The president has started his re-election campaign in earnest recently by touting the wonderful state of the economy, his brilliant energy policy, popular health-care reforms, and respect for American traditions and liberty.
If you were nodding your head approvingly throughout that first paragraph, finding yourself in perfect agreement with the accomplishments attributed to the president, then consider yourself the latest victim of Edward Bernays.
Who? I thought David Axelrod was the mastermind in charge of President Obama’s feel-good re-election campaign.
Yeah, sure, Axelrod is good. After all, he’s the guy who asked, “Are we going to have a country where hard work pays and responsibility is rewarded, or the schemers are the ones who get rewarded?” and actually thought the answer would help Democrats.
That kind of double talk is staggering in its audacity. BUT IT WORKS! The general public doesn’t take time to do an analysis of the comment; they just agree or disagree with it — or think they do. The only response possible to Axelrod’s question is: Yes, we want a country where hard work pays. No, we don’t want a country where schemers are rewarded! End of story.
And since Axelrod is working to re-elect President Obama, then he must be the candidate who is FOR responsibility and AGAINST rewarding schemers, right?
No, he is the candidate with the best ability to manipulate voters by using techniques that ignore truth and exploit emotion. And that brings us back to Edward Bernays, the father of modern propaganda techniques.
Bernays worked for Woodrow Wilson, the president who was re-elected because he “kept us out of war” and then promptly took us into World War I, where 117,000 American soldiers were killed in action. It was Bernays who helped come up with the justification of “bringing democracy to all of Europe,” and was delighted to find out that the American public could be easily manipulated with slogans and blatant falsehoods.
Although rarely acknowledged today, he laid the groundwork for modern political propaganda and in particular is the godfather of progressive techniques for pushing public opinions such as those used by moveon.org and Media Matters.
Here in a nutshell is the Bernays philosophy as outlined in his seminal 1928 book titled “Propaganda”:
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country... We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of... In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons... who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”
So now, let’s consider the president’s re-election campaign themes in light of our awareness that there are certain unscrupulous people who believe they can control your mind, shape your beliefs, and get you to vote however they want — regardless of your own best interests or desires.
And be aware, they do this, in large measure, right out in the open, by blatantly lying, distorting the truth, and deflecting your attention with scandals, controversies and distractions.
President Obama engaged in this technique personally last week when he gave a speech on energy policy and made a number of outrageous claims. In order to refute the charges of Newt Gingrich and others in the Republican Party that the president is responsible for high gas prices, the president made the following claim:
“Do not tell me that we’re not drilling. We’re drilling all over this country. There are a few spots we’re not drilling. We’re not drilling in the National Mall. We’re not drilling at your house. I guess we could try to have, like, 200 oil rigs in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. ”
So now, according to the president, if you are for more drilling for oil — if you are for lower prices at the gasoline pump — you should vote for President Obama. Except he knows, and you know, and everyone else knows that it isn’t true.
Despite the president’s implication that he has authorized drilling everywhere but your back yard, just the opposite is true. His administration has fought drilling — and the oil industry in general — at every turn. This administration has refused to open the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. It stopped issuing permits for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, even after a judge ordered it to resume doing so. And it goes well beyond that. The Obama administration has not approved any new oil refineries, for instance. Plus, it has done everything in its power to prevent the Keystone Pipeline from being built.
But other than that, Obama is pro-oil, pro-drilling and pro-consumer — as long as the president or David Axelrod says so. You have no choice but to go along with what you are told (or should I say, sold?). After all, in the words of Edward Bernays, “It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”
And it’s not just about oil or energy policy. Not by a long shot. Once you understand the audacity of propaganda, you’ll see it everywhere. Consider the following frequently heard justifications for a second term for President Obama (and the unspoken truths behind them):
• Unemployment is down (as long you don’t count the people who are most discouraged about the chance of finding a job and have therefore stopped looking for work).
• Inflation is low (if you don’t count the commodities that are increasing in price most dramatically like food and gasoline).
• The right to use contraception is under attack (except it really isn’t unless you think you have a right to free contraception, paid for by people who oppose it for moral or religious reasons).
• The right to religious freedom is being protected (by forcing people to pay for things they oppose for religious reasons).
• Your freedom to vote will be defended zealously (even if you are an illegal alien).
• The war in Afghanistan is being won (unless you mean by us).
The unfortunate, sad, heart-breaking truth is that politicians can say almost anything they want, no matter whether it is true or not, and still be elected and re-elected.
It’s not their fault for wanting to enjoy the fruits of power; it’s our fault for not doing a better job of vetting them and looking behind their campaign slogans. Maybe the only way to prevent the wrong candidates from being elected is to pay less attention to what they do say, and more attention to what they don’t say.