Sunday, January 2, 2011

Responding to the Conservative Propaganda Machine

Joe Brewer

So now you've seen the power of conservative propaganda for setting America's agenda. During the November 2010 elections, we saw the annihilation of progressive ideas by the most sophisticated, deeply funded and precisely orchestrated public relations system ever concocted.

And they are preparing to take things up a notch now that they've won. The gears are well-greased and the engine is humming. Prospects are slim for President Obama and the remaining progressives in Congress. If we don't act now, 2012 will mark the end of the progressive rise to power in American politics.

Now is the time to respond with force.

We have to rally together and stop the message machine that aligns corporate wealth with the American story. The stakes are too high for us to ignore this threat any longer. Our enemy is not a party. It is a system designed to manipulate public perceptions about what it means to be American - and it is unraveling the tapestry of our culture and destroying our democracy.

I've watched the progressive leadership closely in the last five years as they have repeatedly underestimated this oppositional force and overlooked its fundamental threat to America's future. They have invested nearly all of their time and money in candidates and policies, naively thinking that rational discourse would save the day despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. Very little has been done to build the twenty-first-century communication infrastructure we need to counter the vast network of think tanks, media outlets and cultural myths that preserve the status quo.

To give you a sense of exactly what we're up against, consider how the Tea Party movement came into being:
  1. A group of billionaires organized by Koch Industries came together and designed the initiative.
  2. Spokespeople were planted in the mainstream media to suggest that it was time for a revolution reminiscent of the founding days of our country.
  3. A massive media platform, including Fox News and conservative radio, spread the meme to every corner of the country.
  4. Seed funding was provided to organize the first rallies, all the while painting it as a "grassroots movement."
  5. Narratives that had been planted by conservative think tanks throughout the last forty years were evoked as "traditional values."
  6. Real concerns by people suffering under corporate corruption were tapped to evoke strong anger and fear.
  7. People came out in droves to support Tea Party candidates who were actually in cahoots with their corporate benefactors.
All of the investments have paid off. The Democratic majority in Congress is gone. President Obama has been put on the defensive. And local initiatives across the country have advanced conservative policies into law at the city, county and state levels.

Put simply, we're getting our asses kicked.

Now more than ever, we need effective governance in the various sectors, including both public and private, to save our country from collapse. Yet what we have is a deep collusion between wealthy corporatists and a significant cabal in government. Their collusion is profoundly anti-democratic and even anti-market (as demonstrated by the devastating impacts of their policies on financial markets in 2008). So what we're getting is a group of financiers who set up communication systems to manipulate public perception and drive boom-crash cycles in the economy to siphon all forms of wealth into their coffers.

We can't let this happen any longer. Now is the time to act.

Are you concerned about the future of America? Would you like to finally see the American people have a stronger footing than large corporations in our politics? Then you should invest wisely in the infrastructure that is capable of elevating progressive ideas so that they can dominate public discourse. Stop dumping all your money and time into reactive campaigns to save progressive policy from the conservative hammer. Break out of the election cycle mold and build for the long haul. And start being strategically proactive by targeting the source of power our opposition holds – the conservative worldview.

When I was a fellow of the now-defunct Rockridge Institute, I saw the potential for decisive strategic action that reframes political debate. It was painful to watch progressive philanthropists turn their backs on this foundational work and pour all their money into the 2008 campaign. What would have happened if they had instead pooled a few million dollars to invest in the design of a communication framework that brings coherence to the progressive vision? How might this year's election have been different if progressives across the country were taught how to deconstruct conservative stories and challenge them in a manner that fundamentally weakens their influence?

It's getting late in the game and our side is way behind. Our only chance for a comeback is to respond directly to the conservative propaganda machine. Right now we don't have adequate capacity for getting our messages out to the public, and we rely too heavily on outdated tactics that repeatedly fail in the face of such a powerful opposition.

We have to be smart. We have to be organized. And we have to be strategic. It's now or never.

Are you with me?

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