In this election cycle, I finally lost it. I cannot stomach American politics any more. There was a time when I used to relish it, when I used to like watching debates and discussing policy.
No more. The current election cycle has finally broken my back.
The media happened. Romney happened. Citizens United happened.
For a while, it seemed that the Republican Party was going to be exposed for its lack of connection with America; for its tendency to have an autocratic party line requiring every politician to tow; for its hidden agenda of benefitting only the rich.
But when the media announced that Romney had “won” the first debate, I was flabbergasted. OK, so his style was aggressive, but what about the dozens of lies he told, I thought. Yes, Romney did tell lies; he said he would keep Obamacare’s provision about pre-existing conditions intact in his healthcare plan, even though that is not his platform and his advisor as usual corrected him the very next day; he also said he had no abortion legislation planned, even though he has until now always avowed to overturn Roe v. Wade, the position reiterated by Veep candidate Ryan asserted during the Vice Presidential debate.
Would a debater participating in college championships have won the trophy by asserting that the earth was flat and the sun rose in the West?
I think the American public is hungry for truth from their leaders. But the trouble is, Madison Avenue has long controlled the message in Washington, with the result that everything has become an ad campaign. And the public, busy worrying about work and family, does not have the resources to sort out the truth from the lies.
That is supposed to be the media’s job, but it has become a part of the advertising industry.
If you don’t believe me, read an article titled The Lie Factory, authored by Jill Lepore and published in the September 24 issue of The New Yorker. In it, she explains how Upton Sinclair lost the election for Governor of California in 1934 while running on an extremely popular platform titled End Poverty in California, or EPIC. His plan to create cooperative factories and farms to implement “production for use” rather than profit, to kill the sales tax, and to levy a thirty-per-cent income tax on people earning more than $50,000, was so attractive, it got support from leading writers, economists, academicians, senators, congressmen, and cities.
To defeat him, for months, The Los Angeles Times simply ran on its front page quotations from characters in Sinclair’s novels as quotes from Sinclair himself. And who was the brain behind this vicious idea? An advertising agency named Campaign Inc., run by Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter, who coined the slogan, Every Voter is a Consumer.
And who financed the company?
Republicans of course.
For decades, Campaigns Inc. controlled the future of America. The company orchestrated Earl Warren’s campaign for Governor of California by maligning politicians who had protested the internment of Japanese citizens, using the banner “A Call to Arms in Defense of California.” Their advertising tactics were so nefarious that after Earl Warren won the election, he began to have a change of heart. After undergoing a serious illness, in 1945, Warren, who was a Republican, developed a plan for a comprehensive, compulsory health insurance for the state of California by using one and one half percent of contributions from employers and employees. The measure, in spite of being overwhelmingly popular, was defeated by Campaigns Inc. through the placement of ad campaigns in four hundred newspapers financed by the California Medical Association, using the slogan, “Political medicine is bad medicine.”
Harry Truman, in the meanwhile, had proposed a national healthcare plan modeled on the California plan. But Campaigns Inc. successfully defeated the popular plan, using money poured in by rich doctors belonging to the American Medical Association and using the phrase socialized medicine.
That phrase is still bandied about today, providing a testimonial to the power of money, advertising, and spin in American politics.
Campaigns Inc. laid the framework for the successful use of lies in politics; others perfected the art. In the nineteen eighties, a Republican pundit came up with a brilliant piece of strategy, “Say anything in a debate—be it truth or a lie—because seventy million people will listen to it. The next day, you can disavow or clarify your statements but ninety percent of people will not bother to read the clarifications.”
In the Presidential debates, Romney obviously relied on this wisdom. And even though media have mushroomed in the age of the internet, people were unable to call him on his lies. In fact, in the new millennium, the publicity machine has not become more democratic. Instead, campaign hacks have begun controlling messaging on Twitter and Facebook and brainwashing people into believing everything from who won the debate to who was more leader-like.
Is it any wonder then that Obama seemed so dispirited during the first debate? With problems like Libya, Syria, and Iran, not to mention the economy, on his mind, perhaps he felt diminished to have to face a habitual liar and to have to call him on his obvious untruths. Perhaps he assumed the media would do it for him.
Well after this election is over, I will be thinking about the distortions and lies and spins that have become the mainstay of American politics.
And if Romney, in spite of his lies and flip flops and his retro attitudes to everything from women and contraceptives and abortion and energy policy and taxes and healthcare and Medicare and Social Security, wins the Presidency, I will be wondering whether to move to New Zealand.
If I were younger, I suppose I would seriously consider such a prospect. But perhaps I could just tune out the madness by seeking refuge in some vacation resort on election night?
Sarita Sarvate writes commentaries for Pacific News Service and KQED. Visit www.saritasarvate.com