office: Richard Nixon. We write in sadness as traditional liberal Democrats who believe in inclusion. Like many Americans, we had hoped that Obama would maintain the spirit in which he campaigned. Instead, since taking office, he has pitted group against group for short-term political gain that is exacerbating the divisions in our country and weakening our national identity.The culture of attack politics and demonization risks compromising our ability to address our most important issues – and the stature of our nation’s highest office.

Indeed, Obama is conducting himself in a way alarmingly reminiscent of Nixon’s role in the disastrous 1970 midterm campaign. No president has been so persistently personal in his attacks as Obama throughout the fall. He has regularly attacked his predecessor, the House minority leader and – directly from the stump – candidates running for offices below his own. He has criticized the American people suggesting that they are “reacting just to fear” and faulted his own base for “sitting on their hands complaining.”
…We are also disturbed that the office of the president is mounting attacks on private individuals, such as the founders of the group Americans for Prosperity. Having been forged politically during Watergate – one of us was the youngest member of Nixon’s enemies list – we are chilled by the prospect of any U.S. president willing to marshal the power of his office against a private citizen. The president is the leader of our society. That office is supposed to be a unifying force. When a president opts for polarization, it is not only bad politics, but it also diminishes the prestige of his office and damages our social consensus.”

Exactly. Caddell and Schoen perfectly express exactly why Obama’s remark is deserving of not even criticism, but alarm. Suddenly, because a card-carrying liberal Democrat and a one of President Jimmy Carter’s White House advisors had blown a whistle, the rest of the media rushed to cover the story.

Its approach? Reuters’ version is typical of the rest:

Obama seeks to blunt Republican attack over comment” !!


15 thoughts on “Obama’s “Enemies,” Pat Caddell, and the Cognitive Dissonance Misdirection

  1. He didn’t exactly call his opponents enemies. Here’s what he said:

    “If Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, ‘We’re gonna punish our enemies, and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us’ — if they don’t see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election — then I think it’s going to be harder. And that’s why I think it’s so important that people focus on voting on November 2nd.”

    Here’s how he backtracked:

    “I had a conversation with a Hispanic radio outlet, Univision, and during the course of that conversation, one of the things that I had to say to the Latino community, which is frustrated that we haven’t seen progress on immigration reform, was that they can’t sit out of this election. There were arguments being made that because Democrats hadn’t gotten this done, that Latinos should vote against Democrats or just sit out the election.

    “And I said, well, you can’t punish your friends when — the folks who’ve been supporting it. Now, I did also say if you’re going to punish somebody, punish your enemies, and I probably should have used the word ‘opponents’ instead of ‘enemies.’ Now the Republicans are saying that I’m calling them enemies. What I’m saying is you’re an opponent of this particular provision, comprehensive immigration reform, which is something very different.”

    • Is comprehensive immigration reform something on the table? Otherwise, how can you oppose something that doesn’t exist?

      I always thought Latinos were better served by Republicans anyway. Obama declaring Democrats have their interests at heart seems to be a bit of revisionist history to me.

      • As Caddell’s full article indicates, Bob, Obama has been in this area before. He waited a week to backtrack, after Caddell’s piece, and frankly, I think it’s a Pazuzu incident. I think the use of “enemies’ is divisive, and intended to be. I think he thought he could get away with it because it was on Univision. Bush never talked about Democrats as enemies. I think Obama’s weakness is that he takes politics personally, and that “enemies” is what he honestly thinks.

        • I don’t think any president should refer to any citizens as “enemies,” period. He is President of all the people: the office dictates that he treat all law abiding citizens with respect. I especially think for THIS particular president to use such unprofessional rhetoric is especially dangerous and outrageous. A leader who get elected on the promise to unite it dividing the nations into “us” and “them” is a betrayal, nothing less.

          Sure he’s backtracking; its an outrage, and Caddell nailed him on it. The problem is that these were his words, and it is significant that he said them, no matter how much he backtracks.

  2. Jack, on the eye’s journey from your compelling piece to the Leave a Reply box below are several unavoidable interruptions called Ads by Google, one of which reads today:

    Offensive Obama T-Shirts
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    This is one of those places where free speech meets that cognitive whatsis you’re talking about?

  3. Well, at least free speech is alive and well on the Net!

    The ads don’t appear to be pop-ups or stand-outs — no boxing, flashing; they use the format identical to the blog (same font, size, color, etc.); and they’re inserted into the page as if part of your text between “Share This” and “Filed Under” as:

    Ads by Google
    San Francisco Coupons
    1 ridiculously huge coupon a day. Get 50-90% off the Bay’s best!
    Don’t Believe in God?
    You are not alone. Come meet some good, intelligent people like you.
    [and once again]
    Offensive Obama T-Shirts
    Anti-Obama. Funny Offensive TShirts Just $9.99 each, high quality
    The same ads appear on the computers at work and at home and as you’ve probably noticed already, they appear to be local, which explains the responses from Tim and Jacob. But most of them feed off keywords in the body of the article (i.e. under Election Ethics Scorecard: one of the ads reads: The Tea Party Effect…
    Did the Tea Party Influence the Outcome of the Elections? Vote Now!
    … so I guess every time you write about Obama, I’m going to see the Anti-Obama T’s ad.

    (oh, btw, noticed your baseball enthusiasm flagged and was extinguished by season’s end — mine, on the other hand, flourished giantically. I don’t think anyone here’s really noticed the election results yet. )

    • Well, this is all news to me. Any idea where this is coming from? Google? WordPress? I don’t see any of it, and it sounds irritating as hell.

      By the way, my baseball enthusiasm NEVER flags—the ethical issues just come and go.

  4. Penn, et al.: Here is what WordPress says—in essence, I have to pay 30 bucks a year to get rid of those ads. Is it worth it? Sounds like it may be:

    “No Ads”

    At WordPress.com, we sometimes display discreet AdSense advertisements on your blog to help pay the bills. This keeps free features free!

    No Ads is a paid upgrade that costs $29.97 per blog, per year.

    The ad code tries very hard to not intrude or show ads to logged-in readers, which means only a very small percentage of your page views will actually contain ads.

    To eliminate ads on your blog entirely, you can purchase the No-Ads Upgrade. The upgrade is especially attractive and useful to business blogs in order to eliminate any possibility of competitors’ ads displaying on their domains. Please note that the Possibly Related Posts, which appear at the end of your blog posts, are NOT advertisements. This feature can be disabled from Appearance -> Extras.

    The No-Ads Upgrade is per blog. You can purchase the upgrade from the Upgrades panel of your dashboard.

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