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Jackson: Listen to what the politicians don't say

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There’s a song in the movie “Sister Act II” with the following refrain: “If you wanna be somebody, if you wanna go somewhere, you better wake up and pay attention.” As I reflect upon the rhetoric being espoused by the Republican candidates in our state, it’s a verse I’d like to scream to voters before Tuesday’s primary. Forget the noise coming from all sides and pay attention to what is not being said. Politicians use these omissions to obscure their actual positions and snare more voters. It’s called subliminal messaging. Voters should remember that as they head to the polls.

The first time I heard the term subliminal messaging was on an episode of “Columbo.” In that show, Peter Falk learned about hiding messages within films to encourage people to buy advertisers’ products. The same is being promulgated by local politicians in their ads, albeit in reverse. Here are just a few examples.

Neither Attorney General Eric Schmitt nor former Gov. Eric Greitens ever use the proper title when mentioning President Joe Biden, instead always saying “Biden” does this or that — followed by a criticism or complaint to support their platform. Invariably, somewhere in the same ad, they will say “President Trump” rather than “former President Trump,” as if he remains in power. In both cases, this phrasing is deliberately designed to appease voters who still believe the big lie.

Similarly, one of Schmitt’s ads also denigrates Dr. Anthony Fauci, bragging that Schmitt stopped Fauci’s mask mandates. This would lead one to dismiss Dr. Fauci’s credentials and denying that the mask recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — not Dr. Fauci — saved lives.

Voters should remember what they saw on Jan. 6, 2021. We didn’t imagine it. It was an attempted coup, based on a lie, initiated by a provocateur in the White House, determined to maintain power illegitimately. The committee tracing its origin is necessary to ferret out those who initiated it, in the hope that we can foil any similar plot in the future. Nevertheless, rather than alienating the radical right, our senatorial candidates never mention the insurrection.

The emergency room physician from Uvalde, Texas, testified at a board of inquiry that he could not identify some of the murdered children because the assault weapon used had pulverized their bodies. Even that didn’t motivate the Republican right in Congress to impose a ban on those specific weapons. It did, however, provide our state’s Republican candidates another talking point — vowing to protect the sanctity of all guns under the Second Amendment.

Republicans in Congress have accused President Biden of using the House select committee to deflect from the issues of inflation and supply-chain shortages. But that’s also their way of deflecting voter attention from their unwavering fealty to the gun lobbyists. It is they who deflect by saying that the progressives are socialists who want to take all guns away. This isn’t subliminal of course, it’s an outright mischaracterization of an entire group. Don’t buy it.

Certainly, to win elections, politicians must attract voters. However, if we dissect the current ads of the politicians heading toward the primary, notice that many are subtly aimed to appeal to our prejudices. Since Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin was able to win over Republican voters by promising to stop critical race theory, candidate Schmitt has vowed to stop the same if elected. (Never mind that these courses were only being taught in college-level classes nationwide, and nothing lower.)

Shouldn’t school districts have the autonomy to choose their curriculums? As we review all of the lawsuits filed against our state’s various schools over mask mandates, we’ve seen Schmitt’s thinking about that. U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler also vows to stop the teaching of critical race theory, but another of her ads promises “I will keep men out of women’s sports,” which is another lure to attract voters with negative attitudes about transgender individuals.

By ignoring the subliminal messages buried in the candidates’ messages, we are yielding our bodies, our children’s educations and our very lives to the hatemongers and the radical right, people who would further divide us. We must vote out the right-wing separatists at all levels, local, state, and federal. Wake up and pay attention. Democracy will be lost if we fail.

Janet Y. Jackson is a Post-Dispatch columnist and Editorial Board member.


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