Disinformation specialists have many tools at their disposal – the misleading poll, the false expert, planted news and of course my all-time favorite, the outright boldface lie. But one that annoys me more than the others is the misleading catchphrase. These are emotion-laden two and three-word ditties like “death panel,” drill baby drill,” “support the troops,” “hope and change,” and their use is a classic propaganda technique. As simple as they sound, it takes days and hours of brainstorming and pounding out ideas inside advertising agencies to come up with the best ones. The object is to inject emotion and obfuscate issues, reducing complex matters down to memorable phrases.
The one in particular I am thinking of is called the “unfunded mandate.”
Here’s how it is done: take a government program, any program you don’t like, and add up all future payments that will be due, and then say “we don’t have the money!”
The key is “program you don’t like.” This tactic is never used for, say, weapons procurement, military pensions, road building or any other program not under attack by the private sector. Usually it is reserved for Social Security and Medicare.
Of course, the same logic could also apply against any company that depends on debt funding. If all of the obligations in the next 75 years were due today, the company would be bust. That would be … all of them.
Assume that you want to buy a house, and you sit down with a banker. The house you want costs $200,000, and he says your payment will be $1,013, and that over the next 30 years you’ll have to come up with $364,813 in payments, and since you don’t have the money now it’s an unfunded mandate! So he says you cannot have a loan.
That’s the logic behind the “unfunded mandate,” to assume that all future claims on resources must be funded in the present. Worse yet is the deliberately deceptive manner in which pundits apply the logic only against programs that Wall Street wants to end. All they are saying is that Wall Street banks want the current cash flow going into Social Security and Medicare for themselves.
Greed + PR = catchy misleading slogans.
It would be nice if some news reader/talking head were to call out a pundit on this tactic sometime, but they usually get away with it because the news media analysts ain’t none too sharp about these things.