EUGENE PASLOV: The power of narratives to twist the truth
“Narrative” is a word that gained currency during the last presidential election. Its overuse caused it to become almost trite, but it lingers on in the lexicon of national politics. Its current definition is the story line a political party uses to convince the electorate they are working on their behalf (or the party’s priorities). The Republicans used “narrative” effectively. The Democrats, not so much.
This is how it works. Obama became president and the Republicans developed a negative narrative (a story line) that Obama was far left, a liberal, a European socialist whose father was Kenyan, suggesting the president wasn’t even a U.S. citizen. The story line claimed Obama was anti-business, was disconnected from the working class, was associated with radicals, had a foreign sounding name, and had strange ideas about trying to re-establish America as a respected world power. Recall the ridicule the national Republicans heaped upon the president when he spoke in Berlin and later to a conference of Muslims in Egypt, trying to re-establish our nation’s reputation as a tolerant world power.
The negative Republican narrative continued. When the administration passed major health care reform (the R’s refused to cooperate), the story line for the national Republicans was that the bill was “too long, too complicated, and too expensive.” This narrative was pure fiction. But Congressional Republicans punctuated the story line with well placed, scary fabrications – death panels, destroying Medicare, causing bankruptcy. Some even went so far as to suggest the president didn’t have the authority to sign the bill because he was foreign born. Again, all false.
When confronted, however, the Congressional Republicans just smiled and shrugged their shoulders. Their narrative went on until, today, almost one-third of our voting population believes this mythology. The power of an often repeated lie is for the lie to sound truthful.
The administration needs to mount a strong, accurate narrative, to develop its own narrative, powerful and factual. Shout aloud and often their numerous achievements – national health care reform for all; financial reform saving the nation from a major depression, rescuing the U.S. auto industry and millions of jobs, and bringing the financial industry back from the brink of disaster. Add an array of other monumental achievements in education, student loans, energy and conservation. All done for the benefit of the economic recovery of the nation and its middle class.
It is a narrative, if told factually, that will help Americans understand that the Republican plan to cut taxes, increase corporate deregulation, shrink government, and rescind health care reform will hasten our decline to a Third World power. Corporations win. The middle class loses.
• Eugene Paslov is a board member of the Davidson Academy at the University of Nevada, Reno and the former Nevada state superintendent of schools.