Let’s say it’s the 1970s and you’re a foreign power of one sort or another – Soviet Union, China, Arab oil interests, secret cabal of billionaires, whatever – and you want to dominate the world. But the US is in your way…
Let’s say you do a comprehensive analysis of all the things that make the US a world power (for better or worse). Let’s say you develop a plan to infiltrate, undermine, weaken, fracture and ultimately dismantle each the institutions that made America so strong.
Looking back today, can anyone offer anything that could have been more effective at accomplishing this plan than funding America’s conservative movement?
“The answer is not to threaten to withhold your vote when you don’t get everything you want. The answer is for all of us – every single alienated, ignored, disillusioned citizen – to promise to always vote. Then the people you would actually want to vote for will have some assurance they can win, and take the risk of running, even if they can’t raise a poop-load of corporate cash.”
Don’t withhold your vote. Instead pledge to always vote. It’s collective power, and we can beat the corporations if we all pledge to always vote.
There is no better way to understand what is happening to us than to read The Shock Doctrine. Shock-Doctrine tactics are why we have so many “manufactured crises” and why the right and Wall Street seem to come out on top from each one.
The “deficit” is entirely a manufactured crisis. The “sequester” is a manufactured crisis, like the :debt ceiling” crisis and the “fiscal cliff” crisis and the other crises again and again. People around Reagan said the tax cuts (combined with dooubling the military budget) were a strategy to cause deficits that would force spending cuts. It was called “strategic deficits.”
George W Bush said the shift from surpluses to deficits after his tax cuts was “incredibly positive news” because it would bring 99on a deficit crisis that would stampede opeople into accepting cuts.
This is the Shock Doctrine at work. Create a crisis, terrify people, then force “reforms” that shift the wealth upwards to the billionaires.
The wholesale slaughter of children sparked an unprecedented opening for change in this country. Killing children broke something fundamental in our culture. On that sad day, it felt as if there was a giant ripping in our society — yielding a gaping hole in all that was sacred and right. It was like watching the Twin Towers collapse all over again, but now it was our children. Many have asked if we have waited too long for action, the answer is simply no. Babies and guns do not belong in the same sentence. Assault weapons must never again be used to kill children.
It’s that opening – the gaping wound — that is inspiring our President Obama and Vice President Biden. This unlikely duo appear to be fueled by the fire of what is possible, and are driving a Mack truck through this opening right now — whether it is to push through the broadest gun safety legislation; or enact comprehensive immigration reform; or to raise the minimum wage; or end violence toward women; or to support gay marriage.
Watching our President Obama the evening of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School – it was clear that he would leap tall buildings to save the children and people of this country. It had become a Holy Crusade and compromise is off the table. Witness the fervor with which this team is working to move their Cabinet nominations forward even for beleaguered Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel. Republican shenanigans are not being tolerated even on their home turf, the House of Representatives. These folks can rant and rave for the cameras (and they do), but are falling flat with no run way. The President’s approval ratings are soaring even in the shadow of the latest, manufactured financial machination of the ‘sequester.’ And it is this fundamental lack of empathy and understanding that may be the down fall of the Republican Party as we know it today.
Frankly, the President is done turning himself into a human pretzel and for this we must rejoice. You just can’t compromise with folks that hate you and all that you stand for. It’s a travesty that it took this horrific loss of lives in Sandy Hook to galvanize the American people – but it did. Unbelievably, today one child still “dies every three hours from gun violence in the United States.” Everyone knows that gun safety legislation is not about the Second Amendment, but rather about sustaining a modern civilization.
The winds of change are upon us. Just witness the President’s news conference today on the impasse over what is called sequestration. He’s not backing down.
How many real and serious national problems can you list? And how many obvious solutions can you come up with literally off the top of your head? Now an experiment: list how many of them are being worked on by our DC elites or even discussed my our elite media? The answer is none. Why is this? And what can you do about it?
Senate Democrats were all about getting things done, and that kept them from getting anything done. They didn’t take on the filibuster head-on, so now obstruction is the expected norm. There have been more than 380 filibusters and the public (and apparently the media) doesn’t know there has been even one. It is time to MAKE THEM TALK if they want to filibuster a bill.
380 Filibusters – The Public Doesn’t Know
Under Lyndon Johnson there was one filibuster, and the public knew about it because a Senator had to talk all night. In the last few years there have just a few been more than one and the public doesn’t know about it at all. How many filibusters have there been? Harry Reid writes in Politico: “Since Democrats took control of the Senate in 2006, Republicans have mounted 380 filibusters.”
If you talk to the public you will find people do not know about this. Most people do not believe there has been even a single filibuster because they haven’t seen it happen. To the public a filibuster is a dramatic event, a big deal, involving Senators talking all night until they fall down from exhaustion.
Here’s the thing. The public hates obstruction, and would apply the right amount of pressure if they knew about it. That is how democracy is supposed to work. But the public does not know that obstruction is occurring. The silent filibuster tactic has been successful because people don’t see it. And that means that democracy isn’t working the way it should.
The Senate Made A Mistake
In the 1970s the Senate changed rules that required a filibuster to be a spectacle and a talkathon. Instead they wanted to be able to move on and get things done so the “silent filibuster” was enabled. Nobodye could have predicted that a corporate/conservative minority would later use the new “silent filibuster” tactic more than 380 times to keep anything from getting done. The filibuster is now so abused that the media tells the public that Senate rules require 60 votes to pass any bill.
Senate Democrats have been irresponsible in allowing this to continue, because democracy wants the public to be alerted to obstruction. In their wish to get things done and get along with the other side they have been accomplices in the obstruction strategy. They have resisted making a big deal out of each and every obstruction, resisted using theater tactics like “bringing out the cots,” resisted “making waves” by changing the rules, and tried to just keep the Senate moving along and getting along. But the result of accommodating the conservatives is they have enabled a take-no-prisoners minority to just block everything. Since the public is largely unaware of this minority obstruction they are not applying the pressure that a functioning democracy requires.
People believe a filibuster is senators talking all night.
People have not seen any senators talking all night.
People do not believe there have been any filibusters.
But there have been more than 380 filibusters.
Democracy suffers because the public does not understand that these filibusters are occurring.
We, the People are not getting from our government what we want and need.
Conclusion: Make. Them. Talk.
A Simple Fix – Make Them Talk
Make. Them. Talk.
There is a simple fix that will stop obstruction — except when obstruction is appropriate. This simple fix is to change the rules back to what people think the rules already are: make them actually filibuster in the way the public understands. They should make them talk all night if they want to obstruct a bill.
Here is why making them talk all night is the best solution. While getting rid of the ability to silently and secretly obstruct action it retains the ability of the minority to make their point, and does it in a way that brings that point to the attention of the public. By killing the “silent filibuster” and making Senators engage in the public theater of a dramatic event, where they stand in the Senate chamber and talk and talk, Democrats can actually restore a functioning democracy and engage the public in our democracy.
But when something is happening that is truly egregious and the minority wants to bring the public’s attention to this, they can alert the press and their supporters and get started in a dramatic talk-all-night theater event. They can launch an actual filibuster, just like the movie. It will be big news. The news channels will all make a big deal of this, and people can contact each other and organize a response.
Making them talk gives the public time to get involved. In fact it invites the public to get involved. Or not. It gives the public the choice, which is why we have those first three words in our Constitution.
The Cost Of Filibuster Abuse
The core principle of our government is that We, the People make the decisions. We are supposed to have self-government by majority rule. But in the last few years this has been turned on its head by this silent filibuster obstruction. Nothing gets done, and the public doesn’t understand why not. The cost to We, the People has been staggering.
How many things that the people and our economy want and need have been blocked in the last few years? Well, aside from literally everything, I mean. This abuse of the rules even keep us from learning who or even what country (Disclose Act) is paying for the abuse of the rule.
Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act of 2011
Repeal Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act
Withholding Tax Relief Act of 2011
Burmese import restrictions
Appointments – [click through to see the whole list]
Again, those are just a few of the things that We, the People want and need, that were blocked by Republican filibusters. JOBS. The public option. Stopping tax breaks for outsourcing. Ending the huge tax breaks for the oil companies and the billionaires.
A big one: Labor: This week’s anti-union vote in Michigan shows us that one cost to We, the People was that reforming labor law was blocked. Blocked by filibuster in 2007, Senate Democrats dropped this in 2009 because it could not get past a nother filibuster — just one of 380.
A majority of Senators voted in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) today, but the vote was nine votes short of the 60-vote requirement to break a filibuster of the bill by a handful of obstructionist Senators.
But at the time, well over Democratic Senators had indicated their support of the bill, which also got 51 votes and passed the House in 2007, when Democrats had fewer seats, meaning it was especially likely to pass in 2009.
And of course, never forget climate change. Action has been obstructed and obstructed and obstructed…
So many solutions to our country’s problems have been obstructed by corporate&billionaire-funded minority filibusters!
Things You Can Do
Fist, be aware that the filibuster does exist and has been used 380 times, even though you haven’t seen anyone talking all night.
Call the offices of both of your state’s senators and tell them you want them to fix the filibuster and make them talk all night if they want to block a bill. You can use this number: 1-877-782-8274.
Start your own Fix the Senate online petition; Use an online petition tool like SignOn.org to start your own petition to ask your Senators to reform the Senate rules. You can get ideas for language to use at http://fixthesenatenow.org/page/s/signthepetition/.
New Mexico Senator Tom Udall has a special Senate Rules: Common Sense Reform website with a lot of resources and recent press coverage, as well as all of Senator Udall’s past statements on rules reform.
Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown won reelection by “waging class warfare” using middle-class populism. Here is how. Today the Campaign for America’s Future launches a new website – WageClassWar.org – to detail the new terrain of American politics. The site tells the story of key races, and compiles copies of ads, speech and debate excerpts, new stories that highlight critical moments.
Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, faced a tough battle for reelection. Huge amounts of Wall Street, multinational corporate, billionaire and undisclosed money (China?) — at least $35 million — poured in. Brown beat Ohio’s State Treasurer Josh Mandel and was reelected by more than 5% using a strong middle class populist argument. He called for curbing the excesses of Wall Street, and ending taxpayer-funded giveaways to huge corporations that send American jobs overseas. And Brown especially, especially championed American manufacturing over the interests of Wall Street and the giant multinational corporations. Brown stood up for the class interests of Ohio’s blue-collar voters and won reelection. He took the side of the many against the side of the big-money few.
Earlier this year Brown was considered vulnerable because he had voted for the stimulus and Obamacare. But Brown supported the “auto bailout” and was a strong proponent of manufacturing, and of taking on China, especially over currency manipulation. Josh Mandel, Brown’s opponent, opposed the auto bailout.
On jobs, Brown stressed investing in maintaining and modernizing our infrastructure, developing a coherent national manufacturing strategy, and taking on China for manipulating its currency and other trade violations. Mandel stressed the Republican basics: tax cuts and cutting regulations — especially those limiting mercury and other air-pollution standards that affect coal-burning utilities. Also said we should “eliminate government bailouts of industries.”
“A Proud Labor-Populist”
Brown campaigned as, in EJ Dionne’s words, “A proud labor-populist,” (Note that the $20 million figure is from early October.)
A proud labor-populist, Brown seems to invite the hostility of wealthy conservatives and deep-pocketed interest groups. The amount they have spent to defeat him topped $20 million this week.
… Ryan, Brown said, has “dressed up trickle-down economics and wrapped it in an Ayn Rand novel.” The vice president, Brown added, should highlight the Republicans’ desire to privatize both Medicare and Social Security, reflected in Ryan’s own record and Republicans’ attempts to do so whenever they thought they had the votes. “It’s clear they want to go there,” Brown said.
In an Oct 24 email to supporters, Brown wrote about himself,
“I’m fighting to end “too big to fail” and put the reins on Wall Street banks. I want to end taxpayer-funded giveaways to huge corporations that ship American jobs overseas. I want to put an end to the torrent of special interest spending in our election process unleashed by Citizens United.
They’ve spent more than $21 million on attacks against me.”
By campaigning with a middle-class populist class-warfare argument Brown has won a mandate to act in the interests of working people. And this is exactly what Brown is doing: Fiscal Cliff, Taxes & Social Security: WFIN, Sherrod Brown Talks About Pressing Issues In Washington
Brown, siding with president Obama on tax increases for those making over $250,000 a year, should not be negotiable, nor should Social Security. Despite the market sell-off Brown said that the Dow is up nearly 100 percent since Obama took first took office.
It should come as no surprise that Sen. Sherrod Brown’s first post-election legislative push would be on campaign finance reform. After all, Brown won a second term in the U.S. Senate this past week despite a barrage of outside spending — about $40 million from conservative groups gunning for his ouster. …
He called for three steps:
• Passage of legislation called the Disclose Act, which would require independent groups to disclose the names of their high-dollar donors.
• Adoption of a measure giving shareholders the right to vote on a company’s political expenditures.
• An investigation by the IRS into whether some nonprofit groups are abusing their tax-exempt status by engaging in overt political activity.
Arguing For Working People And The Middle Class Works
Here is the point. The public understands that there is a war going on between the top few and the rest of us. The top few benefit from keeping unemployment high and wages low. They benefit from keeping We, the People from investing in a modern infrastructure and good schools & universities and good courts and the rest of the public structures that democracy builds, because it means they would have to pay taxes and follow the rules that benefit We, the People.
The top few can cough up a lot of money to run ads that tell people they shouldn’t support their own interests. And this can go a long way, so a lot of politicians go down the road of saying what the billionaires want to hear, and getting their campaigns funded, and getting themselves lucrative jobs after they leave office.
But when votes are on the line, when votes are the deciding factor, and when people understand where their interests really are — then a candidate needs to be on the side of We, the People.
If you are running for office take note: the big money bought a lot of campaign ads, but standing up for We, the People won the election. The public is behind this, and it works. Sherrod Brown’s reelection shows that it works. Visit the Wage Class War website and see how candidates who supported the economic interests of the many over the few won their elections.
— This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary
Look at the chart. The inflection point is Clinton’s “explaining” speech, not the 47% remarks. They clinched it, but the turnaround started with Clinton’s convention speech. Sept. 27: The Impact of the ’47 Percent’ – NYTimes.com
THIS is what happens when Dems actually make their case. Clinton did that, here we are. Even consumer confidence is way up.
Since forever, the Republican message is STILL “Dems take your money and give it to black people.” Doesn’t change. Doesn’t have to. It’s OUR fault.
I am not young. I remember when Nixon campaigned with his racially divisive “Southern Strategy.” Nixon campaigned on “crime” – fear of black people – and on the claim that Dmeocrats take “your” money and give it to black people. It worked.
It worked for Reagan, too, when he talked about “welfare queens” and “welfare Cadillacs.” Here is part of a Reagan campaign stump speech,
“She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.”
Bush II beat back John McCain in the primaries by circulating stories that he had “fathered a black child” and “terrorists.” (But correct me if I’m wrong, Bush II didn’t appear to use race against Gore, instead preempting potential attacks on his own character and honesty by hammering Gore’s “character” and making him out to be a liar – both with the help of the media. His later use of “terrorists” (brown people) is another story entirely…)
So I’m going to go way out on a limb here. I predict that Republicans will use race and other terribly divisive tactics to distract us from the real situation — the draining of the wealth of 99% of us and the country for the benefit of an already-wealthy few — in the 2014, 2016, 2018, 2020 and every campaign after that. They will say that “Democrats take your money and give it to black people.” They will campaign against “union thugs” and “union bosses” and say paying fair wages “hurts business” and we need to be more “business friendly.” They will say “government takes money out of the economy” and helping each other “makes people dependent.” They will say “cutting taxes increases government revenue.” They will say a lot of nonsense, and their policies when enacted will always, always benefit an already-wealthy few at the expense of the rest of us, our economy, our country and our planet.
They will say all kinds of stuff to keep We, the People from seeing what is in front of our faces.
That is who they are and that is what they do. Unless we do something about it.
Look Where We Are & At What Romney Is Doing
Look where we are: Deregulation pretty much destroyed the economy. Tax cuts have partially defunded the government’s ability to empower and protect We, the People. The 1% and their giant corporations get so much of the benefits of our economy now. The climate is obviously getting worse and worse, already risking crop failures, incredible heat waves and terribly destructive storms. And with all of this going on one party blocks efforts to improve things, so they can campaign saying nothing is getting done. Yet with all that going on, the election so far is all coming down to billionaires spending hundreds of millions to run ads that say Obama is taking your money and giving it to black people.
Look what Romney is doing! He is running ads that come pretty close to the “welfare queen” messaging, pretty much saying that Democrats take your money and give it to black people. He is running ads about Medicare that pretty much say the same thing. And now he is even going “birther.” Thomas Edsall explains today in the NY Times, in Making The Election About Race,
The Republican ticket is flooding the airwaves with commercials that develop two themes designed to turn the presidential contest into a racially freighted resource competition pitting middle class white voters against the minority poor.
… The racial overtones of Romney’s welfare ads are relatively explicit. Romney’s Medicare ads are a bit more subtle. … Obamacare, described in the Romney ad as a “massive new government program that is not for you,” would provide health coverage to a population of over 30 million that is not currently insured: 16.3 percent of this population is black; 30.7 percent is Hispanic; 5.2 percent is Asian-American; and 46.3 percent (less than half) is made up of non-Hispanic whites.
… The Romney campaign is willing to disregard criticism concerning accuracy and veracity in favor of “blowing the dog whistle of racism” – resorting to a campaign appealing to racial symbols, images and issues in its bid to break the frustratingly persistent Obama lead in the polls, which has lasted for the past 10 months.
Once again, Republicans are saying, “Democrats take your money and give it to black people.”
And just like they do every time it works they take our money and give it to rich people instead.
It’s Our Fault
Here’s the thing. This is our fault. Fool me once, shame on you. We were fooled once, when Nixon did it. Shame on Nixon. But … We were fooled twice, when Reagan did it. We were fooled again and again, and apparently never caught on that this is what they do.
And if this is what they do, we should have taken steps after, maybe, the fifth or sixth or seventh or eighth time? This is our fault.
WHY are Republicans still able to use race in their campaigns to deflect attention from their ongoing campaign to turn the wealth and management of our country over to the 1%? Because we have not organized ourselves to reach out to regular people around the country and help them to understand what is happening to them. Instead we (progressives) have largely focused our on changing things through elections. But we have not done the hard work between elections to set the stage for elections. We have not been very good at reaching out to tens and tens of millions of regular people and helping them to understand and appreciate the benefits to them of a progressive approach to solving our problems.
I mean, a lot of us do get this and try. This is a big part of what Campaign for America’s Future does – or tries to do with the very limited resources it has. But a real national, between-elections, ongoing — decades-long — campaign takes real resources, facilities, coordination, supplies, management, researchers, writers, talkers, technologists, and the rest. And that takes real money. The kind of money conservatives have been willing to put into such and effort, and progressives have not.
Let’s Finally Do Something About It
When are we going to recognize that this is what they do, and do something about it? They use race. They divide us. They make shit up, and spend millions and millions on blasting their made-up shit into people’s brains. Then they enrich the 1% at the expense of the rest of us, and use part of that to do it more. This is what they do. And very little is done to counter it. (Some say the problem is, “democracy does not have an advertising budget.”) What if we had started 4 years ago to get ready for this campaign of lies and division, knowing full well that they are going to use race and lies and the rest against We, the People? What if we had started then to reach and educate millions and millions of working people, bring them together, help them see the bigger picture? What if we had reached out to millions of disaffected white voters and explained directly to them, in language that reaches them, with stories that resonate with them, so they would be ready for it when they are told “Democrats take your money and give it to black people,” and why believing it hurts them.
What if we did this between elections, and kept doing it after elections, and explained and reinforced the concepts of democracy so that people’s understanding and appreciation of democracy and what it really means increased year after year after year?
What if we had started doing this 8 years ago? 12 years ago? After Nixon’s election? What if we had started to dedicate a percentage of progressive-aligned funding and organizing toward a centrally organized, well-funded campaign of reaching regular people and explaining the harm conservatives are doing, and the benefits to them of democracy and a We, the People approach to our mutual problems?
How well would their campaign of racism and lies and division work, if we had done that? How well will it work if we do it.
What would it have done for the goals of environmentalists if we had put serious money into a coordinated, values-based approach that helped people understand and appreciate the meaning and benefits to them of truly honoring We, the People “we are in this together” democracy over the prevailing corporate/conservative, Randian, “you should be on your own”?
What would it have done for the goals of labor unions if we had used this approach?
What would it have done for the goals of consumer attorneys if we had used this approach?
What would it have done for the goals of Medicare-For-All advocates if we had used this approach?
And what could it do for all of these if we started today?
A Fight Back Strategy
Research & Development, and Action: What we need is a major, coordinated, funded, national project dedicated to researching the ways the 1% manipulates us, and developing strategics for overcoming them. This project also needs a national action arm that takes the research and strategies out to the country and continues this work for as long as it takes.
Just think about this, think about changing your orientation from election cycle to outside of the election cycle, ongoing, as-long-as-it-takes strategies. And mostly, please help and continue to help fund organizations that work outside of elections to help make these changes, so that progressive candidates and policy initiatives have fertile ground in which to do well!
Of course, this kind of work is a big part of what Campaign for America’s Future does – or tries to do with the very limited resources it has. You can and should help us with this, and you can do that right now by visiting this page. If you can give $3 right now, that helps. Seriously, if everyone reading this just gave $3 (or more) it would help.
And this is not a selfish appeal so I can get a raise (although it can’t hurt). There are a number of other organizations that are seriously working on this kind of approach. You can also give a donation to Center for American Progress here, or to the National Council of La Raza here, or to the Economic Policy Institute here, Media Matters here, to the Center for Community Change here, to Progressive Congress here, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights here, to People For the American Way here, and there are so many other organizations that are working in their own way to help. (I’ll add them as they read this and write to yell at me for leaving them out.)
There is a (somewhat out of date) page on funding progressive infrastructure here and a (somewhat out of date) list of progressive infrastructure organizations here.
We really need for progressives to understand this need, and the difference between this and election campaign contributions. Think about it, and help spread the word. Help fund it, and help others understand this need. We can beat back the conservative machine by building a machine of our own that is strong enough to do the job. This takes money.
And to keep that machine answerable to US, we have to fund it democratically, with each of us stepping up and contributing what we can. It has to be lots of people giving small and medium amounts, not depending on a few large donors. ANY organization or candidate is going to dance with the ones that brung ’em, so WE have to bring them to the dance together. Go give $3 or $10 or $100 to any of those organizations now, and keep doing it, and get others to do it.
A dollar donated to an effort like this now is like a dollar donated again and again to each and every progressive issue campaign and candidate from now on, except that the dollar is amplified. This is because doing the work now makes elections and policy battles so much easier and less expensive.
Conservatives have developed a “brand” and their candidates and policy initiatives ride that brand like a surfer surfs a wave. They just hop on the wave and attach themselves or their issue. So much of the things we have to spend so much money on are already covered by their infrastructure of like-minded organizations, so for each candidate and policy initiative they have to spend so much less! ALL of their candidates are helped by the central branding effort.
Progressive-oriented candidates and policy initiatives start almost from scratch, and so it is tremendously expensive to get them elected or passed. We have to raise tremendous sums to do the things that conservatives have ready-to-go. And each of our candidates have to each raise that money, on their own, just to overcome the things conservatives already have in place – for all of them. One dollar spent on a core branding effort could have the same effect for all of our candidates and policy initiatives as the more-than-one-dollar spent for EACH candidate or policy initiative at election time to overcome it.
So help out, OK?
P.S. Here is a talk I gave on this subject in 2004, titled “On Our Own?“ that talked about how the corporate right works between elections to market their ideology, and suggesting that we should try a similar outside-the-election-cycle approach. Here is a talk I gave to an education organization in 2007 titled, “We’re All In This Together” that described how the right uses the Overton Window to move public attitudes,
What can we, as supporters of public education, do about this?
The supporters of public education must join with their natural allies — the trial lawyers and the environmentalists and reproductive rights organizations and others and begin to talk to the public with a COMMON message that says WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER because we are a COMMUNITY. Only after people come to understand and appreciate this philosophy of community again, will they begin to understand and appreciate the value of public schools.
… The Right pushes an ugly message that we are each on our own, out for ourselves to get what we can, in a dog-eat-dog world. But in truth, we are really ARE all in this together, not only as being on the receiving end of similar attacks, but also because we can work together to help each other. We can work to counter the Right’s message by restoring the public’s understanding and appreciation of COMMUNITY and the value of responsible government.
How can we do this?
As I’m sure you know, frame and message development and testing are complex and require skilled professionals. Messaging efforts on behalf of public education will have the greatest effect if linked to broad frames that are developed across sectors, frames that support the value of community and government. And the messaging that supports these values will be most effective if it is delivered by multiple voices, third-party voices that are not strongly identified with public education and other interest groups. It must be coordinated with a long-term strategy.
The Romney campaign has turned to a strategy of swamping the public with flat-out, blatant lies, one after another, again and again, endlessly and lavishly repeated. They do this because they are making a calculation that it will work! So what is going on? And can democracy survive this assault?
Here is how it works. Each lie is developed in the right’s machine, using something currently in the news to reinforce an ongoing narrative about “liberals.” The lie percolates up through a well-worn process where the germ of the story is planted in smaller outlets, and variations of it are tried out until one seems to resonate. Next, larger right-wing media operations pick up the developed “story” and drive it further. It gets amplified on the radio, FOX News and the right’s newspapers. Finally the corporate media takes it out to more and more people, covering themselves with the claim they are just “reporting” on a “story” that is “already out there.”
One way or another the lie is repeated and repeated and repeated (and repeated) in various forms through various channels that reach various target groups, until it becomes a “truth.” Once it has become a “truth” the Romney campaign uses this “truth” to claim Democrats and President Obama are harming the country.
The Solyndra story is a good example. The right developed a lie about “cronyism,” claiming that a Democratic donor is “tied to” solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra because a foundation with his name on it was an investor in the company. Because a foundation was the investor there was no possibility for the donor to benefit. But that doesn’t matter, they used this “tie” to spread a lie the Obama administration was steering money into someone’s pocket, and they repeated it and repeated it and repeated it.
After months of repetition of this lie, the Romney campaign understood that the lie has become a “truth,” and is using that “truth” themselves in campaign ads and Romney’s stump speech! Romney talks about “cronyism” in the Obama administration, understanding that much of the public now believes this is established fact.
The Romney campaign is limiting media access to the candidate and offering little in the way of substantive policy proposals. They are instead using press releases, advertisements, message-trained surrogates, cooperative media like FOX, Drudge, talk radio, allied newspapers and the right’s blogosphere, while coordinating with massively-funded outside groups like Crossroads GPS, Americans for Prosperity, Heritage Foundation and others.
This is a key thing to get, the Romney campaign believes that they can win this election using lies and propaganda as “truths” to drive their campaign story. They are making the calculation that the right’s media machine has become sufficiently powerful for their version of reality to reach enough of the public, and that it is sticking in their minds as “truths!”
They are also making the calculation — so far validated by the media response — that there will be little if any pushback from “mainstream” media. They trust that the media will look the other way, report lies as “one side says X, the other says Y,” tell the public “both sides do it,” and say this is just par for the course.
But if there is media resistance, they are calculating that the right’s own media power can override any pushback that might come. They might also believe they can turn media resistance to their advantage. Decades have been spent convincing their followers to see potentially objective information sources as “the liberal media,” enemy of conservatism, and any pushback for lying could just increase support for their campaign.
So the Romney campaign, like the recent Bush administration, are conscious that they do not need to work with facts. Instead they believe they can “create truth” through the manipulation of perception. This is hardly new in Repubican circles. The phrase “reality-based community” came out of the previous Republican administration’s calculations of what the public will and won’t learn about. This famous quote from Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush by Ron Suskind, explains,
The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
What Does The Public “Know?”
If you are reading this you are likely very well-informed. You pay attention to the mainstream news, as well as read various progressive sources. But much of the public is not very well-informed, and faces the problem of not knowing what sources to trust. Subjected to a constant battering of corporate/conservative propaganda and disinformation, they are busy, and not ready or able to do the extensive research needed to make informed decisions.
Progressives and “liberals” try to solve this problem by trying to help people get informed. Conservatives, however, try to use it to their advantage, spreading self-serving misinformation.
The well-funded propagandists study and understand the shorthand methods people use to determine what to believe. This is the reason for the ongoing attacks on the credibility of what would normally be seen as trustworthy sources, like PBS, NPR and what the rest of what has been disparaged for decades as “the liberal media.” This is also the reason for the establishment of so many corporate-funded conservative “institutes” and other academic and authoritative-sounding organizations that issue “studies” and “reports” that always echo the corporate-conservative positions.
The “mainstream” corporate media has also undergone a change over recent decades. Many outlets now see themselves as businesses with a product that has to appeal to “the market” to make money. They no longer see their mission to be informing the public so citizens have the information that is needed to function in a democracy, but instead as “maximizing shareholder return,” by “driving traffic” and whatever else it takes to sell advertising. And many people working as “journalists” understand that advancing their own careers means not making waves by being perceived as “leftist” or “anti-business.”
How are we to respond to a campaign that deliberately deceives the public without shame? This lie about welfare policy comes on the heels of Romney’s lie about voting rights in Ohio, which came on the heels of Romney’s lies about the economy; which came on the heels of Romney’s lies about health care; which came on the heels of Romney’s lies about taxes.
The Republican nominee for president is working under the assumption that he can make transparently false claims, in writing and in campaign advertising, with impunity. Romney is convinced that there are no consequences for breathtaking dishonesty.
The test, then, comes down to a simple question: is he right?
This is a test for the political world, as well as a challenge to the viability of our democratic system. We can expect this to continue and accelerate until election day, driven by hundreds of millions of dollars from billionaires and their huge corporations. The question is, will enough of our misinformed public be tricked by the lies? If this succeeds, what kind of country will we become? What will be left? This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary