Long, long ago, back in my school days, I had a science teacher who had a peculiar method of explaining difficult concepts.
If a student was puzzled by something, our science teacher, an otherwise pleasant man, would repeat what he had said the first time – only a decibel louder. If the student still didn’t get it, the science teacher would increase the volume still more.
It got to be a game. Once we students figured out this quirk of his, we’d keep asking for clarifications.
After the fifth or sixth question, the veins on the side of the teacher’s neck would be popping out and the classroom windows would rattle.
Maybe he thought the answers were self-evident and anyone who didn’t understand just was being obstinate. Perhaps he knew – or had memorized – only one way to explain things and felt he was being challenged when someone didn’t get it.
Whatever the reason, he seemed to believe that volume equaled persuasion.
I’ve thought about my old science teacher these days as the rhetoric accompanying the 2016 presidential election has ramped up, particularly on the conservative side.
We, of course, have watched Donald Trump fulminate about all that’s wrong with this country. (Hint: He blames just about everyone but himself.)
And then there was Mike Huckabee’s strange comment a few days ago about the deal President Obama and other world powers have forged with Iran to delay and perhaps end the Iranians’ development of nuclear weapons. He said the president of the United States was marching Jews to the door of the oven.
That’s right: Huckabee – a Republican presidential candidate, a former Arkansas governor and a minister of the gospel – said the president of the United States was preparing Jews for another Holocaust.
Critics jumped on Huckabee’s statement with the same vigor that they used to counter Trump’s more outlandish comments. They pointed out it lacked both a sense of proportion and a sense of history – not to mention a certain moral sensitivity. Comparing a disagreement over public policy to the Holocaust does nothing but diminish the suffering of the innocent people who perished at the Nazis’ hands.
Not that any of those considerations are likely to convince Huckabee, Trump or any of the GOP candidates to modulate their tones.
What they’re saying now really is an extension of what many conservatives have been saying all along – that Barack Obama is a tyrant, that the country’s a disaster under his leadership and that we all should be very, very afraid and very, very angry.
Every day and all the time.
The question is: Why do they keep saying these things?
These are not stupid people. Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee – despite their addictions to hyperbole – are intelligent, accomplished men.
They have to know that the message they’re pushing hasn’t been successful. Republicans have won a majority of popular vote in only one presidential election in the last quarter-century. The GOP makes its gains in off-year elections when voter turnouts are smaller and the people who turn up at the polls are likely to be the most ideologically driven, but strident, embittered anti-Obama rhetoric only seems to boomerang on conservatives in the big elections.
In part, that’s because it doesn’t seem to be grounded in anything resembling reality. Most moderate and open-minded Americans know that the Dow is nearly three times what it was when Obama took office, that unemployment has come down, that the supposed economic disasters predicted by Republicans haven’t come to pass and that, whatever dangers ISIS might pose, no planes captured by terrorists have flown into buildings on his watch.
Many Americans may disagree with the president on specific issues, but most of us don’t see him as an evil or incompetent man. We certainly don’t view him as a latter-day Hitler.
So why do so many Republicans keep saying he is, even when they have to know it hurts their cause?
Maybe, like my old science teacher, they don’t know any other way to explain their objections. Maybe they feel their place in the world is being challenged.
But, for whatever reason, they, just like my old science teacher, seem to think volume equals persuasion.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.