tentacles of rage: a brief history of the republican message machine

The subtle messages weve grown to accept over time, the pervasive catch phrases like family values and liberal media, didnt come about overnight. No, they were carefully crafted over decades by rightwing intellectuals desperate to regain control of the American discourse. And, in the most recent issue of Harpers, Lewis Lapham does an admirable job of telling the story as to how it was accomplished. The bottom line, at least as it seems to me, is that the Republicans have one hell of head-start. Their propaganda machine, is primed, well-oiled and ready for action. Heres how the story begins:

About the workings of the right-wing propaganda mills in Washington and New York I knew enough to know that the numbing of America’s political senses didn’t happen by mistake, but it wasn’t until I met Rob Stein, formerly a senior adviser to the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, that I came to fully appreciate the nature and the extent of the re-education program undertaken in the early 1970s by a cadre of ultraconservative and self-mythologizing millionaires bent on rescuing the country from the hideous grasp of Satanic liberalism. To a small group of Democratic activists meeting in New York City in late February, Stein had brought thirty-eight charts diagramming the organizational structure of the Republican “Message Machine,” an octopus-like network of open and hidden microphones that he described as “perhaps the most potent, independent institutionalized apparatus ever assembled in a democracy to promote one belief system.

And then theres this brilliant paragraph toward the end:

How does one reconcile the demand for small government with the desire for an imperial army, apply the phrases “personal initiative” and “self-reliance” to corporation presidents utterly dependent on the federal subsidies to the banking, communications, and weapons industries, square the talk of “civility” with the strong-arm methods of Kenneth Starr and Tom DeLay, match the warmhearted currencies of “conservative compassion” with the cold cruelty of “the unfettered free market,” know that human life must be saved from abortionists in Boston but not from cruise missiles in Baghdad? In the glut of paper I could find no unifying or fundamental principle except a certain belief that money was good for rich people and bad for poor people. It was the only point on which all the authorities agreed, and no matter where the words were coming from (a report on federal housing, an essay on the payment of Social Security, articles on the sorrow of the slums or the wonder of the U.S. Navy) the authors invariably found the same abiding lesson in the talemoney ennobles rich people, making them strong as well as wise; money corrupts poor people, making them stupid as well as weak.

The article is well worth the time. Check it out if youve got some time to invest.

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