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Adolf Hitler a nd Other Oval Office Demons : The Right by Daniel Ruth A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Mass Communications C ollege of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Kenneth Killebrew, Ph.D. Larry Z. Leslie, Ph.D. Randy Miller, Ph.D. Date of Approval: November 2, 2010 Key Words; visual rhetoric, fantasy themes Copyright 2010 Daniel Ruth
DEDICATION It has been said that none of us walks alone and that is certainly true in trying to assemble a project such as this. And I could have never made it past the first step toward completing this often times challenging and difficult goal without the unwaverin g support of my wife Angela, who has been a constant source of advice, help and inspiration in so many ways. I would also like to thank the members of my thesis committee for their wise counsel and patience with me. Dr. Killebrew, Dr. Miller and Dr. Lesl ie all have been exceedingly gracious in giving their time and assistance to me whenever I needed the benefit of their experience. I would also like to thank Dr. Leslie for his editing help. I hope he finds a few paragraphs in this work long enough. I wou ld also like to acknowledge The Tampa Tribune for making it possible for me to have so much time to work on this effort. And finally I want to thank all my fellow classmates and friends within the graduate program. We have shared and sometimes offered advice to one another as we made our way toward the finish line. And we managed to have some fun, too. It has been an honor and a privilege to be associated with you
i TABLE OF CONTENTS ABSTRACT ii CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION 1 CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW 5 CHAPTER THREE: METHODOLOGY 3 2 CHAPTER FOUR: FINDINGS 3 8 CHAPTER FIVE: RESULTS 4 0 Obama As Hitler 4 1 41 Obama As The Joker 4 3 Obama A Che Guevara 49 O bama and The Rush Limbaugh Connection 5 1 CHAPTER SIX: CONCLUSION 5 6 REFERENCES 6 0 A PPENDICES 6 7 A ppendix A: O bama As Adolf Hitler 6 8 A ppendix B : O bama As The Joker 69 A ppendix C: G eorge W. Bush As The Joker 7 0 A ppendix D: H eath Ledger As T he Joker 7 1 A ppendix E : O bama/Che Guevara T S hirt 7 2 A ppendix F: O bama As C he Guevara P lacard 7 3 A ppendix G : C he G uevara /O bama Campaign Logo 7 4 A ppendix H: Obama Health CareLogo/ W ehrmacht S ymbol 7 5 A ppendix I: Obama/The Lives of Others 7 6 A ppendix J: Unite d Socialist States of America 7 7 Appendix K : Obama Dictator 7 8 :
ii ABSTRACT This thesis endeavors to examine the imagery and rhetoric surrounding the portrayal of President Barack Obama during the national debate over health care reform from the summer of 2009 into the spring of 2010. It is argued that the critics of the health care reform legislation used images to portray the president as Adolf Hitler, Che Guevara, The Joker, as well as other images such as the swastika and the Wehrmacht symbol as stand in euphemisms for race to discredit Barack Obama. A number of e xemplar images have been selected from various websites and publications specifically addressing the portrayal of Barack Obama not only in starkly menacing tones, but also in images suggesting the president is a villainous black man attempting to pass for white in order to accomplish his tyrannical goals. The images used in this thesis speak to the power of fantasy themes and the use of fear in rhetorical imagery inasmuch as they attempt to stoke a narrative seizing upon the anxieties of an American publi c caught in the grip of difficult financial times, finding American president. This thesis complements earlier research exploring the role of race in politics and public policy debates. And it is hoped thi s work will contribute to a better understanding of the growing influence of talk radio, as well as perhaps the need for greater civics literacy
1 CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION Barack Obama campaigned throughout 2008 in his quest for the presidency as an agent of change. A significant aspect of that call for change was a substantial overhaul of insured when it c omes to health care needs or without any health insurance coverage at all. As spring approached in 2009 and well into 2010 t he administration began to ramp up its health care initiative which included such elements as providing universal health care for every American, a single payer system offering government funded health care and increased taxes on private health insurers. A s debate increased over various elements of health care reform, opponents of the plan, which included such right wing radio talk show hosts as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, as well a s the burgeoning Tea Party movement and others, began an effort to cast Obama and his administration as agents of tyranny and villainy through the use of numerous images and rhetorical flourishes eich, for example. While accounts vary, it is estimated somewhere between 50 million and 70 million people combatants and civilians (including some six million Jews in the Nazi concentration camps) perished in World War II as a result of the rise of Th ird Reich and
2 its Axis allies (wwIIarchives.net United States Holocaust Museum ). These figures suggest perhaps that efforts to compare Obama to Hi tl er and his associates are not only egregious but historical ly inaccurate. Nevertheless, the veracity or l a ck thereof of the Obama as Hitler comparison notwithstanding, suggest the opposition attacks gained some traction over the summer of 2009 and into 2 010 as the health care debate raged. According to an ABC News/Washington Post Poll (2009) in April, 2009, before opponents began their attacks on the health care legislation, 57 percent of Americans percent disapproved. By August, the same poll (2009), showed a steady decrease in support, w ith only 46 percent of respondents supporting the health car e initiative, while 50 percent disapproved. T his thesis hypothesizes that the systematic, seemingly relentless cacophony of verbal and symbolic attacks on Obama from questioning his citizenship, to suggestions health care reform : was a giant step toward tyrannical socialism served to undermine public support for the plan by playing upon euphemistic t hemes of race baiting. These themes include efforts to characterize and caricaturize Barack Obama as an agent of tyranny symbolized by Adolf Hitler, Che Gu evara and The Joker. This qualitative study will elaborate and expand upon those themes in an eff ort to determine if an argument can be made that the on going health care debate leading up to and extending beyond the passage of the measure by the United States Congress and subsequent signing into law by President Obama could be construed as a de facto debate about on going race and racial attitudes in America.
3 W hile it is difficult to link care effort with the growing c horus of rhetoric on the political right most notably the neo conservative talk radio community the parallels between the public discourse and the declining public support for health care reform would suggest a possible linkage It also might be argued that while the loud and vociferous voices of the political right wing talk radi o establishment do wield influence in their ability to galvanize public opinion, the bully pulpit of the presidency is not without its own unique power. Indeed, following a September 2009 speech b y Obama defending his health care plan a CBS News Poll ( 200 9) showed a demonstrable increase in support for the health care reform effort from the p 52 percent of those polled opposed the plan, while 38 percent approved. Another poll conducted by Zogby International ( 2009) reflected similar results. The sta g e was set for public antipathy toward health care as evidenced by a poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal (Wallste i n,2009), which indicated 61 percent of respondents belie ved America was in a state of decline, with 35 percent disagreeing and another 4 percent unsure. Edge (2010) suggests the seeds of racism Obama would face as he began his presidency were present, but often ignored in the seeming euphoria over the 2008 elec tion results, something he labels the Southern Strategy 2.0. This study will briefly describe rhetorical /visual discourse analysis as the research method for this thesis before exploring the meanings of the possible race based images used by the right wing opponents of the current health care effort to demonize
4 e rize Barack Obama, who emerges from this discourse directed from the political right as the ult imate
5 CHAPTER TWO LITERATURE REVIEW To long time observers of public policy debates the current controversy over health care reform may well seem like a case of same song, different dance. Over the summer and in care initiative a ttempted to cast the reform legislation by characterizing the administration as an extension of socialism an effort on the part of the federal s. But the opposition and especially the rhetorical and semiotic fervor on the part of the political right, most notably the neo conservative radio talk show community recalls s health care system by then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1993 94. For a variety of reasons stewardship of the reform proposal through the legislative process. W hile there are some notable voices on the left of the political spectrum conservative right wing of the political landscape who have historically dominated the discourse and the agenda over the television and radio airwaves. Indeed Edge (2010) argues the appearance of the election of a black cand i date to the highest office in the land allowed opponents to make the case the nation had entered a
6 post racial e ra free of racism, and therefore the time had come to eliminate racial equality remedies such as affirmative action, which only served to foment discord, demagoguery and racism against white Americans. represented ; while B) at the same time it provided a convenient bogeyman to threaten white audiences with accusations the new pr esident was attempting to deprive white Americans of their freedom and liberty. In his analysis of voting patterns, Edge notes Obama fared about as well among white voters in 2008 as Al Gore did in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004. Where Obama fared consider ably better was among black voters (95 percent), Latinos (67 percent) and Asian Americans (62 percent), Edge posits, adding that base came exclusively from white voters, suggesting a racial component was alive and well in the presidential campaign of 2008. As the Obama Administration began its push for health reform in 2009, the cacophony of opposition could be viewed as an echo of the last attempt to reshape health care policy during the Clinton Administration. As Anderson (200 2 ) notes: T he sinking of health care reform appeared to drown the woman at the helm and Rodham Clinton was publicly chastised for being pushy, meddlesome and for telling Congress what to ed uttered bluntly by the mother of House Speaker Newt Gingrich (p.1).
7 was much more than merely a politically incorrect and distasteful term used to describe the First Lady of the United States, but rather served to cast the health care debate through the rhetorical frame in the eyes of the public that a massive economic restructuring of the country was being guided by an unpleasant, duplicitous, distrustful woman. Perloff (1998) suggests the framing of the health care debate was an object lesson in political communication as a battle waged between supporters and opponents one side framing the issue as a plo y Care Meanwhile, the administration framed its argument in more egalitarian terms simply deserved and reduce costs. In the midst of the h ealth care debate in 1993 94, Perloff notes despite the more altruistic arguments on the part of the Clinton Administration and the First Lady that the plan would benefit all Americans, especially those without health care, the counter argument this was another massive, intrusive, and costly big government program carried more weight with a public weary of ever growing bureaucracies. And the most potent rhetorical and symbolic representation of the downside of reforming the health care system in America ultimately b ecame, Anderson (2002) argues , played to the archetyp e of female identity in America, for it spoke directly to the imagery of an overly assertive, meddlesome, uppity woman who ref used to stay in her subservient place I t might be argued as this thesis will attempt to explore, that in 2009 the anti health care reform rhetoric was targeted toward an overly assertive, uppity, meddlesome black man who refused to remain in his place.
8 the health care effort also came at a time of heightened media growth and th e advent of the 24 hour cable television news cycle. And thus, as Corrigan (2000) notes, the attacks o n the First Lady found a multitude of outlets ready to offer exposure. In short, the bully pulpit once enjoyed and even dominated by a president who can command virtually instant access to the media is now forced to be shared by a multitude of cable news outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, FOX and others to give voice have grown in sophistication and e ffectiveness the ability of a president to keep the focused on a particular issue has become more probl e matic (p.153 ). Cast against t he rhetorical and symbolic frames of the 2009 2010 health care debate in which the Obama Administration has been painted as a version of socialism 2.0 to sway public opinion against the legislation this thesis seeks to determine whether the lessons the Clinton Administration confronted 16 years ago in atte mpting the same level of reform are being revis i ted, shifting from a sexist bias to a raci al bias. In both cases, it could be suggested opponent s of health care reform created a in order to stir fear and doubt over health care reform. In one case, the villain wake of the more recent health care debate this thesis will explore whether Barack Obama has been cast within the rhetorical imagery frame of race by conservative radio talk show hosts, selected websites and selected newspaper articles. respond in accordance with nature (p.17). Rhetorical imagery, Burke suggests, is roo ted
9 in the very function of language itself and constantly re invented and as such the symbolic nature of language becomes a means by which people form a cooperative bond between one another as they respond to the imagery suggested by the language and/or the symbol employed to convey the intended message. Burke advances the idea that through language believed to be understood by the receiver s the crafter of the imagery is able to identify the views, and biases, of those they wish to communicate with. Me baiting environment, like so many other forms of mass communications, has grown more sophisticated and politically savvy in conveying its bigoted messages, noting these groups have deftly exploited the Internet to lure k nowingly or not growing cadres of new followers. Since many users of the Internet are younger consumers of cyberspace, Meddaugh advances the notion they lack the requisite critical thinking skills to adequately evaluate the information they are exposed to, adding the mere presence of information accessed via the Internet is imbued with a legitimacy that may not be fully warranted. Thus, cyber information, often published anonymously on the Internet can, in effect create its own reality. In her analys i s of the white supremacist website Stormfront, which praises Ku Klux Klan leader David Dukes, Meddaugh notes the racist/hate language has been toned down in its virulence in order to attract less discerning Meddaugh suggests the white supremacist movement at least in the eyes of those who feel betrayed by government is angry over immigration, or the bank bail outs, or the perceived illegitimate presence of an African American in the White House
10 and s erves as a medicine man of sorts providing a haven and a patina of legitimacy for its conspiracy theories and fears. Adding legitimacy to the white supremacist hate culture is the notion that urbane, educated African Americans such as Obama, rather than s erving as a positive example of racial progress, is instead advanced as prima facie evidence of an alien influence upon white society since it betrays the conventional wisdom within these groups of the African American as a n illiterate, shiftless, untrustw orthy and threatening figure . And thus, Meddaugh argues the racist emerges as a freedom fighter in opposition to the tyrannical order the Stormfront white supremacists offer comfort and hope particularly within those groups who lack critical thinki ng skills, and for whom the soothing rhetoric of the Stormfront reso nates across multiple audiences and communications platforms. Conant (2009) too, has taken note of the softening of racist language and symbols by such groups the Klan and Stormfront, po Indeed, Conant n otes Stormfront, in effort to appear more mainstream and attract a wider level of a cceptance, removed images of swastikas from its website, as well as any references to the Third Reich. As van Dijk notes (1999), ethnic and racial prejudices are acquired and shared among the dominant social group as part of everyday discourse in such as way as to conceal or deny de facto negative racial attitu des. J ust as in sports discourse, language serve s as a stand in for race A s Matheson (2005) notes the expression of racism through language the essence of racist rhetoric
11 imbues the speaker with the power to define the object of the speech into any preferred identity. For van Dijk even blatantly racist discourse in society especially among political, media, academic and corporate elite s ro utinely is accompanied by denials and efforts to negative things about minorities are well aware of the fact that they may be understood as breaking the social norm of to 542). Edge (2010) conservatives cannot discuss racial issues per se, but rather have engaged in a rhetorical code of white middle class victimization and coded race based language of patriotism and American iden tity, citing references to Obama in tyrannical terms. 2.0 allows w hites to accept individual b lacks who are seen as different from the rest of their race, without challenging their racist assumptions ab In a recent study, Knowles, Lowery and Schaumberg (2010) conclude there was a verifiable aura of racism hanging over the health care debate noting that u sing the exact same elements, respondents reacted favorably to health care reform when they believed it was the proposal first set forth by the Clinton Administration in the early 1990s, but reacted unfavorably toward the same proposal when informed it was the Obama health care plan. Both plans advocated ending discrimination based on pre existing conditions, capping out of pocket medical expenses and the like.
12 character und ermined support for his health care initiative. In fact, Knowles, Lowery and Schaumberg note highly prejudiced individuals who expressed race neutral objections to the plan, including the suggestion the health plan was a step toward socialism, used that ob jection to obfuscate their racial attitudes toward Obama. It could be argued the debate over health care, against the backdrop of the in the nation since The Great Depression, all formed to create a perfect storm of anger, distrust and racism across the body politic. groups across the country surged by 80 percent in 2009 alone, with 136 new designate d anti immigrant vigilante groups established. The trend has been on the upswing since 2000, Potok notes with hate groups rising by some 54 percent between 2000 and 2008. And Potok cites the creation of approximately 363 new Patriot militia movements a 244 percent increase in 2009 alone. Potok attributes this rise in vigilante/militia/Patriot/hate groups to racial changes in the population, a growing debt burden and a sense the bankin g and automotive class foisted upon them not only by a leader characterized by his critics as a s ocialist and/or fascist, but also by one who is also an African Amer ican president. The presence of a black leader in the White House has only deepened the resentment among these groups in light of non white immigration and a demographic
13 decline of whites in America, which h movement (Southern Poverty Law Center, 2009). It is possible that the racial p redicate that awaited Obama during the health care debate in 2009 2010, could be found during the 2008 presidential campaign As Sparks (2009) notes both the primary campaign f or the Democratic nomination and the subsequent presidential campaign against Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin frequently employed coded racial messages in their rhetoric. As Sparks argues, at one point an uppity black man who had forgotten his place. Sparks posits such racially coded language was an attempt to recast the rhetoric into publicly acceptable politic al discourse organize r language ddle class By adopting this frame, Sparks argues Palin was mocking community organizing, social justice, equality or marginalized people A ttempting to link Obama to William Ayers, who had been active in the Weather Underground in the 1960s, Sparks posits allowed the McCain campaign to accuse Obama of links t o terrorism and thus created an association between a black man and many white fears of the viole nt black urban monster
14 There is a long term political consequence to pay for all this heated rhetoric, notes Hemmer (2010), in that the extreme language conjuring images of end times simply on the basis on a vote to reform health care, only deepens th e political divide in the United States, as well has having a chilling effect on any hopes for a subsequent sober, rational social/political discourse on public policy issues. This it could be argued has given rise to a steady drumbeat of anti Obama rhe toric, attempting to portray the president as a despotic tyrant M ythology, or a fantasy theme, promote a personal agenda Critical to this effort, Combs (19 8 4) suggests, is the effective use of popular fundamental human beliefs and fears. into the logic of propaganda as evidence as to how they are pr otecting the American (p. 110). To that end, Combs argues, the mass media play a pivotal role in assisting in the creation of symbolic realities, which appeal or perhaps not to the collective imaginations of the public. Combs makes the critica l point that consumers of mass media are what he terms picking which outlets of information they chose to consume and/or reinforce their belief system and r e ject ing others which do not confor m with what their belief system values At the time Combs advanced this theory in 1984, the media buffet line was far thinner than it is today. Media consumers had access to limited channel offerings on
15 broadcast television and the cable television industry was, at best in its adolescence. The Internet was still years away and talk radio as we know it today was in its infancy. Combs s views on media selection by consumers has even greater salience today Indeed it might be argue d the media landscape could be viewed as segregated to the extent consumers can find a safe haven for their biases across the radio, television and cable dials and a plethora of Internet sites catering to their views without fear of ever stumbling across a n alternative opinion or fact challenging their viewpoints. As Kuhn (2010) notes, while Obama attracted white male voters in the 2008 election, that support has begun to melt away in the wake of a stubborn recession and the perception the health care le gislation is a socialist ploy. Kuhn suggests the white male flight away from Obama has deep populist roots, as the average working man has watched bail outs for the rich and for corporations, and a health care plan perceived as a bail out for the poor, w ith nothing left for those left behind in the middle class. And Gallup (2010) supports Kuhn. A March, 2010 poll found 56 percent of respondents believe the health care plan would benefit lower income families, while only 34 percent of respondents believ ed it would provide any relief to middle income wage earners. It could be argued this growing middle class frustration has given rise to such movements as the Tea Party activists who provide a forum for those who abhor big government to coalesce around a common goal.
16 (2010). The contract calls for individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, market based health care and insurance reform, tax reform, transparency, protecting the Constitution, ending excessive government spending and protecting the press by way of prohibiting the re establishment of the Fairness Doctrine, as well as a nd any effort on the quotas. Jonsson (2010) argues the Tea Party movement has become a mainstream political force, suggesting the Contract From America represents a matura tion process from simple sign waving malcontents to a reform movement grounded in ideas. Berger (2009) raises a similar caution when he argues that former fringe groups are now being viewed as mainstream P roponents of health care were being branded as g enocidal fiends in connection with elements of the health care plan which did not exist. Van Dijk (1995) argues institutional and intrapersonal communication play an and acquisition of racism in Hate speech in all its forms verbal visual, symbolic exerts a formidable cognitive influence on groups, molding opinions, re enforcing stereotypes and sup porting ideological perceptions. For v an hate speech since they are the ones be it in government, or social organizations, or political groups who create, monitor and control those below them with their message.
17 Crit ical to this paradigm, v an Dijk notes is having access to media since this is the means by which agenda setting occurs and thus controls the discourse, the framing of constructs and therefore the inculcation of message and image. It is axiomatic, v an Di jk argues that political discourse is focused and depends on control of the message for its effectiveness A rguing against the backdrop of race based hate speech it is vital for the conveyers of the message to maintain a patina of the notion that the spe akers are only engaging in and asking for fairness. It is critical, v an Dijk posits, that the elites controlling the message retain a self image of tolerance. Historically, race either overtly or covertly has played a prominent role in American poli tical discourse, perhaps reaching (until the ascension of Barack Obama) its nadir in the 1988 presidential campaign when opponents of Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis injected race based fear mongering into the campaign through the introduct ion of the Willie Horton ad (Whillock, 1995). Horton, a convicted felon in Massachusetts where Dukakis was governor, committed a heinous murder while out of prison on a furlough. The event was used by the George H.W. Bush campaign in a series of commerci als to portray Dukakis as soft on crime as well as engender fears among white voters since Horton was black (Whillock 1995 ). Whillock argues such visceral race based appeals consciously i nflame emotions of individuals, and denigrate the out class in order to win at the ballot box. This form of appeal, Whillock notes, serves to construct barriers between social groups be they economic, race or gender based, urging a distance must be kept between those thers and the rest of us. And thus, once the b arriers have been raised and the
18 isolation between groups has taken root, this only further enabl es isolated groups to justify their behavior and/or their speech Most importantly, Whillock notes the appeals to the fears of those opposed to health care, for example, cannot be viewed by the receiver of the message as simply an atypical aberration, but rather a very real, very systemic threat to their lives and security. And thus, Whillock posits it is important to create a situation where any effort for the out class to defend itself is dismissed as false and predictable and therefore invalid. A case could be advanced that the rhetoric deployed by the radio right wing is at the very least providing unwitting support for the growing Patriot/militia/white supremacist movement which as markedly grown since the election and inauguration of Obama. Determining precise listenersh ip numbers for nationally syndicated talk shows is more an art than a science. Because of disparities between markets and different times of the day many of these hosts are on the air arriving at an exact, independent number of who is listening to Glenn B eck, or Rush Limbaugh, or Sean Hannity or many others on the right wing spectrum of the radio dial is problematic. According to the Pew Project for Excellence In Journalism (2009) in 1990, there were 395 radio stations across the country dedicated to a ne ws/talk format. By 2008, Pew notes the news/talk format had grown to 2,046 stations Indeed, Pew reports that with an estimated 48 million listeners, the news/talk format is the second most popular format in radio, lagging only behind country music. Howev er, as F arhi (2009) reports, it has become a generally accepted industry dictum that Limbaugh, who is carried on some 400 radio stations across the country
19 reaches an estimated audience of between 15 million and 20 million listeners. And Zaitchik (2010), w ho has recently penned an unauthorized biography of Beck, estimates the commentator reaches a radio audience of approximately eight million listeners. By comparison, The New York Times widely regarded as the most influential newspaper and in the minds of some icon has a relatively paltry 950,000 daily circulation (Plambeck, 2010). By any standard, it can be argued both the individual and combined reach of right wing talk radio poss esses considerable clout t o sway and influence public opinion. wake of a boycott after the host accused Obama of being a racist, his listenership increased to a one day record when 2.8 million lis teners tuned in (Los Angeles Times, ( 2009). Talkers Magazine (2010) the industry trade publication for talk radio claims Hannity has a national radio audience of 14 million people, while Michael Savage re a ches about nine million listeners. Pew (2010) n otes all of the top ten news/talk radio hosts are considered to be conservative in their political leanings ; Rush Limbaugh (15 million), Sean Hannity (14 million), Glenn Beck (9 million), Michael Savage (9 million), Dr. Laura Schlessinger (9 million), Laur a Ingr a ham (6.25 million), Mark Levin (6.25 million), Dave Ramsay (6.25 million), Neal Bortz (4.75 million) and Mike Gallagher (4.75 million). By contrast an earlier Pew study (2009, noted the most popular liberal news/talk radio personality, Ed Schultz, saw his audience shrink for the preceding years dropping from 3.25 million listeners in 2007, to an audience of 3 million in 2008. The rest of the
20 liberal radio hosts, according to Pew: Lionel (Mike LeBron), Stephanie Miller and Ala n Colmes who individually reach about 1.5 million listeners. Pew (2009) also noted that with the exception of Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee an d Kentucky, talk radio is either the preferred number one or number two format throughout the nation. By any reasonable st andard, news/talk radio enjoys a substantial reach across the media landscape. As Alterman and Goldberg (2010) note the audience captured by news/talk radio is twice the collective audience reached by the three nightly network newscasts combined and seven times greater than the cable news outlets. Historically, the radio dial has been a potent vehicle for the political right to advance its agenda. In its relative infancy in the 1920s, radio provided a home for the political right with the one of the early progenitors of virulent, radical hate speech in the broadcast s of firebrand Father Charles Coughlin, a Roman Catholic priest, who took to the airwaves in 1926 on a Detroi t radio station and within two years quickly became the populist voice of a disaffect ed middleclass (Warren, 1996). A prominent force in American political life from 1926 until 1942, the charismatic Coughlin mixed a passionate, messianic fervor with a keen understanding of the potential power and reach of the microphone to rail against wha t he claimed were dark conspiracies within the United States government to do the bidding of Marxists who controlled the nation s banking and industrial sectors (Warren 1996 ).
21 in euphemism fo r Jews, Coughlin fueled public fears and anxieties as the Great Depression enveloped the country I ndeed at one point he referred to President Frank In a 1938 radio broadcast following the Kristallnacht attacks on Jewish homes and businesses in Germany and Austria, Coughlin took to the airwaves to defend the act of anti Semitism noting: It is the belief, be it well, or ill u nfounded of the present Germ an government, not mine, that Jews are not as religionists but as nationals only, were responsible for the economic and social ills suffered by the Fatherland since the signing (p.156). Semitic rhetori c became even more rabid he even accused Jews of trying to undermine Easter and Christmas and as World War II i tical force waned (Warren). Never t heless, Coughlin most influential media figures (Warren, 1996). Still, it could be argued Coughlin would set the stage for future right wing radio hosts, from Walter Winchell in the 1940s and 1950s, to Joe Pyne and Les Crane in the 1960s and 1970s, to Rush Limbaugh who began hi s rise to prominence in the 1980 s to be eventually joined on the dial by Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Michael S avage and others. It is an interesting question as to whether Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Savage and the rest of right wing talk radio hosts would h old the influential sway over their audiences they presently enjoy if the medium was still obligated to adhere to the Fairness Doctrine.
22 From 1949 until 1987 broadcasters were bound by the Federal Communications Commission rule called the Fairness Doctrine which required those who held a federal broadcasting license to provide equal time to on air commentaries (Harvey, 1998). At issue was a determination by the FCC to create impartiality in broadcasting not to stifle, or prevent the expression of public opinion, but to ensure opposing views and voices would also have the opportunity to be heard as well in the public interest Until 1987 perhaps the prevailing precedent undergirding the Fairness Doctrine was the 1969 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Red Lion Broadcasting v. Federal Communications Commission (395 U.S. 367, 1969 Weaver, Lively, 2006, Barron,, Diennes, 1993) T he court held the goals of the First Amendment are best preserved in broadcasting when free speech rights are transferred from broadcast ers to the public. In the Red Lion case, the court noted the rights of free speech on the part of broadcasting should not trump the free speech rights of individuals. However by 1987 during an era of deregulation fostered by the Reagan Administration, the tide began to turn when the FCC suspended the Fairness Doctrine arguing broadcasting entities should also enjoy free speech. As Harvey notes, the logic behind the suspension of the Fairness Doctrine was time provisions exerted und ue burdens on broadcasters while also creating a chilling effect on broadcasters who would shy away from reporting on controversial issues for fear of having to honor the complexities of allowing alternative points of view to be expressed. While former FCC Chairman Newton Minnow excoriated the demise of the Fairness Doctrine as a corporate rejection of a public service obligation (Jones, 2006), it
23 is hardly a coincidence the demise of the doctrine coincided perfectly with the rise of Limbaugh and in time the voices who would follow him as a significant and powerful voice of the right on the radio dial. A s the obligation to provide alternative points of view on the dial disappeared, the next generation of broadcasting following was free to use the microphone without fear of accountability, accuracy or fairness in order to promulgate a political point of view. To be sure in 2010, given the unfiltered rise of the Internet where anyone can post any opinio n regardless of accuracy, or truth, or fear of consequence the notion of a Fairness Doctrine may seem antiquated or even quaint. be if the concept of fairness existent wit hin so called mainstream media. W o uld Internet bloggers still be quick to engage in cyber demagoguery today if the likes of Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, and S avage were themselves obliged to a standard to provide a fair and balanced albeit opinionated protocol of offering alternative points of view? Duffy (2003) sees the interactivity, anonymity and the perception of credibility as the Internet the prime weapon of ch oice for all manner of hate groups across the ideological spectrum. And because these groups are able to couch their messages of hate and prejudice within the context of mainstream values, their ability to gain credibility and recruit followers by exploiti ng fears make them a political force to contend with Duffy argues. This view is aligned with the work of Bormann (1985) who developed the concept of Fantasy Theme Analysis, which argues individuals create an imaginative
24 interpretation of events to fulfill a psychological and/or rhetorical need. Bormann further suggests that dramatizing messages that create a fantasy chain of beliefs constitutes a Fantasy Theme. For a Fantasy Theme to exist, Bormann (1985) posits that there must be evidence s occurred linking various groups in a shared fantasy belief system. And this process, Bormann argues infuse the emotional and memory banks with meanings and emotions commonly agreed upon by the group as a result of the symbolic cue. These cue s, Bormann argues can come from coded words or phrases such as creating a coded, share d cue of economic reform, or war, or terrorism. Thus, the use of the cue phenomenon allows for the development of a fantasy type for the group, noting a Indeed, Bormann suggests assign responsibility, to praise or blame, to arouse or propitiate guilt, t o (p.9). Central to the effectiveness of any Fantasy Theme construct is the need for drama, Bormann notes. Therefore it is critical within a Fantasy theme for there to be heroes and vil lains, positive and negative consequences in the quest to craft a shared consciousness. He argues that through the prism of Fantasy Themes a reform rhetoric emerges portraying a society in crisis, while offering hope for a better world. And therefore, the major objective of reform rhetoric within a Fantasy Theme vision is to indoctrinate converts to the fantasy message to create a cohesive, committed group of followers.
25 Bormann (1981) notes that group fantasizing correlates to individual fantasizing and ext rapolates then to a speaker audience fantasy con s truct, which lends itself to the creation of dramatic storylines by mass media. Together, Bormann reasons, the content of the fantasy can consists of characters real or fictitious who play o ut their roles in a setting of time and p lace ofte n removed f r o m the he re and now focused on conflict or a problem related to the tasks taken on by the fantasy group. And thus these fantasy chains serve to create a common culture, demanding an emotional co mmitment from the group and a mandate to proclaim a common commitment to the fealty of the fantasy drama being advanced by the group (Bormann, 1981). In this sense a new social reality is crea t ed, Bormann asserts, populated by heroes and villains, good an d evil, emotions and attitudes conspiring together to embrace an d promote the fant a sy, to form a rhetorical vision. The fantasy then becomes the reality, Bormann argues, easily allowing those who have bought into the fantasy theme to ignore contradicting ev idence to the fantasy from even common sense experience. M ore contemporaneously, D uffy (2003) approach by applying by groups are able to exploit the Internet for t heir own purposes by creating a rhetorical frame or vision as to how things are or will be. By creating and sharing these Fantasy Themes within and between hate groups, Duffy argues a shared fantastical identity is created.
26 Regardless of where these groups, ( for example Stormfront on the right, or the Nation of Islam on the left ) may position their political ideology, Duffy c ites several reoccurring themes advanced by these groups First, Duffy notes there is a plea for justice and fairness ; that the t her ; standard is being imp o sed by elites upon the disenfranchised. Next, Duffy argues hate groups advance the idea there is a media conspiracy to hold down and ignore their plight while doing t he bidding of the elites, often as pa r t of Zionist conspiracy to control the media. As well, these groups via their Internet postings advance the belief that resurrection, a new day is just around the corner if only the disenfranchised will unite and rise up against the oppression. The historian Richard Hofstadter (1964) argues style can often trump truth or falsity of a polemical argument Hofstadter points to a number of historical conspiracy theories to advance or stir public fears at times of publi c unrest ranging from Vatican plots to rule the world, to fostering fears of Masons against the Jesuits, to the rise of the John Birch Society which saw the United Nations as an instrument of then Soviet domination. In a rather prescient analysis of 21 st century media rhetoric Hofstadter (1964) notes the extreme elements of the American right have a paranoid construct rife with conspiracies as to how the middle class has become dispossessed by its leaders who are in league with the dark forces of tyranny Hofstadter suggests these extreme elements see in every act of error or incompetence by the nation s leadership a dark cloud of treason at work doing t he bidding of those who would destroy the nation.
27 In order for the rhetoric of fear to gain traction, H ofstadter argues the conspiracies being advanced must be cast in apocalyptic tones. Societies must be threatened. A way of life must be teetering on the brink. The entire political order must be facing extinction. Basic, common, decent values must be up ag ainst the wall. And it is up to the conspirator, joined by the people, to defend the nation against this assault since, as Hofstadter su g gests, this is a conflict between good and absolute evil. There is no room for compromise inasmuch as the enemy is the personification of evil. Hofstadter notes, is what he described the need to underscore their fears with accumulated evidence to support their allegations of doom on the horizon. Hof stadter cites the red fewer than 313 footnoted references purporting to validate his assertion that communists had taken over the U.S. g overnment. Since many users of the Internet are younger consumers of cyberspace, Meddaugh (2009) advances the notion they lack the requisite critical thinking skills to adequately evaluate the information they are exposed to, adding the mere presence of information accessed via the Internet is imbued with a legitimacy that may not be fully warranted. The perception of an existent threat s (2002) work on the power of fear as a political weapon in manipulating public opinion. In what he terms the theide reasons that a calculated effort employing symbolic awareness articulating danger and risk is critical to creating an effective environment of threats toward their everyday existence.
28 ss media. If these O the likely targets of future state action then this fear generating endeavor becomes an as act of mass media terrorism on the And thus, as Meddaugh (2009) argues the racist emerges as a freedom fighter in opposition to the tyrannical order Meddaugh the Stormfront white supremacists offer comfort a nd hope particularly within those groups who lack critical thinking, for whom the soothing rhetoric of the Stormfront resonates across multiple audiences. McPhail (1994) argues race and racism must be treated as linguistic manifestations of language cons tructed within the realities of negative differences. As well McPhail asserts that race, by virtue of its linguistic definitions, undermines the possibilities and potential of human action. Citing the concept of complicity, McPhail suggests racial language provides the consensual affirmation of negation as a strategy for human interaction. These negative differences brought to the fore by racial linguistics are grounded in a social reality in the way human beings perceive each other, only reaffirming within the dialogue that we are indeed separate and distinct, which in turn allows for the reaffirmation and reinforcement of negative symbols and attitudes, which perpetuate the racial reality. McPhail advances the concept that racism denies the necessar y standards of communication. In order for communication to be effective, theories of persuasion must be grounded in existential unity He notes that white racism is characterized by denial of
29 a coherent black epistemological rhetoric, citing in this insta nce the power of Martin The ability of King to rationally and articulately champion civil rights through the power of language not only ran counter to the stereotypical speaking skills im posed by white culture on African Americans, but also raised the specter that King might actually succeed. More pointedly, McPhail argue s racism goes beyond mere bigotry and ignorance, and reflects an entire systemic belief structure throughout society grounded in assumptions about ourselves, the world around us and others. He rejects the easy compromise of race based dialogue to simply agree to disagree, suggesting this is an all too con venient way to avoid the very foundations of the rhetoric of racism since it merely legitimizes judgments based on negative differences. This construct would seem to views of image interpretation. Barthes (1985) argues tha of signifiers, which allows the receiver to accept or reject. The linguistic messages for Barthes are both denotational and conotational, arguing the conveyance of the knowledge of the sign is heavil y dependent on cultural attitudes. More pointedly, Barthes posits if the structure of the sign or image is delivered in a simple and coherent fashion, this opens the way for the explanation of the role of the image within society to be justified. He notes that within mass communications the linguistic message is present in every image be it a title caption, film dialogue, a comic strip or a message portrayed on a balloon. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words and indeed, as Barthes argues s imply the presence of a linguistic message regardless of its length matters since the
30 signified is cast in relation to the image And since a ll images are polysemous, according to Barthes i t follows that in every society techniques evolve to fix this floating chain of signifiers in such as way as to I ndeed, the linguistic message constitutes one of these techniques Against this backdrop, Altheide (2002) notes that t he direction of fear within a society, by extension asserts control over that society. And when that manipulation of fear becomes part of the fabric in which events are viewed, fear then becomes a part of the rhetorical discourse. Critical to this discou rse is elevating victimhood as a social status, which in turn validates and, makes meaningful the pervasive fear, through the use of symbols, language and icons used to represent complex ideas. Indeed, victimization is critical in the process of creating a successful environment of fear. Intrinsic to the discourse of fear for Altheide is the need to create images and targets of what or who is to be feared. To that end, he argues fear works best when it is who are held up as formal agents of social control. Altheide argues fear is the cornerstone of the discourse, suggesting individuals have been thrust into a conflict against powerful and oppressive powers and in doing do, seen through the framework the lens of fear all other competing frames related to the discourse at hand such as rationality, or reason, or common sense are left behind. means to denote the threat of a comin
31 masses both as a means to suggest a coming apocalypse, but also a utopia once the monster is vanquished. ensuing metaphor t herefore permits a range of tolerated behaviors both physical and rhetorical to confront the threat, noting justifies them or o describe the agents of fear who, through the use of mass media, are able to define and influence the debate, indeed the discourse of fear, rega r ding social issues through the effective use of visual representations. These FASCs deftly craft their message, Altheide posits as a battle for justice, a crusade for morality, a cause to resist oppression in order to advance a new social order. As well, Altheide argues that in order for this discourse of fear to succeed, it is essential to create an impression that an atmosphere of disorder and loss of control are running rampant throughout the society ; this must be resisted by the victims of this tyrannical abuse of power by the other. Altheide reasons that this discourse of fear would not be possible without the witting, or perhaps even unwitting cooperation of the news media to cast public policy debates within the framework exploring an issue through the prism of conflict and fear. To that end, the d iscourse of fear, Altheide notes, travels from one topic to another, offering the opportunities to create not only more anxiety, but greater fear.
32 CHAPTER THREE METHODOLOGY This thesis seeks to explore the research question of whether Barack Obama has been cast within the rhetorical imagery fram e of race by conservative radio talk shows hosts, selected websites and selected newspaper articles during the period of the health care reform debate. Van Dijk (2003) applies critical discourse analysis to the way socia l power abuse and dominance, and inequality are enforced and applied and resisted by speech in the social and political context. He views discourse analysis as a valuable tool in exploring the paradigm of power surrounding debate, noting tion in most critical work done on discourse is that of power and more specifically, the social power of groups As well, for Foss (1994) studying and analyzing visual images from a rhetorical perspective provides a greater under standing and appreciation for the rhetorical processing of the messages being conveyed. Foss breaks with traditional semiotics, arguing the process offers no means for the researcher to judge or evaluate meanings that are indentified in the analytical proc ess. Rather Foss opts for visual rhetoric analysis that allows for judgments to be made about the function of images under study from a rhetorical perspective : noting which I have made central to the evaluation of imagery from a rhetorical per spective, is
33 not, then the function of the creator intended but rather the action the image In applying visual rhetorical analysis to the subject at hand, Foss offers a three step process for the critic to arrive at a judgment: 1) identification of the function communicated by the image, 2) an assessment of how well the function was communicated, exploring the connections made between the identified function and the means available to support it and 3) an as sessment of the scrutiny of the function itself. with acceptance of the function. Personal disl ike for an image, then, derives from This thesis using s approach, will examine, and analyze the rhetoric and images used by the opposition to the Obama health care plan to demonize the presiden t as Images taken from mass media outlets such as The New York Times and the Internet, including the websites of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the Republican Party depicting this rhetoric and imagery will be used from a time frame during the height of the health care reform debate from approximately the late approximately May, 2009 through the passage of the health care legislation in the April t ime frame of 2010. This thesis, while giving a nod to the work of van Dijk in exploring visual imagery, will rely more pointedly on the work of Foss in analyzing this material, identifying the functions of the language and images, assessing how successful the language and images were in communicating their function and assessing the function of the language and images.
34 In this sense, a study of the rhetoric and images used by opponents of the Obama itself ideally to a symbiotic melding of critical discourse and visual rhetorical analysis. This thesis was motivated by anecdotal exposure to the language an d imagery used by detract ors of the health care policy which endeavored to link Obama and his ad ministration to Nazism, tyranny and other villains, especially Adolf Hitler, Che Guevara and The Joker conveying seemingly powerful semiotic connotations. It is anticipated further research into these themes will result in the discovery of numerous semioti c and rhetorical codes suggesting euphemistic race based themes to the opposition of the Obama health care plan. was waged on two communications fronts the vociferou s rhetoric employed by the right wing talk radio establishment led most notably by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity, as well as the critical visual images employed not only by the aforementioned radio talk show hosts, but also at rallies town h all meetings and Tea Party events. Van Dijk (2003) applies critical discourse analysis to the way social power abuse and dominance and inequality are enforced and applied and resisted by speech in the social and political context. He views discourse analysis as a valuable tool in exploring the paradigm of power surround ing debate : on discourse is that of power and more specifically, the social power of groups and
35 Discourse analysis, van Dijk (1988) concedes, is inherently ambiguous, inasmuch as it simply denotes a theoretical and methodological approach to language, covering a broad range of te x t, messages, dialogue, and conversation exploring the amorphous relationship between text and context. All texts have meanings assigned to them as they interpreted by the receiver of the message, van Dijk (1988) asserts. And thus, the receiver of the message applies his or her interpretation of the meaning grounded in a personal u nderstanding of political and/or social life Therefore segregation of news and information resources available to the public, that interpretation of text by the receiver is highly influenced by the source of the information, which the receiver has invested with perceived reliability. Foss (2005) notes that the study of visual images has been enha n ced by virtue of the proliferation and pervasiveness of visual images throughout society, images which she argues hav e grown in significance in modern contemporary culture than mere speech. nveys two meanings. First, Foss suggests the rhetoric being examined can mean both a visual object or an artif act. She suggests visual rhetoric is a by product of individuals who create visual symbols for the purpose of communication and the process by which the symbols actually perform the communication. Foss argues three elements must be present for a visual i mage to be considered visual rhetoric. First, the image must be symbolic merely beyond serving as a sign, which would suggest an image portraying Barack Obama in a
36 schematic depicting tyranny would qual if y as visual rhetoric, while a Yield To Traffic road sign does not. Second, Foss argues a visual image must involve some human intervention to be viewed as visual rhetoric, a conscious decision had to have been made by someone to employ the image as a symbolic form of rhetoric. And lastly, Foss insists th ere must be the presence of an audience to receive the image of the symbol. There must be a purpose, a selected receiver to take in the symbol and its meaning in order for the symbol to realize its potential as visual rhetoric. This thesis holds that all three standards will apply in this research given the vast coverage and commentary the health care proposal engendered. For the purpose of this qualitative thesis the primary but not exclusive, search engine employed is Lexis Nexis which will be used to capture references to Obama and the health care plan in references which cons true racially biased euphemisms such as Obama in white face as The Joker, recalling minstrel shows As well, numerous Google search es of the Rush Limbaugh Glenn Beck R epublican Party, World Net Daily, and World Press.com website s will be employed. In addition, a front page stor ies a ppearing in The New York Times and The St. Petersburg Times covering public protests of the health care proposal will b e included in a search of photographs and text of the events. It is the purpose of this thesis to determine whether the images and rhetoric surrounding the health care debate depicting and characterizing Barack Obama, as well as the supporters of the health care legislation, as a gents of tyranny, socialism, communism and Marxism represent stand in euphemisms for race a nd racism.
37 This thesis seeks to explore the transmission of rhetoric and imagery associated s standard of evaluating visual rhetoric. This thesis will examine the forms of the symbols and rhetoric an d the text applied to the health care debate deductively and inductively Deductively, did the visual rhetoric possess as Foss suggests, the same characteristics as discursive symbols? In other words, can the symbols be regarded as language? As well, the visual rhetoric will be examined inductively, exploring the distinct character istics of the symbols. Thus, just as it was acceptable to undermine the 1993 94 Clinton health care initiative by couching the effort as little more than a conniving power play so too, one could posit the 2009 health care reform effort could also be scuttled by a calculated rhetorical campaign to position a public policy proposal as the work of a president and his inner circle of potential tyrants
38 C HAPTER FOUR FINDINGS During the time frame explored by this thesis, numerous websites and Internet searches were conducted to capture images of Barack Obama as Hitler, Che Guevara, The Joker and other images portraying the president as an agent of tyranny and/or villainy. Such search engines as Lexus/Nexis and Academic Search Premier were utilized. more than 20 pages, including a minimum of 10 entries for each page, or more than 200 results for each search item. Indeed, each of these search efforts also resulted in postings for various websites of fering Obama as Hitler, or Che Guevara, or The Joker merchandise in the form of t shirts, mugs, posters and other paraphernalia depicting images as each of the three fantasy theme figures. In addition, the w e bsites of such radio personalities as Rush Lim baugh and Glenn Beck were accessed, which resulted in numerous commentaries and imagery invoking an association with Obama and Hitler and/or the Third Reich, the Wehrmacht and references
39 With respect to the Limbaugh website, the images portraying Obam a as a banana republic dictator, as well as associating the health care plan with the Third Reich are still archived and accessible on the Limbaugh website. At the same time, a photo taken during an anti health care rally depicting Obama as Che Guevara is included. The photo was distributed by the Associated Press and was reprinted in numerous newspapers across the country, including The St. Petersburg Times. It was from this voluminous material that the rhetoric and images portraying Obama as Hitler, Che Guevara and the Joker were selected for this thesis. The selected rhetoric and images represent a strong cross section of the exemplars that were employed by critics of the health care debate to portray Obama in not only an unflattering light, but with the intent to suggest the proposed health care legislation was indeed the handiwork of villainy and tyranny.
40 CHAPTER FIVE RESULTS The four fantasy themes, or monsters, of this essay Barack Obama as Hitler, all suggest the president and his government are twisted, violent villains seeking to impose an tyrannical authoritarian regime upon the American people. These images convey the idea it is merely a short leap of faith on the part of the audience to accept Barack Obama as a venal, threatening figure. In pursuing these themes, these patterns, Bormann (1981) asks a simple, elegant series of questions for the researcher to consider. Do the same people keep popping up as the villain? Are the same stories repeated? And who are the dramatic personas? It is the finding of this thesis that the characterizing and caricaturizing of Barack Obama as a villain who appears repeatedly in various personas all conveying a fantasy theme portrayal of a nefarious societ al heavy h as been confirmed This narrative suggests that cast against the backdrop of the health care reform debate, opponents of Obama were able to successfully transform a public policy dialogue to rebrand the president of the United States, if you will into a figure of potentially violent deceit bent on assuming a tyrannical mantle of domination over the body politic.
41 Of the images analyzed an interesting common visual theme emerges. Many public figures and especially presidents often find themselves the subject of satirical caricature large ears imagination. Whether Obama is cast as Hitler, or Che Guevara, or The Joker the viewer of these images will be struck by the realization none of them essentially endeavor to physically a change h is physical characteristics his hair, his eyes, his nose, his mouth, his ears Rather, in these images adaptations have been made over his face to convey the message that this is a president with a nefarious agenda. Unlike a figure caricaturized, his facial features unblemished hiding behind a faade of evil doing. Obama As Adolf Hitler In the Hitler image (Appendix A) Barack Obama (Diggersrealm.com, 2009), created by supporters of political extremist Lyndon LaRouche, is viewed looking directly into the camera with a slight, welcoming smile on his face. The original image of Obama is taken from his official White House portrait
42 And yet i t is only the singular addition of the Hitler mustache to the photograph which so easily and profoundly transforms the image to one suggesting pure villainy. The Hitler mustache represents a universal symbolic code of malevolence It conveys the and most assuredly violence. As well, Obama as Hitler, conveys the suggestion the two men are virtually interchangeable parts and personalities Obama as dictator ; Hitler as the To opponents of the health care plan and for those who still cannot abide the idea of an African mass murders now reincarnated as a president bent on socializing the American economy suggests a terrifying prospect. mere addition of a Hitleresque mustache to the image of Obama conv eys that indeed while Obama may have positioned himself as a n agent of social change should he reach the presidency, that change instead has resulted in the ascension of a dictatorial figure capable of all the horrors of The Third Reich, from absolute cont rol over the lives of Americans, to imprisoning those who might disagree with him, to forming alliances with the enemies of the United States But Caplan (2009) sees the effort to equate Obama and health care initiative as something transcending mere poli tical, or for that matter rhetorical, gamesmanship, but rather something far more sinister. Caplan instead sees the strategy to link Obama with
43 someone who is arguably one of the worst mass murderers in recorded history as a calculated exercise in Holoca ust denial. Thus, by associating a controversial public policy issue such as health care reform, Caplan suggests, is to minimize or marginalize the evil and racial bigotry, t health reform. But th ere is nothing to debate about the contemptible introduction of references, This single image is a testament to the power of fantasy themes, the myriad of emotions and attitudes even the merest addition of a single visual element to a photograph can invoke to the receiver of the message. With the relative stroke of pen, Barack Obama can be transformed from the leader of the free world to monster. For Ingebretsen (2001) monsters play an important role in delineating the rhetoric of fear, noting they become agents of moralized fear in political speech. Within the frame of the rhetoric of fear, the monster possesses freedoms the average individual lacks a nd therefore represents a greater threat to the social order, to the individual. This dynamic is at work in the Hitler mustache motif. Obama As The Joker This is perhaps the more intriguing of the Obama As Evil images to be considered. A view of this image ( National Inquirer 2009, The New York Times 2009, The St. Petersburg Times
44 advances the theme of the rhetoric of fear. Former President George W. Bush also was portrayed a However more closely co mically recasting the then president into the same image as the Heath Ledger character. sinister tone. It is based on an This image endeavors to cast an actual photograph of Obama into a morphed image of a monster, suggesting this is a transformation occurring in real time real life. white face with deep, dark, raccoon esque eyes. This is Obama po rtrayed in reverse black face. This is an image suggesting an African American president is attempting, not only to impose socialism upon the American health care system, but also to pass for white. Again, for opponents of the health care plan who viewed it as a socialist takeover of a significant part of the economy and those who harbor fears of a black man holding the highest office in the land this image suggests a terrifying double threat. It could be argued images, along with p hrases and other images depicting the as a march toward tyranny and indeed criminality serve as stand in euphemisms for race. Indeed, the intro duction of
45 represent coded messages not to support the healt h care reform effort because it was a public policy initiative being advanced by a black president. Critics and opponents of Barack Obama however did not have the same license to introduce a racial predicate for publicly opposing health care reform as they did in the It might be asked h ow much attention or credibility or exposure would opponents of the health care plan have experienced had they couched thei r disagreement with the igger effort to socialize health care? And thus the question arises whether the application of images recalling one of as well as depicting the president as one of the in the debate over reforming system offered a convenient rhetorical and symbolic stalking horse or fantasy theme, to conceal a racial motivatio n behind the opposition to health care reform ? cultural critic, Philip Kennicott (2009) argues the Obama and released to widespread diss emination across the media and the Internet poses two distinct messages that Obama is indeed a Socialist, but also as a stereotypical black man posing as a urban menace. For Kennicott the Obama/Joker poster suggests highly coded racial themes of Obama as a reckless, violent political identity was that of an urban community organizer from the inner city of
46 Chicago, The Joker association carries with it particular resonance among suburban whites, t hereby vividly dramatizing fears of the urban world. But this image could also be seen in terms that the Obama/Joker poster speaks to a deeper and darker racial stereotype. This is Obama in white face, sinister white face. Kitwana (2009) concurs, arguing the image of the commander in chief in whiteface (blackface in reverse) is an image immediately transferable to minstrelsy and thus embodies all the accompanying racist stereotypes it suggests. The portrayal of blacks in blackface by white entertainers remains an offensive stereotypical racist image of African Americans. Blackface portrayal s by white performers of blacks was a mainstay of minstrel shows and into the early days of movie Hale (1998) argues minstrelsy gained 20 th Century currency through such films as travails of Reconstruction perceived by many Southerners ; as blacks were characterized as the black beast rapists terrorizing law abiding white citizens. And thus, Hale argues the success of blackface minstrelsy not only entertained white audiences, but also provided nostalgic comfort for a time when blacks were expected to know their place in society. For Hale, blackface provided a reminder that regardless of social advances being imposed upon the South that blacks still would never be allowed to pass for equal citizenship as long as they could be regarded as merely entertainment tropes.
47 And in a form of what Strausbaugh (2006) two white actors portraying two stereotypical black men. Blackface also suggests no black performer was good enough, talented enough, equal enough to portray a role or sing a song, or dance a dance and that only a white performer could do justice to the performance by pretending to be black with the cquiescence. Sparks (2009) argues the minstrel show was created to constrain the social freedoms achieved by blacks following the Civil War by culturally diminishing African Americans as lesser people. Thus, Sparks argues questions oppon ents regarding his trustworthiness, his humanity, his political intellect even his Americanism served to recall the cultural heritage of the minstrel. O ne might gaze upon the image of Obama as Hitler, ( or as will be addressed shortly Obama as Che Guev ara ) and even with the greatest misgivings or indeed dislike of the president, rationally conclude Obama may not embody the treachery and mendaciousness of these two real life historical figures. The Joker imagery however offers a subtle, but differen t interpretation. Obama a s The Joker speaks directly to the inherent racism of American society the fear of the urban black man In contrast, the cartoonish image of George W. Bush as The Joker incorporates Kn i
48 also includes disce rnible aging lines in the face. While hardly flattering, this image clearly represents Bush within t he context of the character played in the motion picture. The Obama a s The Joker representation however, makes no effort to cast Obama unchanged The essence of this image is a photograph of Obama which served as a canvas to transform his image into a fantasy theme of one of the most cruel movie villains into the persona of the president of the United States. Movie ow this is a story about a sociopathic, homicidal fiend preying upon a large urban metropolis bent on imploding the social order in a tyrannical quest to bend the populace, as well as the political structure, to his will. And just as the merest addition o f the Hitler mustache to an otherwise un tampered with image of Obama transforms the symbolic meaning of the original photograph, so photo of Obama convey s the intended fantasy them e of a president also plotting to assume control over the populace while disrupting the social order. As well, in addition to the impending threat of a socialist take over of the country, the Obama a s The Joker exemplar also suggests, Obama is willing to impose his will upon society by the most indiscriminate violent of means if necessary. a s The Joker characterization underscoring the perceived threat that Oba ma a s The Joker is a villai nous, violent, threatening socialist.
49 ch like the mask of a thief, and the employed here vividly suggest not only a president on a quest to impose a socialist agenda upon the United States through an ever growing government intrusion into the lives of Americans, but also a black man attempting to pass himself off as white in a craven effort to ingratiate himself within white America n society. The image suggests that t his is a man deceitfully attempting to be something he is not. And just as the African American community can be justifiably offended by racist blackface characterizations, so too the notion of a black man being perceived in whiteface is intended to inflame the racial biases of whites who fear the Other among them. Obama As Che Guevara Depicting Barack Obama within the iconic image of the Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Gue vara, once again engenders a strong semiotic fantasy theme of a president committed to a socialist, if not a communist, take over of American society. The Obama a s Che Guevara (Appendix E) image depicts a younger Obama (zazzle.com 2009, patriotshop.us 2009 The New York Times 2009, St. Petersburg Times 2009) transformed into the beret wearing warrior, a brother in arms with Fidel Castro in his revolutionary take over of Cuba in 1959.
50 One of the images portrays Obam a a s Che Guevara on a T shirt with the wording: o the iconic Che Guevara beret with the wording: This image is a departure from a glum Obama a s Hitler, or a haunting Obama As The Joker The T shirt image of Obama a s C he Guevara is a youthful, happy, smiling, beret wearing revolutionary suggesting socialism is fun, Marxism is fun, come join the party in more ways than one. lip stick smile are iconic historical and entertainment industry images, so too, is the Che Guevara image of the bearded, beret known even to those who may not even b e knowledgeable about Cuban history. Throughout the st reets of Havana, images of Che Guevara are virtually omnipresent. However, in keeping with the earlier representations of Obama as Hitler, as well as The Joker, Obama a s Che Guevara, remains true to using an u ntampered with image of the president morphed into the Marxist revolutionary (Appendix F) No beard has been added. Instead Obama is simply portrayed in a similar pose as Che Guevara with only the beret added to create the fantasy theme of a president in league with the socialist forces at work to transform America into a Marxist co conspirator. As well, another image of Che Guevara (Appendix G ) appeared during this period. This image was of the real late revolutionary, his dour countenance imposed over a variation of the Obama campaign logo, suggesting to the viewer Obama a s Guevara/Guevara As Obama are inter cha ngeable parts.
51 By employing the use of the actual historical figure of Che Guevara peering over the Obama campaign logo, the image suggests that Obama falsely marketed himself to the public during his run for the presidency as a citizen who cared for the welfare of the American people, when in reality this was a candidate already in league with the forces of socialism. Obama a nd The Rush Limbaugh Connection As the health care debate in the United States Congress began in earnest in the late summer of 20 09, so too did the heated rhetoric to undermine and discredit the legislation begin to take hold. And perhaps there was no more fire and brimstone voice, not only opposing health care, but also associating the effort to Nazism and tyrannical despotism than right wing conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh (2009) who during an August 6, 2009 broadcast made this comparison between the health care legislation and the Third Reich: today and the Nazi Party in Germany? Well, the Nazis were against big business. They hated big business and of course we know they were opposed to Jewish capitalism. They were insanely, irrationally against pollution. They were for two years mandatory serv ice to Germany. They had a whole bunch of make work projects to keep people working one of which was the Au
52 abortion and euthanasia of the undesirables as we all know and they were for cradle to grave n Language can convey a strong, semiotic meaning. As Bormann notes, the use of words and phrases can conjure up vivid imagery, which lend themselves to the fantasy theme construct. With repeated reference s to Hitler and Nazis and by linking these rhetorical frames to Obama, Limbaugh is deftly suggesting to his audience that America is sitting on the brink of a Fourth Reich. ce opposing corporations, euthanizing the phy sically and mentally challenged while offering lifetime health care for t he accepted classes. And finally, there was this effort by Limbaugh to equate Obama, House Speaker by dictate. His cabinet only met once, one day. That was it. Hitler sa meet with his cabinet. He represented the will of the people. He was called the Messiah. He said the people spoke through him. Do you know what the very first law that Hitler ordered was? The very first law was how to cook lobster. The y were to be boiled. That was deemed the least painful. The law was sent around to all the restaurants. Now does that sound like something any conservative president has ever done or does it sound like the things the liberals are doing all over the country ? The links to show you how off the wall the Nazis are posted now at the top of RushLimbaugh.com. Okay, Mrs. Pelosi. You
53 say you see swastikas? Well when it comes to it, you look more like one than any of us In this exchange, Limbaugh introdu ces the idea of Obama as The Other, suggesting that like Hitler, Obama also views himself in messianic terms, dictating down to the preparation of recipes how Americans should live. It should also be noted the Limbaugh (2009) website also included images (Appendix H ) of the Obama health care logo morphed into a We hr macht symbol including a Nazi swastika and an image of Obama centere d around eavesdropping on private citizens by the East German Stasi. A number of elements are at work in these fantasy thematic images. In the manipulation of th e health care logo image, the background is filled with a photograph of the backs of legions of German Wehrmacht soldiers standing at attention 1935 work The breadth and scope of the mass of armed troops e ffectively plays into the American people by military force if necessary. And, to underscore the point in the event the viewer of the image is unfamiliar with the Wehrmac ht symbol, the image also employs the use of the more well known swastika symbol to underscore the dictatorial motivations of Obama in forcing the nation to accept his health care proposal.
54 The Limbaugh website also includes a somewhat more arcane image ( Appendix I) a manipulated photo of Obama dressed in what appears to be green army fatigues, his hands raised as if to better position a headset. The image is accompanied by the wording: The Lives of Others the title of a 2006 German language thriller a bout life in East Germany in 1984 and an artist who is the subject of intense surveillance and wiretapping by the Stasi secret police. The semiotic meaning this fantasy theme could be construed in two ways. First, the Obama health plan is as intrusive int o the lives of Americans as the surveillance practices of oppressive states as the former East Germany. And second, should Obama prevail in his health care initiative, Americans could well find the inner most privacy of the ho mes their private conversati ons, their most intimate moments captured on a recording and listened to and/or watched, not only by the president of the United States, but also by a vicarious thrill seeking black man with a messianic complex. A s well, the home page also includes what Limbaugh, in wh i r d anybody in this To that end, the Limbaug h website during this period contained additional images (Appendix J ) of the seal of the nation with an eagle positioned behind the Obama campaign logo and the wording: United Socialist States of America. Additionally, the website includes an image (Appendix K) of Obama dressed in what can best be described as a the uniform of a banana republic despot, with the Obama campaign symbol affixed to his chest as if it were a military decoration.
55 In this image, Obama stands near two language cues: UAW, which stands for the United Auto Work er s and the word Chrysler. This would seem to suggest the despotic Obama is in league with a liberal labor union, while the presence of the word Chrysler refers to the $7 billion financial bail out the company received from the federal government to avoid bankruptcy in 2009. By positioning Obama in a military uniform the image lends itself to the suggestion the leader of the country, like many dictatorships around the world, also holds a military rank. The combined message s here suggest that not only does Obama want to socialize the American health care system, but this also is only the first step toward imposing dictatorial, tyrannical rule over the country in which the streets will be patrolled by military units and the privacy of citizens will be constantly monitored by the government.
56 CHAPTER SIX CONCLUSION and piece s of information combined with the anxiety over uncertainty to intimidate and made issue for extreme elements of the pol itical right to generate fear and apprehension over the initiative. black president, and the potential to exploit opposition along unspoken racial lines was evident This thesis has shown the opposition to the health care debate include d a strong racial component. And since none of the critics of the Obama plan overtly raised the race card as a means to discredit the health care plan it is clearly true that a prima facie c ase remains elusive. However, the evidence indicates that given the tone and tenor of the imagery and language used by opponents of the health care initiative as explored in this thesis a reasonable circumstantial case can be made that a racial motive lu rked behind the campaign to discredit the health care plan. s three step process for evaluating the effectiveness of a rhetorical
57 villains real and im agined was clearly defined and offered a powerful, visceral functionality. s three step process, these images were designed to function as a vehicle to foment fear, in this case the fear of impending tyranny. Second, they were deftly communicated across a wide variety of platforms from websites, to right wing talk radio, to placards and signs prominently displayed at anti health care rallies across the nation, which were then eventually given play on television and in print. And thirdly, these images clearly len d themselves to a logical interpretation of their functionality. To those already fearful of a government take over of the health care system and/or ill at ease with the thought of a black president having so much power over their lives, these images provided a strong rationale to validate those fears. At the same time, these images were widely propagated by way of some of the known right wing conservative radio voices, who also advanced the anti health care rallies and town hall meetings throughout the summer of 2009. And thus, s second standard of how the function of disseminating the negative images was communicated. s third standard is an assessment of the scrutiny of the function itse lf. Therefore, as effective as the negative campaign against the health care initiative might have been, it could be viewed as a cynical, manipulation of public opinion, exploiting the fears and historical illiteracy of the populace in order to achieve a political advantage.
58 This is an essential point. This thesis research question asked whether the resistance health care plan contained within it a predicate of unspoken racial bias articulated by way of premeditated manipulations of Obama among those who opposed the health plan. This thesis found the answer was yes The research suggests a number of additional areas for scholarship related to the issues raised here. To be sure, the work of Bormann, A l theide and others in the area of fantasy themes and the manipulation of fear offers fertile ground for further research of how the attitudes of groups of people can be manipulated by sophisticated communicators. At the same time, this thesis sp eaks to a potential crisis in civic literacy and history education in the United States. Would images of Obama a s Hitler, for example enjoy the resonance they did if Americans were better informed about the history of World War II, how Hitler came to power in Germany, and how in deeper term s tyrannica l governments actually function? And indeed if Americans were better informed about the world around the m, and the history which has created that world, would figures such as Rush Limbaugh and others on the radio dial continue to enjoy the same level of prominence and influence they presently wield? There are no easy answers to these questions. After all, e ven the pop ulace of the most literate society can be emotionally manipulated. Adolf Hitler himself rose to power in a Germany that valued education.
59 Or put another way, savvy communications skills do not necessarily translate into effective citizenship.
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68 Appendix A: Obama as Hitler
69 Appendix B: Obama as The Joker
70 Appendix C: George W. Bush as The Joker
71 Appendix D: Heath Ledger as The Joker
72 Appendix E: Obama as Che Guevara T Shirt
73 Appendix F: Obama as Che Guevara Placard
74 Appendix G: Che Guevara Obama Campaign Logo
75 Appendix H: Obama Health Care Logo/Wehrmacht Symbol
76 Appendix I: Obama/The Lives of Others
77 Appendix J: United Socialist States of America
78 Appendix K: Obama Dictator
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Adolf hitler america's first black president and other oval office demons :
b the right-wing rhetorical assault on barack obama's health care plan
h [electronic resource] /
by Daniel Ruth.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains X pages.
Thesis (MA)--University of South Florida, 2010.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
ABSTRACT: ABSTRACT This thesis endeavors to examine the imagery and rhetoric surrounding the portrayal of President Barack Obama during the national debate over health care reform from the summer of 2009 into the spring of 2010. It is argued that the critics of the health care reform legislation used images to portray the president as Adolf Hitler, Che Guevara, The Joker, as well as other images such as the swastika and the Wehrmacht symbol as stand-in euphemisms for race to discredit Barack Obama. A number of exemplar images have been selected from various websites and publications specifically addressing the portrayal of Barack Obama not only in starkly menacing tones, but also in images suggesting the president is a villainous black man attempting to pass for white in order to accomplish his tyrannical goals. The images used in this thesis speak to the power of fantasy themes and the use of fear in rhetorical imagery inasmuch as they attempt to stoke a narrative seizing upon the anxieties of an American public caught in the grip of difficult financial times, finding themselves being led by the nation's first African-American president. This thesis complements earlier research exploring the role of race in politics and public policy debates. And it is hoped this work will contribute to a better understanding of the growing influence of talk radio, as well as perhaps the need for greater civics literacy.
Advisor: Kenneth Killebrew, Ph.D.
x Mass Communications
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.