Saturday, December 03, 2005

Rage Against the Money Machine

By Rich Miles

December 3, 2005

I’m about to fart in a whirlwind here.

(That’s a colorful country expression that means to do something that is absolutely useless and ineffectual. We have lots of colorful expressions down here. Don’t get me mad, or I’ll use another one.)

Anyway, here goes:

I’m going to issue a heartfelt and impassioned plea that the American electorate start paying attention to what’s going on around them in their government and politics, and stop being so damned dumb and gullible and clueless.

There now. I feel much better.

Here’s another little fact that won’t surprise you: it’s all about the money.

Now how do the two thoughts above fit together? Well, I’m glad you asked me that.

Ask yourself this: what does money represent in the political arena? And I’m not talking about “free speech”, as was so ludicrously asserted in the 2004 campaign season. Ready for the answer? Here it is:

It represents the ability of those who have it to spread their message, whatever it may be, better than those who don’t have it, or who have less of it.

And as we have seen far too often in the past several election cycles, it doesn’t matter if the message being spread is true or not. Those who craft campaigns learned a long time ago – and the American people have not yet learned – that one of the basic precepts of human communication is this:

If people hear something repeated often enough by an accepted authoritative source (the president for instance, or an announcer with an avuncular voice, or a nationally-syndicated radio host), they will in a fairly short time come to accept the repeated statement as fact, regardless of any factual information to confirm or deny the statement which is or may become available to the recipient.

So therefore, this is how money works in politics. The more money a particular political candidate, or group, or other entity has at its disposal, the more likely it is that the message of that candidate/group/entity will be believed by a significant segment of the voting public, and thus the more likely it is that he/she/it/they will be elected or otherwise accepted by the public.

So far, so obvious: money buys exposure for the ideas of the buyer, for good or ill. But woven deeply into this concept is another, less obvious and always unspoken idea that has been the basis of literally every Republican campaign for almost every office above dogcatcher for the past 25 years at least: The public is stupid enough to let this trick – proof by nothing more than massive repetition – be played on them over and over and over again.

The examples of this are uncountable. The most egregious, though by no means the only use of the technique was virtually the entire Bush campaign, led by Karl Rove, in 2004. High on the list was the Swift Boat Thugs episode, in which a decorated Vietnam War combat veteran was made to look like a self-serving coward and liar by the campaign of a man who had never served in combat, run by men who for the most part had never even worn the uniform of our armed services, using men as their surrogates some of whom later disclaimed their own statements in spreading lies.

A close second must be the “flip-flopper” canard attached to John Kerry, while all indications of Bush’s doing precisely the same or worse were either ignored, denied, or made to look like judicious decision-making and flexibility by a strong leader.

And not to be forgotten is the ‘outing’ of VP Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary as a lesbian by John Kerry – this one got virtually no explanation whatever in the mainstream media. Mary Cheney IS an admitted and open lesbian. Cheney and his wife had repeatedly admitted this in public. Mary herself had acknowledged this in public. She has been living with her female lover for years. It was no secret at the time Kerry said it in a televised debate with Bush. But somehow, for Kerry to say it out loud as he did was evil incarnate, and this take on the matter was repeated and repeated and repeated for weeks by various members of the Bush campaign, until it was simply common knowledge that Kerry was a disgusting man who was willing even to use Cheney’s children to try to score political points against Bush. Never mind that Mary Cheney is an adult, who was working for her father’s campaign, and not an innocent child who was not part of the political world of her parents. It just became – common knowledge.

Lest you think that the above is old news, let me point out that it’s happening again even as we speak: the strongest potential Democratic candidate for the presidency in 2008 is Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the repetition machine is already in gear against her, three years in advance of the election and indeed before she has even declared her candidacy. Never mind whether you believe she’d be a good president – what is unmistakable is that the Republican party believes she is a danger to their chances of retaining the presidency in ’08, and so she must be destroyed before, WELL before, she can gain a foothold. The same is true for Joseph Biden, Bill Richardson, Mark Warner, Howard Dean, John Edwards, and more. How many of these names made you laugh at the thought that any of them would make a good president? How honest can you be with yourself about how much you really know of these people, and how much your opinion has been formed by what someone else has told you, over and over again?

These are just a few of the ways in which the whole equation of money=power=repetition of specious untruths or half-truths is deeply embedded into the process by which we select our nation’s leaders. Truth, objective and provable and undeniable truth, is no longer one of the considerations for whether a piece of supposed information should be disseminated. The main, sometimes the only consideration is whether or not there is enough money available to repeat it enough times to make it part of the fabric of belief in the minds of the people. And truth be damned, if it works to the benefit of the liars.

Yes, I have cited only Republican uses of this technique, partly because Democrats don’t do it as often or get away with it as often, but mostly because – and this is not grudging admiration – they are so damned good at it. But is it a virtue to be far better than your opponents at convincing people to believe lies? I would like to think that most Americans would answer that question in the negative.

So to come full circle, and return to my heartfelt plea: I ask, I beg that you, the American voter, put a little more effort into making your decisions next time you are asked to do so, and really ask yourself if what you are hearing repeated so many times by your so-called leaders is true, is plausible, or even makes any sense. It’s my belief, and of course I can never be proven right or wrong on this, that if more Americans had really listened, and given serious thought to the ‘common knowledge’ they were being fed about Bush and his opponents, if they had read or watched more than one source of news (if that), if they had done more than vote their fear and supposed faith and personal comfort, there might be someone else occupying the White House today. Whether that would be better for the country is also unprovable – but in so many ways, it’s hard to imagine that it could be much worse than it is now.

Don’t let the money men buy your vote. Make them work for it. And whoever gets elected, make them work for US.

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