Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Public Realtions Part IV

I thought I might piece together parts III and IV but when I reviewed my notes Part IV is the largest by far. There is a lot of ground to cover to reach the conclusion. I will also do one last post on how these ideas are affecting society today.

The most salient point from the previous post is that, "the most important thing in anyone and everyone's lives was to be fulfilled and that was all that really mattered."Of course, it was the job of capitalism to foster the fulfillment of its consumers. If we remember back to the original post though it was understood that this was merely a function of social control. Where this process takes an even more dangerous turn, and a suboptimal one at that, is when politicians use these same psychoanalytical techniques to run their campaigns.

There is a great segment when septuagenarian Edward Bernays appears on the David Letterman show and states people will believe me more if you call me doctor. Bernays initial ideas were that it was good to reach out and stroke the deep emotional yearnings of individuals to make them more confident, powerful and fearful so that they may be controlled.

Now in Great Britain Matthew Freud gave public relations a make over and it became glamorous. Mr Freud was able to engage in very similar activities that Bernays pioneered in the inter-war period. He worked to place ads in interviews with celebrities and also by "purchasing" the editorial pages of the press. The press was outraged and thought this was a corruption of their profession, but still the pages of the editorial sections were filled with pictures of products and specific mentions of the product in the text. It was a part of a sweeping changing in the UK to allow business to take over the role of government in fulfilling the needs of the people and was seen as a new and better democratic process.

Across the pond in America, Reagan was moving against against the government's role in fulfilling its people's need by targeting programs to support welfare. His pitch was that individuals did not need to throw their hard earned money away to people who did not want to work.

Both of these are examples of how focus groups were changing the game for politicians. It was now accepted that people did like to be a part of groups but also retained their individual characteristics. This individual had been trained by Corporate America to make demands for their hard earned dollars. Now with their votes these same consumers could, as they did with business, make politicians cater to their demands. The 1980s was leaving the left side of the political spectrum behind as the left's focus had always been on bettering society for all. In a very similar fashion to what Stanford Research Institute proclaimed the left in Britain was polling well on helping save the community. People openly stated in polls that they would vote for the left. Yet their self interests lay with the proposals that the conservatives were making. Ultimately, as predicted, the conservatives were with whom the voters cast their lot.

Then came the Clinton campaign. The campaign made extensive use of polling of swing voters and tailoring their message to fit their beliefs. The campaign found that voters only wished to support taxes for programs that personally benefited them, so the campaign responded with a middle class tax cut promise. This promise was going to be funded by cutting defense spending (the peace dividend) and raising taxes on the rich. Clinton won election in 1992. However, he quickly found out that the budget deficit was worse than feared and the bond market would not support additional borrowing to fund the tax cuts. The stymied executive office instead tried a new tact to lift the public by appeals to genuine ideals of society and community. Needless to say, the voters felt betrayed. In 1994 Bill Clinton's party was swept out of office in the both houses of the legislature, who ran on a platform of tax cuts funded by cutting welfare programs via the Welfare-to-Work initiative. It seemed certain that Clinton would be a one term president.

Clinton hired Dick Morris to save his "butt." Dick proposed that a transformation of politics needed to be undertaken and to treat voters like consumers, answering to their whims and fulfilling them. Surveys were sent out to identify swing voters and then personal questions were asked of the swing voters to determine their lifestyle. Policies were then enacted that would make the swing voters feel more secure in their lifestyle via "small bore" politics. Traditional issues were dropped in favor of minutiae like the v-chip or school uniforms. Also Clinton's leisure time would be spent doing activities that appealed to swing voters such as hunting or fixing up his home. This created a divide between Clinton's wonks and Dick Morris.

The wonk's argument in the White House went something like this:

What's the point if you have no mandate to be re-elected?

What's the point of having a mandate if you cannot get re-elected? Isn't the point getting re-elected?

In a show of deference to power, suburbanites were now controlling the domestic policy of the United States. However, it should be noted that this new form of democracy was pandering to the unthought about and primitive desires that satisfy individuals. It was discussed before that having people's desires be in control is not the same as having rational people in control. That this is just a guise to control the masses via their own whims.

Britain followed suit with the Tony Blair campaign. The feeling in the UK at the time was now that individuals were not exploited by the free market. Instead that the free market caters to individuals and fulfills their needs. However, this also hollows out the political channel as a means of power and leaves a larger slice of power in the hands of businesses and entrenched interests. Bernays proclaimed in his Democra-city that this new form of democracy was superior because the power was not swayed by politics or ideologies. The argument against this idea was that this was a democracy that controlled its citizens by reducing its active citizenry into passive consumers who are delivered "feel-good" treats.

It should also be noted that what works for business may not be the best manner to conduct political actions. Politics can now be described as a bewildering maze of desires because people's opinion changes at the drop of a hat just like in business, "the (product) market had forever changed from needs-based to a market of unlimited and ever changing desires."Fine, that is why there is Adidas, Reebox, New Balance, Nike, etc. However, for politicians there is no way to plan an agenda because the dynamic changes drastically and schizophrenically. An example of this was the railroads in Great Britain. During a campaign people were polled as to how important this issue was to them. The answer was not at all. Now after a series of accidents, delays and poorer service the politicians are being blamed for not investing sooner.

So instead of having an honest conversation people only want more public services and to pay less. There is no leadership where a politician can say, "Here are my beliefs, we should cut this service and I will cut taxes that fund this service. I pledge to do this wisely and judiciously. If you believe in this idea and in me, than you should vote for me." Or the converse, "We should offer this service to you and people like you in the community and it will cost more in taxes to do so. I pledge to use the money wisely to achieve these ends. If you believe in this idea and in me, than I should have your vote." However, what the political system is instead producing is a fear of having a rational discussion with the masses about a politician's coherent political opinion.

The final plea of the program is for individuals to think beyond themselves and how they have been trained by business. That people are more than "feel-good" machines and not slaves to their desires. If we are these things and cannot move beyond these ideas then it would be best to dissolve the government and allow businesses to sate our desires. As individuals move away from their consumer side, politicians will have to engage them with a rational deliberation that respects the individuals abilities to form rational opinions on what is best for society.

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