Summary: Propaganda allows our elites to easily and effectively govern us. Until we can clearly see the world, self-government will remain a dream in America. Understanding the origins of the political system that rules us can help us break it.
As a three score posts here described, our elites use propaganda as their most powerful tool to rule us. We do not see the world clearly, we react emotionally, and become increasingly fragmented and therefore powerless. While propaganda is ancient, modern methods make it vastly more effective than in ancient times.
Our plutocratic rulers crushed William Jennings Bryan in the 1896 presidential election (“you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold“). Their dominance, using the Republican Party, lasted until their folly caused the Great Depression. But the cost was incredible, almost five times that of any other campaign in US history (as a share of GDP). Modern methods are much more cost-effective. Today our elites rule America with an equally strong hand while spending tiny sums to control both parties.
To see how they do this, see this description of the first modern election: Upton Sinclair running as the Democratic Party’s candidate for Governor of California in 1934. His slogan: “EPIC: End Poverty in California.” Afterwards he wrote the first – and best – campaign memoir (now a large genre): I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked. The problems he describes faced by reform candidates today. Until solutions are found, political reform remains impossible in America.
Note the similarity of these methods to those used to great effect in 1930s Germany. Modern propaganda was developed during WWI, advanced radically in the 1930s and during WWII, and has improved slowly since. It has become a formidable tool in the hands of our ruling elites.
This is an exhaustively researched and well-written article, the kind that built The New Yorker’s reputation.
Excerpt from “The Lie Factory – How politics became a business“
By Jill Lepore (Prof History, Harvard) in The New Yorker, 24 September 2012.
Sinclair described how, immediately after the Democratic Convention, the Los Angeles Times began running on its front page a box with an Upton Sinclair quotation in it, a practice that the paper continued, every day, for six weeks, until the opening of the polls. “Reading these boxes day after day,” Sinclair wrote, “I made up my mind that the election was lost.”
Sinclair got licked, he said, because the opposition ran what he called a Lie Factory. “I was told they had a dozen men searching the libraries and reading every word I had ever published.” They’d find lines he’d written, speeches of fictional characters in novels, and stick them in the paper, as if Sinclair had said them. “They had a staff of political chemists at work, preparing poisons to be let loose in the California atmosphere on every one of a hundred mornings.”
Actually, they had, at the time, a staff of only two, and the company wasn’t called the Lie Factory. It was called Campaigns, Inc … the first political-consulting firm in the history of the world, founded in 1933 by Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter. …
Political consulting is often thought of as an offshoot of the advertising industry, but closer to the truth is that the advertising industry began as a form of political consulting. As the political scientist Stanley Kelley once explained, when modern advertising began, the big clients were just as interested in advancing a political agenda as a commercial one. Monopolies like Standard Oil and DuPont looked bad: they looked greedy and ruthless and, in the case of DuPont, which made munitions, sinister. They therefore hired advertising firms to sell the public on the idea of the large corporation, and, not incidentally, to advance pro-business legislation. …
No single development has altered the workings of American democracy in the last century so much as political consulting, an industry unknown before Campaigns, Inc. In the middle decades of the twentieth century, political consultants replaced party bosses as the wielders of political power gained not by votes but by money. …
The first thing Whitaker and Baxter always did when they took on a campaign was to write a Plan of Campaign. …
- Every campaign needs a theme.
- Keep it simple. Rhyming’s good. (“For Jimmy and me, vote yes on 3.”)
- Never explain anything. “The more you have to explain, the more difficult it is to win support.”
- Say the same thing over and over again. …
- Subtlety is your enemy. “Words that lean on the mind are no good. They must dent it.”
- Simplify, simplify, simplify. “A wall goes up when you try to make Mr. and Mrs. Average American Citizen work or think.”
- Fan flames! “We need more partisanship in this country,” Whitaker said.
- Never shy from controversy; instead, win the controversy.
“The average American doesn’t want to be educated; he doesn’t want to improve his mind; he doesn’t even want to work, consciously, at being a good citizen. But there are two ways you can interest him in a campaign, and only two that we have ever found successful.” You can put on a fight (“he likes a good hot battle, with no punches pulled”), or you can put on a show (“he likes the movies; he likes mysteries; he likes fireworks and parades”): “So if you can’t fight, PUT ON A SHOW! And if you put on a good show, Mr. and Mrs. America will turn out to see it.” …
“Voters are basically lazy, basically uninterested in making an effort to understand what we’re talking about,” the Nixon adviser William Gavin wrote in a memo. “Reason requires a higher degree of discipline, of concentration; impression is easier,” he wrote in another memo. “Reason pushes the viewer back, it assaults him, it demands that he agree or disagree; impression can envelop him, invite him in, without making an intellectual demand. . . . When we argue with him we demand that he make the effort of replying. We seek to engage his intellect, and for most people this is the most difficult work of all. The emotions are more easily roused, closer to the surface, more malleable.”
——————— Read the rest at The New Yorker. ———————
This article also has a fascinating section about the battle to bring health coverage to all Americans, began in January 1945 by Earl Warren, Governor of California. American politics has rotated around this issue since then, and still does. For more about this first great battle, so similar to the many that followed, see “Impeding Earl Warren: California’s health insurance plan that wasn’t and what might have been” by Daniel J.B. Mitchell (prof of management at UCLA) in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, December 2002 (open copy here).
That was 1934. Generations of work and billions of dollars have perfected these methods, creating the clown shows that we call political campaigns. Only our support allows these to continue. When jeers replace cheers at rallies and conventions, then the system will change.
For More Information
- A nation lit only by propaganda.
- The secret, simple tool that persuades Americans. That molds our opinions.
- We cannot agree on simple facts and so cannot reform America.
- American politics is a fun parade of lies, for which we pay dearly.
- Our minds are addled, the result of skillful and expensive propaganda.
- We live in an age of ignorance, but can decide to fix this – today.
- Remembering is the first step to learning. Living in the now is ignorance.
- Swear allegiance to the truth as a step to reforming America.
- Ways to deal with those guilty of causing the fake news epidemic.
- The secret source of fake news. Its discovery will change America.
- Important: A picture of America, showing a path to political reform.