Most of us have read about political polls and how candidates and parties use the results of to shape messages and vocabulary. You read about how bizarre and loaded they are and you never think for a million years that you'd be able to participate in them. For the longest time I assumed there was some anonymous town in the heart of conservative America where Republican's crafted and honed all their messages. That is until tonight, when I was called by a conservative pollster, trying to hone a partisan message.
The questions I was asked astounded me.
The poll began innocuously enough, "Are you over 18 years old and registered to vote?"
As soon as I answered in the affirmative, I was reminded of Bette Davis' infamous line in All About Eve and we were off and running.
The first dozen questions were variants on terrorist attack scenarios. Things like, "What concerns you most: Dirty bombs, back pack bombs, improvised nuclear devices or nuclear weapons?" or gems like "Knowing the fact that transportable nuclear weapons can have enough destructive force to level Manhattan and killing hundreds of thousands, in whose hands would that frighten you most: A rogue state, terrorist cells, state sponsored terrorists, Al-Qaeda or Osama Bin-Laden?"
It was frightening to deconstruct the messages these questions held. Some politician somewhere, most likely a Republican, hopefully not a presidential candidate (although my gut tells me it was), is using this poll to shape his platform. And they're going to phrase the threat we're going to hear about over and over again on Fox News. The results of polls like these will determine whether or not Osama Bin-Laden will hypothetically be sneaking dirty bombs large enough to level Manhattan into the country or if Iran will be a state-sponsor of terror and probably involved in a plot to destroy us all with nuclear weapons.
Something tells me we'll probably hear it all, but this was only the tip of the iceberg for this poll.
I was asked how strongly I responded to words like oath and commitment and pledge and promise. I was asked which sounded stronger, a "Coalition for the Prevention of Nuclear Proliferation" or the "Campaign for a Nuclear Free World." I was asked, honestly, a string of questions about what "scares me the most."
The show stopper though?
I was asked, and I'm quoting this from my notes, "Which word worst describes how to deal with a nuclear power: talks, negotiations or diplomacy."
My heart sank and I could no longer keep up my un-biased air I had put on to continue with the poll. "Are you serious?"
"Yes," the pollster told me.
"Those are all the best options. Can I say none of the above?"
"Ummm.... No. The only other answer I can input is 'not sure'."
I went with "not sure" even though I was pretty damn sure what my answer would have been, were it an available choice.
This was a thoroughly un-predicted and uninvited insight into the world of politics and, more than a dirty bomb or an IED, this is what scares me. These messages, this fear mongering, scare me much more than any anonymous terrorist threatening to attack inside the United States. Isn't speciously inciting terror in the populace this way every bit as evil as threats the terrorists make? Terrorists don't even have to make threats to the American people anymore; Republican politicians do it for them as a matter of political course.
Those responsible for this poll are already in the United States and their attacking it from within, decaying the fragile, wooden foundation of democracy and sanity as termites would destroy a house. Each fragile piece of wood is hollowed until it's a knotted, gnarled shell of its former self. Unfortunately, the political equivalents of exterminators are strong leaders and, at this point, all we have to fight these politicians with are would-be leaders acting like politicians.
(Bryan Young blogs daily at This Divided State)