The Biden administration has recently embarked on yet another PR push to urge Americans to get the latest COVID-19 booster shot. But while you won’t hear about it in the media, Biden and his Democrat allies have for years been engaged in another campaign to “inoculate” their followers against what they view as a far more dangerous disease – conservatism.
The leftist project to “protect” people from conservative ideas focuses in on something called “inoculation theory” – a term coined by 1960s psychologist William J. McGuire. Just like doctors use a weakened form of a virus (a vaccine) to prepare the body’s immune system to fight the actual virus, inoculation theory suggests that people can be inoculated against persuasive messages or counterarguments by exposing them to a weakened form of the opposing argument.
In politics, inoculation theory can be a powerful tool to reinforce someone’s initial beliefs about certain issues or elected officials.
For instance, Democrats have a long history of claiming that any tax increases as a result of their policies will be shouldered by the wealthy. By adding the caveat that the rich will (supposedly) pay more in taxes, Democrats aim to psychologically condition people to dismiss Republican arguments about higher taxes, even when those arguments are far more substantive (and, often times, accurate) than the version Democrats present.
A more concrete example of inoculation theory in action was the battle over the border wall during former President Donald Trump’s tenure. Even though Trump and his Republican allies always made clear that the wall was only one part of a more comprehensive border security strategy, Democrats and the mainstream media characterized the “build the wall” slogan as the entirety of Trump’s immigration platform.
Democrats then pointed out the inherent flaws of just relying on a border wall to stop illegal immigration – a strategy that Trump never suggested. But in doing so, Democrats conditioned liberal partisans as well as many more moderate-minded Americans to associate any border security strategy that even mentioned “the wall” with the straw man strategy they themselves invented.
While the left has been engaging in this type of narrative distortion for decades largely under the radar, Mike Benz, the founder of censorship watchdog Foundation for Freedom Online, recently began calling out the trend. In a tweet earlier this summer, Benz pointed to publicly-available “scientific studies” where researchers funded by the National Science Foundation and Department of Homeland Security openly discussed producing “attitudinal inoculation” videos to “enhance COVID-19 vaccine acceptance.”
Benz also discussed inoculation theory in an appearance on conservative podcaster Tim Pool’s show this week. “[Inoculation theory] is being funded to the tune of tens of millions of dollars by the State Department, the DOD, and the National Science Foundation,” Benz said. “They literally say that the goal is behavioral modification and psychological inoculation against misinformation… it’s the world’s most indefensible form of straw-manning.”
In August of last year, the National Institutes of Health also published a paper on how “psychological inoculation can reduce susceptibility to misinformation” – which as we now know is defined as anything that runs counter to the liberal bureaucracy’s preferred narrative. Around the same time, left-wing academics at Cambridge University touted another study that revealed “potential to inoculate millions of users against misinformation.”
Some liberal media outlets refer to the strategy as “pre-bunking.” In an article from October of last year, NPR detailed examples of how “experts” in Big Tech and government agencies like the FBI and CISA – a notorious secretive government censorship agency – are “show[ing] people the tactics and tropes of misleading information before they encounter it in the wild — so they’re better equipped to recognize and resist it.”
In other words, the government is working hand-in-glove with Big Tech to tear down a caricature of conservative viewpoints.
The left’s increasing control of the media and virtually every major cultural institution, from academia to Hollywood, means that their inoculation efforts have been especially effective in recent years. Their cultural largess has also made their inoculation campaigns far more blatant, egregious, and harmful to the health of American democracy.
Take, for example, the ongoing effort to run cover for freshman Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman who, by his own admission, struggles to “process language” and speak clearly following a stroke during his campaign last year. The left has rushed to Fetterman’s defense, arguing that stroke victims deserve compassion and that any criticism of him is nothing but a mean-spirited partisan attack.
In doing so, Democrats have hoped to inoculate the public against legitimate arguments about why Fetterman should resign; primarily, that while stroke victims do indeed deserve compassion, Americans also deserve elected representatives who are able to fully process language and debate legislation with their peers.
The left is also engaged in a desperate effort to inoculate the public against the stream of evidence pointing to rampant corruption within the First Family. A constant refrain in the mainstream media is that Republicans have no evidence of “direct payments” to Joe Biden from Hunter’s foreign business partners.
Again, much like a traditional vaccine introduces a weakened or disabled version of a virus into the body, the left is presenting a weakened form of their opponents’ arguments – acknowledging that there are some suspicious payments to Hunter’s businesses, but suggesting that the only way to prove corruption is through showing evidence of direct payments to Joe Biden himself. In doing so, Biden’s allies hope the public will simply dismiss the mountain of evidence implying Joe Biden was involved with Hunter’s schemes because there is no “smoking gun” showing a payment directly to Joe himself – yet.
One major potential pitfall of employing inoculation theory is that once someone knows they’re being fed an incomplete or misleading version of an argument, all trust between the inoculator and the inoculated is broken. As the left’s web of lies grows ever larger and more difficult to maintain, even a hint of skepticism and critical thinking could bring the whole thing tumbling down.
B.C. Brutus is the pen name of a writer with previous experience in the legislative and executive branches.
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