Image from Charlotte Observer
Over the weekend, Tom Perez was elected as the new chairman of the DNC. Mr. Perez's first order of business was to nominate Rep. Keith Ellison as the deputy chair. This means, for the first time in the history of the party, Democrats have a Latino chairman and a Muslim-American deputy chair. Take a moment to bask in the fabulousness. Stop basking, because as usual, some folks just can't be happy about anything.
In the hours following this historic moment, quite a few on the far left joined in chorus with quite a few on the far right, including Donald Trump, stating the DNC election was RIGGED. How Tom Perez is a DC insider, how Keith Ellison lost because he's a Sanders supporter. How once again, the Democrats have proved they don't care about the little guy (you know, like Trump does), and Herbal Teabaggers are going to create their own party because the DNC is awful.
Take my hand. No, the other one. Join me on a short journey back in time to early 2007, when a young man named Barack Obama was running for president. You may recall that, at one or two times during his adult life, Barack Obama was in the same room as Bill Ayers, "noted domestic terrorist." In the same room. They did not hang out, they did not text late into the night about Lenin and Marx and Che, they were in the same room a couple of times. But that was enough for conservatives, and they grabbed that infinitesimal bone with all their fangs, and we were off to the races.
Sarah Palin screeched then-Senator Obama was "palling around with terrorists." He wasn't, but optics were in play. A lot of conservatives were shocked I tell you, shocked, that a black man was not only running for president, he could win. And they were desperate to make sure that didn't happen, so they turned a non-issue into a huge issue because optics. No matter the truth, people will believe what you tell them to believe if you repeat the lie enough. What something looks like is much more important than what it actually is.
That's why the attacks on Rev. Jeremiah Wright worked so well. Rev. Wright didn't do anything wrong but he was a huge threat to the right wing. A black man, and not just a black man but a black pastor, who spoke to his predominantly black congregation about how awful it is being black in America. And yes, Rev. Wright did say "God damn America," who cares, he's a black man in America; he can say whatever he wants.
But the conservative propaganda machine was in full effect, and the optics worked. Barack Obama distanced himself from Rev. Wright because he wanted to be president, and the white right wing was doing whatever they could to keep him out of the Oval Office.
Why are we having a chat about optics? Well, Keith Ellison is why. Rep. Ellison is a good politician, he supports the middle class and working poor, women, the LGBTQ community, he believes in the science of climate change, and by all accounts, is bright and honest. Rep. Ellison also has a past, something that would give conservatives an opportunity to create optics like nothing we've ever seen before.
When Keith Ellison was in college, he wrote and spoke out in defense of Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan is a raging anti-Semite, who, among other things, believes the Bush administration carried out the attacks on 9/11. Ellison was also, if not a member, involved with the Nation of Islam. In 2006, Ellison publicly renounced his association with the group, after the articles he wrote defending Farrakhan were brought to light by Republican blogs.
If being in the same room with Bill Ayers, and belonging to a church where the black pastor tells hard truths about being black in America, were enough to change the optics for President Obama, imagine what the right wing could do with Keith Ellison. Defending Louis Farrakhan, involved with the Nation of Islam, only coming forward to denounce all of that because Republican blogs found his old writings.
Note the word "only." There's your optics. Suddenly, doubt begins to fester. Did he come forward because those patriotic Republicans forced him to with their truth? What if he's still a secret anti-Semite, as opposed to Trump, who is a public anti-Semite? OH MY GOD, he's a black Muslim who used to admire Louis Farrakhan, and Michelle Bachmann said he was a terrorist, and the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the DNC, heads exploding, Sean Hannity's chin covered in his own spittle, Pam Geller dancing a jig in Time Square, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
Rep. Keith Ellison is not an anti-Semite. It doesn't matter, though, just as the truth about President Obama and Rev. Wright, and a birth certificate, and emails, and Benghazi, didn't matter. Politics is about optics, perception is reality, and whoever has the best Ministry of Propaganda wins. Right now, conservatives have an entire company-News Corps-dedicated to spreading misinformation, fake news, and flat-out lies, to tens of millions of registered voters. Conservatives have a second, less-known media outlet, one many of them have never heard of, but they owe RT a big smooch on the lips and a muffin basket. Pootie hates Hillary, and Pootie runs RT, thus, RT hates Hillary Clinton.
The optics of politics is simple: Find something, anything, the person you're against did. It doesn't matter how long ago that something happened, or that they apologized for the something, or distanced themselves from the something. All that matters is using optics to change perception, and change reality. Yes, reality. How many of you believe President Obama and Bill Ayers were once the best of friends? If just one of you does, you fell for an alternate reality created by optics.
Conservatives are better at this than we are, for a very simple reason: they don't mind lying. They really don't. If it gets them to the finish line, if it gets their candidate elected, if it gets them the House, they will lie until their little lips fall right off. Sadly, liberals love shiny things, and we often get distracted by the optics, and the lies, and lose sight of the goal. Which is why the far left and the far right sound so very similar to one another. The far right is manipulating the far left, and the far left is falling for it.
We can have a conversation about privileged progressives (what I call the Susan Sarandon Wing), we can have a chat about Bernie Sanders' love of the defense industry, we can have an argument about pragmatism. None of it matters until everyone understands optics, because progressives are being inundated with propaganda, and thanks to charmers like Lee Camp and Ed Schultz, a lot of those progressives are going to stay home and pout next November. And that means we will never take back Congress.
Optics. Perception. Alternate reality. Alternative facts. Misinformation. Tactics used for decades in politics, but never used quite so effectively in the United States until now.
It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.
― Joseph Goebbels