Sunday, October 31, 2010

Obama: The Rabble is Irrational, New PR Tactics Needed

From the NYTimes, here's Obama:
“Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared,” he told a roomful of doctors who chipped in at least $15,200 each to Democratic coffers. “And the country is scared, and they have good reason to be.”
This article exemplifies the warped conception of "politics" I described in a recent post. The idea motivating this article, and Obama's remarks, is essentially this: people are basically irrational, blown to and fro by fancy-sounding words and images... and when they aren't blown in your direction, it must be because their raw emotional energies aren't been successfully manipulated by effective PR tactics.

It can't be that people are, in fact, rational and, additionally, that they just aren't stupid enough to buy into the claim that the Democrats are a force for progressive change these days. It can't be that real people in the US are sick layoffs and austerity while the rich are showered with billions of funds and the prospects of permanent give-aways in the form of tax cuts. It can't be that those people who wanted change are frustrated that costly wars and occupations continue, that Guantanamo wasn't closed, etc. etc. No, no... they're just irrational and aren't in a position to grasp the deep "truth" that the Obama and the Democrats are the cosmic force for the betterment of human kind.

Polls, to the extent that they're useful at all, still show that the Democrats enjoy a lead in overall popularity over the Republicans. But the popularity of both parties, taken together, is extremely low. The big lie is that disillusionment with the Democrats means direct support for the Republicans. But this is obviously false; this is merely clever propaganda to "scare out the vote" on the part of the Dems. People who were (understandably) excited to vote Obama in 2008 because of the prospects of some kind of qualitative change are (understandably) disappointed because no qualitative change occurred whatsoever. These folks aren't interested in the Republicans, but neither are they thrilled about the Democrats. They shouldn't be ridiculed for feeling this way. But that they are, by the mainstream press and the Democrats, is not surprising. Complaints against the system as such simply don't register as complaints: if you gripe about the Dems, it is immediately interpreted as a point in favor of the Republicans and vice versa. But that is no stain on people's legitimate disillusionment; that is a stain on the restrictive assumptions motivating mainstream discussion of "politics" conceived in the way I described in a recent post.

But the situation facing Obama and the Dems right now is not complex. It's obvious why they are floundering in elections. They campaigned by leading people to believe that they would really be a part of instigating some kind of qualitative change. They haven't; in fact, they've done more damage than good in the last 2 years. Hence disillusionment and frustration among previous supporters.

So to think that all that needs changing are the images and tunes coming from the White House and the DNC is to deeply misunderstand the situation. Thinking that this "PR fix" is plausible requires that we pretend that the last 2 years never happened. And though public memory is truncated and distorted by our corporate media institutions... I don't think it's distorted enough for people to forget that they've been deeply betrayed by the second most enthusiastic capitalist party in the US.

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