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Friday, February 26, 2010

Tea Partiers and propaganda

We're still haunted by the ghosts of 1968.

Not many days ago, the right began to push the insane meme that the Wall Street crisis resulted not from deregulation and deception but from the "hippie ethos." Now we have this L.A. Times piece which claims to show us the true face of the Tea Party movement, based on the results of a recent CNN poll:
Neither "average Americans," as they like to portray themselves, nor trailer-park "Deliverance" throwbacks, as their lefty detractors would have us believe, tea partyers are more highly educated and wealthier than the rest of America. Nearly 75% are college educated, and two-thirds earn more than $50,000.

More likely to be white and male than the general population, tea partyers also skew toward middle age or older. That's the tell. Most came of age in the 1960s, an era distinguished by widespread disrespect for government. In their wonder years, they learned that politics was about protesting the Establishment and shouting down the Man. No wonder they're doing that now.
Hold on thar. We need at least two more tells: Region and religion. The great nationwide tea party is lot more caffeinated in Mobile, Alabama than in San Francisco, the acknowledged capitol of Hippieland.

Still, there is some truth to the observation that the anti-war rhetoric of 1969 segued neatly into the Milton Friedmanite revolution of 1979 and beyond. The Vietnam-era student protesters shouted "Don't trust the government!" And then came Reagan, who shouted back: "Yeah, don't trust the government! Trust the corporations instead!" The right-wing revolutionaries needed only to convince the populace that Big Biz and The People were one.

That's when they discovered that endless propaganda can work wonders.

Alas, as the years progressed, many American businessmen discovered that their companies could not survive without a middle class customer base, a base which the previous Keynesian consensus had created and protected. Not that you could ever get those businessmen to admit that thirty years of Friedmanism destroyed the middle class. Businessfolk have been propagandized too. Libertarian ideology is hardwired into their brains.

Despite the concessions I've made above, I have serious problems with the L.A. Times' "blame the hippies" analysis:
The partyers are essentially replaying the '60s protest paradigm. (We're aging boomers ourselves, so we know it when we see it.) They fancy themselves the vanguard of a revolution, when in fact they are typical self-absorbed, privileged children used to having their way -- now -- and uninhibited about complaining loudly when they don't. It's the same demographic Spiro Agnew called "an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals."

In a flashback of "turn on, tune in, drop out," the partyers reject mainstream culture, don the equivalent of Che T-shirts that say "Don't Tread on Me," and join sects with trippy names like Oath Keepers, Patriotic Resistance and Freedom Force. Instead of getting themselves "back to the garden," they get off the grid and, like the Bill Ayers crew, indulge in fantasies about armed rebellion against the establishment.
I would not be so quick to dismiss the "fantasy" of armed rebellion. That's my quarrel with Ian Welsh's recent prognostications: He dismisses the possibility that the current dark talk of guns and seccession might soon result in the actual discharge of firearms on a mass scale.

I think we came close to that hideous flash point during the Clinton years. Even though times were good, relentless propaganda caused rampant anti-government paranoia, which gave way to sporadic violence. Now, times are bad, and they may get worse. I fear that we may soon see another Oklahoma City. Worse, I fear that many Americans will sympathize with the home-grown terrorists.

Propaganda. My biggest problem with conventional analysis of the Tea Party movement is the refusal to acknowledge the role of propaganda. That's also my problem with conventional analyses of the Reagan revolution and the Clinton-era militia movement. All pundits insist on operating under the delusion that these things arise spontaneously.

They don't.

We don't like to admit that propaganda plays a decisive role in American politics. We don't like to admit that most of our fellow human beings are ambulatory MP3 players who emit whatever sound files have been programmed into them.

If we allow ourselves to confess the fact -- to me, the obvious fact -- that propaganda is both ubiquitous and effective, then we must also confess the existence of propagandists. Hidden manipulators, if you will. But if we acknowledge the existence of such manipulators, we enter a realm parlously close to conspiracy theory. Hence, the very thought is impermissible.

Mainstreamers have a phobic reaction toward anything that reeks of conspiracy theory. Outside of the mainstream, the paranoia junkies refuse to admit that they are the most easily manipulated group in the country.

The birthers and teabaggers and the trannies all like to think that they can think. In fact, all of those people are really just ambulatory MP3 players. True, they've been programmed with what they consider an "alternative" playlist. But it's not a real alternative, since the songs still convey a Friedmanite message. The tea partying paranoids are puppets who operate under the delusion that they have cut the strings. They think that they are are free, but their subculture has been firmly under control from the start.

I'm not impressed by CNN's alleged poll results indicating that the baggers went to college. I visit college campuses often, and I see quite a few "ambulatory MP3 players" marching off to class. Indeed, collegiate ambulatory MP3 players put Barack Obama into office.

Beans: Propaganda can convince the masses of pretty much any proposition, however foolish. It's just a matter of determining how large a budget you will need -- $10 million, $10 billion, some figure in between.

I'm very serious when I say this: If you have enough money, you can convince a large sector of the population that pinto beans cure lung cancer.

Consider: With enough money, you can buy scientists who will get fake pinto bean studies into respected, peer-reviewed journals. (That sort of thing is more easily done than you may believe.) You can trumpet those studies in the popular media using purchased assets. You can have a brigade of radio propagandists blare the message daily.

"Pinto beans cure lung cancer! Go ahead and smoke all you want, because now we have a cure for cancer -- beans!"

Of course, propaganda works best when it contains a kernel of truth, however small. In this case, one could argue that pinto beans are fat-free, and that people with low fat intake are much less likely to develop gastric reflux problems, which can cause cancer of the esophagus and lungs. Ergo, pinto beans cure lung cancer.

That's an inane argument, of course: There's a difference between prevention and a cure, and there are innumerable other ways of reducing fat intake. But most people are too stupid to notice nice distinctions. A tiny kernel of truth is all you need to make your $10 billion pinto bean campaign into a raging success -- if you have $10 billion to spend on such a foolish project.

In all of the political propaganda blitzes that have afflicted this nation since 1979, there have been kernels of truth, sometimes very large kernels. For example, the Savings and Loan system really did need regulatory reform when Reagan came into office. That was the kernel of truth which allowed Reagan to do away with regulation altogether, thereby inviting sharks into the swimming pool.

Are there kernels of truth in the slogans shouted by the Tea Partiers? Of course.

That's what makes the baggers so easy to manipulate. That's what makes their movement so dangerous.
Well we didn't think that minorities participated much in tea parties. That leaves white folks.
We really didn't think that the youth were the backbone of the tea party. That leaves middle aged white folks.
We knew that rich folks were not hurting economically and poor folks didn't just get a backbone to protest. That leaves the middle class/middle aged white folks.
Male and College Grad part does surprise me since I have seen more women shouting in these events and more mis-spelled/factually ironic slogans displayed.
Whatever. But the pro-corporation tea partiers are the least likely to provide armed resistance to tyranny, accepting here a latitudinarian definition of tyranny.
In today's society, a college degree is such a prerequisite to some decent pay rate that it has become a meaningless credential. It doesn't mean anything like it used to, IMO. Now, GRADUATE level education serves as a proxy for the old way a college bachelor level degree served. And, not too surprisingly, those with advanced degrees at a graduate level lean Democratic Party at almost the levels of standard Democratic constituencies (Jews and A-As, and now, Latinos).

So, increasingly, the GOP and their ilk, including most of these Tbagger types, skew white and ignorant.

Allegedly, John Stuart Mill once said, 'Not all conservatives are stupid, but all stupid people are conservatives.' (I say allegedly, since I've not found a credible source for the statement, and of course, he was discussing 'conservatives' in its meaning in the 18th century, iirc.

I don't want to sound elitist in this, but really, if you think Glenn Beck is some font of wisdom and insight, well...[QED]

Notice the clever attack now on 'progressives.' No, not the Joe Cannon attack on progs as Obamaites, but Beck's attack on the Progressive Movement of the later 19th century into the early 20th, as the ultimate Evil. Poisoning the well for the liberals who've chosen the 'progressive' label as a way to get out of the demonization of the term 'liberal.'

A fairly clever propaganda effort. And with a slight bit of truth, at least (many in the prog movement originally were eugenicists, for example).

What really bugs me though are these lame conspiracy theories I reject in favor of some far more fringe conspiracy theories I favor. I'd be happy to spin them out for hours a day over the airways, for a bare 8-figure annual salary (open to negotiation for 7-figures, btw). LOL!

"Blame the hippies" is laughable. I know of no former hippies who are now Tea Partiers. I’m sure a few exist somewhere – but at most they’re a tiny minority.

Talking about MP3 players…
"Ron Alsop, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and the author of The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace, says a combination of entitlement and highly structured childhood has resulted in a lack of independence and entrepreneurialism in many 20-somethings. They’re used to checklists, he says, and 'don’t excel at leadership or independent problem solving.' Alsop interviewed dozens of employers for his book, and concluded that unlike previous generations, Millennials, as a group, 'need almost constant direction' in the workplace. 'Many flounder without precise guidelines but thrive in structured situations that provide clearly defined rules.'"

This description really fits with my experience – both with regard to Millennials that I’ve hired to work in our lab, and in my experience as a university instructor. In interviews for job applicants, I generally ask the question: "If you were a book, what book would you be?". The large majority of Millenial college students answer "Harry Potter". And experience has shown me that anyone with this answer is a disaster as an employee in a science lab (e.g. they can’t think for themselves). Interestingly, college students from working class backgrounds answer "Harry Potter" far less frequently, and often end up performing better in the lab.

On the topic of conspiracies – I tend to take an intermediate stance and generally favor certain types of systemic explanations (ala Chomsky) over puppeteer explanations. Propaganda certainly works though, and money can buy most everything (including human belief).
It's all so damn depressing. I've sparred with some of these people at other sites, staunch tea partiers for whom Sarah Palin is Joan of Arc, Glenn Beck and his list of Evil Progressives is a wise man, and John Stack, the suicide pilot of Austin, is the Hero of Liberty.


If this is the alternative to the Democratic disaster we're witnessing right now, we might as well all cash in our chips and go home. I mean honestly, who do you vote for? My own party, the Dems, have totally betrayed everything I believe in. And the Repugs? They were always nuts IMHO but now they're absolute straightjacket material.

And for Anon at 6:40, I think what Beck is doing with this Enemies List is totally despicable. You have people eating this stuff up, insisting that it's true.

So, maybe the premise is indeed true. Enough money, you can make people believe anything. Afterall, it worked for Obama.

It's still depressing.
Acknowledging the presence of propaganda and propandists is not anathema to the teabagger worldview. In my experience, they're perfectly capable of holding views of conspiracies, so long as they fit their pre-conceived ideologies - the liberal media, global warming as hoax, the faked birth certificate, etc. It's more a matter of a different set of interests they view as being the propagandists.

The free market / friedmanite meme has been fantastically successful as a propaganda tool, which has been the central enabler of other surrogate memes of the teabaggers and their recent ilk. It's like the Laffer curve - an obvious falsehood that is accepted because it feels so good to believe it (Lower tax rates = more tax revenue! So obvious!).

I think the "two santa claus" concept is also a valid argument, to wit: As the long-term goal of the modern conservative wing is to dismantle social entitlement programs such as social security and medicare, the strategy is to cause a financial crisis that forces cuts in their funding as a means to eliminate them. In action this has meant intentional fiscal irresponsibility during GOP reign combined with popular feel-good programs - tax cuts + increased spending/deficits, undermining the federal financial situation. Create a financial problem, then hand the country (at least in terms of optics) over to the Democrats. They then spend their time in power trying to correct the financial mess they inherited while being hamstrung on introducing any new spending - due to complains of fiscal irresponsibility by the very actors who caused the mess in the first place.

The most obvious questions for any big-government-opposing, anti-tax teabagger are: "Where were you when GWB was running up the long-term federal debt", and "So you must be a fan of Bill Clinton, right?" - since he alone in modern history returned the country to running surpluses rather than deficits.

I also like "deficit peacocks" who gripe about the fiscal situation staunchly oppose the HCR which the CBO judges will reduce the deficit significantly in the long run. Another good one is that a small (7%?) percent of long-term federal deficits are related to Obama-initiated spending (most is short-term and does not effect the long-term outlook heavily).

It might also be noted that during the 90's, the federal debt was a cause celebre amongst conservatives, but as soon as Clinton had returned us to running surpluses the argument changed to "If we're running surpluses, we're over-taxing you - ergo, huge tax cuts for the rich and a $300 check for everyone else!"

Apologies for the rambling.
Not every middle-aged white guy who attended college during the Vietnam era was a hippie.

Some went to colleges in the south where hippies were an endangered species.

Some went to Vietnam and then came back and went to college.

Some people were hippies the way later generations were goths, skaters, grunge, etc. - it was a style more than a political statement.
"That leaves middle aged white folks."

Wll now, beeta, leaves them to WHAT, specifically? Demise Defeat? By WHO?

What is wrong with this group of "middle aged white folks"? The fact that they (as not you) are white or middle aged? Both? Why are you threatened by them? Elaborate.
A new film blames hippies for the financial collapse. Apparently the film is really popular among Tea Partiers.
So hippies can be blamed for everything (on all sides).
"I fear that we may soon see another Oklahoma City." Have you listened to Mark Levin lately? The guy is coming awfully close to incitement to riot; very, very close.
Anon 1.26
I am middle aged and white and I don't hate myself. I was examining elements of the cited poll which finds certin groups more represented in the tea party movement. I meant no general hate for any group.

Merck paid an undisclosed sum to Elsevier to produce several volumes of a publication that had the look of a peer-reviewed medical journal, but contained only reprinted or summarized articles--most of which presented data favorable to Merck products--that appeared to act solely as marketing tools with no disclosure of company sponsorship.

Image: flicker/meviola
"I've seen no shortage of creativity emanating from the marketing departments of drug companies," Peter Lurie, deputy director of the public health research group at the consumer advocacy nonprofit Public Citizen, said, after reviewing two issues of the publication obtained by The Scientist. "But even for someone as jaded as me, this is a new wrinkle."

Read more: Merck published fake journal - The Scientist - Magazine of the Life Sciences
The tea party demographic as described sounds exactly like libertarians, or what Pew generously calls "entrepreneurs", and what I call "greedy, selfish bastards."
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