(image by Frank Plitt via Wikimedia)
"An American city in flames!"
"Do you really want America to be attacked?"
"The next 9/11 is in the making!"
No, the above quotes aren't from some horror flick or war movie promotion. They are the words of South Carolina's U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who's been distributing these gruesome premonitions throughout this year's election cycle. But are these threats real, or are they just part of a fear factor Graham's using to aid his re-election?
His campaign's been in difficult situations, after all, such as its threats from multiple primary candidates. After squeaking through the June race with a 56-percent take, Graham now faces three opponents in November. A last-minute entry to the contest is another Republican, and who's well-known in the state and (thanks to his on-going reality TV show) across the nation. And recent polls only grant Graham a slight plurality due to high disfavor reported by South Carolinians, and with many voters still undecided.
Add in that Graham pretty much stands alone on the topic, and that his only ally is John McCain (who, like Graham, has been censured by various Republican Party groups in his home state), and it seems that the incumbent is only trying to generate voter turnout and even campaign donations. And he's using a cheap tactic known as "fear mongering" to achieve those goals.
For the past few months, Graham's been playing a tarot-reading psychic, making apocalyptic premonitions on the current circumstance in Iraq. Back in June, for example, after leaving a committee hearing regarding the crisis, he told press on Capitol Hill that he knew of a terrorists' plan to attack the U.S.; "what I heard today scared the hell out of me," he added for emphasis. A few days later, he told CNN the circumstance in Syria and Iraq will become "the next 9/11 if we don't do something about it."
He went much more in-depth in evil premonitions in an Aug. 10 appearance on Fox News Sunday (see video below). Speaking about the current crisis in Iraq, Graham told host Chris Wallace:
"I think of an American city in flames because of the terrorists' ability to operate in Syria and Iraq. Mr. President, you have never once spoke directly to the America people about the threat we face from being attacked from Syria, now Iraq. What is your strategy to stop these people from attacking the homeland? ["] I'm saying that Iraq and Syria combined represent a direct threat to our homeland. His responsibility as president is to defend this nation. If he does not go on the offensive against ISIS, ISIL -- whatever you want to call these guys -- they are coming here! It is about our homeland, and if we get attacked because he has no strategy to protect us then he will have committed a blunder for the ages. ["] Do you really want to let America be attacked?"
But does Graham really believe such threat exists, or is he only using this fear factor to drum up votes in this year's election? Based on his campaign's activities, the latter seems to be apparent.
The day after that Fox News Sunday appearance, many voters in his state of South Carolina received promotional mail, making the same threatening statements in a request for campaign donations:
"(My) agenda includes " Fight Radical Islamic terrorists who want to kill us(.) ["] But in order for me to continue to speak up, I must win my re-election(.) That's why I urge you to return your Pledge of Support as soon as possible (with) a generous contribution of $10, $15, $20 or whatever you can send(.)"
In the field of advertising, this tactic is referred to as "fear mongering" -- "the action of deliberately arousing public fear or alarm about a particular issue," according to Oxford Dictionaries. And while not common in political ads, fear mongering is still used in this field. Consider the well-known "Daisy" ads run by LBJ's 1964 campaign, or the "Willie Horton" spots used by George H. W. Bush's 1988 bid against Michael Dukakis.
According to Jessica A. Zaluzec's master's thesis on the topic, successful political advertisements must be intense, of familiar topic, memorable, and of emotional impact upon the viewer. Political campaigns practice this tenet so traditional to the trade in the format of fear mongering. Zaluzec asserts:
"Fear advertisements are dramatically more effective at persuading viewers with more than one in four voting for the sponsor even though they initially were indifferent or learned toward to the opponent."
It doesn't always work, though, and can even have the opposite effect. Consider, for example, the NRA's recent video promotion for (of all things) handguns for the blind. In the promo, spokesperson Dom Raso says:
"Do you think you need to see where you're shooting if someone's on top of you trying to kill or rape you, while theeir hands are slowly squeezing your neck, yelling 'I'm going to kill you'? I didn't think so."
This fear mongering video quickly caught public outrage, though, leading the NRA to pull it offline a few days later. (The opposing Moms Demand Action organization saved the video, though, and still has it available online in sharp criticism of the NRA.)
And Graham's consistent "next 9/11!" spiel could have the same negative effect, too. He's made no improvement in support, for example. Recent polls say that an overwhelming majority of the population - both Democrat and Republican - oppose sending troops to Iraq, and despite Graham's consistent promotion of another war.
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