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June 9, 2006

YearlyKos -- Ethics, Corruption and Movement Politics Panel Remarks

-- by Dave Johnson

Following are my prepared remarks to the Ethics, Corruption and Movement Politics panel:

Joe Trippi, Dave Johnson, David Sirota, Melanie Sloan
Thank you for inviting me to speak on this YearlyKos panel about movement politics and corruption. I’m Dave Johnson. I blog at Seeing the Forest, and I am a Fellow at the Commonweal Institute.

I’ll begin by briefly going over the origins of the modern Conservative Movement, from Goldwater to Heritage Foundation to Reagan to now.

After Goldwater’s 1964 defeat the far right built – or bought, really – a movement based on persuading Americans to think differently about themselves and the world. And I do mean the far right. How many of you remember the base commander in Dr. Strangelove, muttering about “precious bodily fluids”? Well that was the far right I’m talking about, and I remember them. Actually they aren’t really all that different now – they just hide it.

With really big funding they set up the beginnings of a “persuasion engine.” They started setting up dozens, then more dozens of what are called think tanks, like the Heritage Foundation -- built around marketing the (make quote signs with fingers) “ ideas” they generate. But all this effort wasn’t about ideas to solve the country’s or humanity’s problems -- Everything was designed to change the public’s political attitudes and make us more accepting of right-wing ideology.

Using the latest sophisticated marketing research into techniques – things like strategic narrative, the actions of similar others, social network analysis, and social desirability bias – they began endlessly repeating, in a thousand variations, the message that a conservative approach is better, and liberals are bad and stupid and shameful and evil.

Have any of you heard any of that – on the radio, or on TV maybe?

And they thought long term. They understood that the high school student they influenced today could some day be an activist or candidate. They understood that the junior research assistant they paid now would be the noted author or the influential columnist later. And they paid well – no point losing these people to the business world. You could make a LIVING being a conservative.

They also set up a huge media “Echo chamber” with conservative movement authors and commentators citing conservative movement “scholars” and “Institutes,” and so on, until their “reports” and “studies” seemed to be coming from every media outlet.

Eventually people started to think that there was a consensus of “experts” who all agreed that these conservative approaches were the only practical solutions to our problems. In short, they repeat marketing messages through multiple channels, over a sustained period of time, to create CONVENTIONAL WISDOM.

For more about the history of this movement go to commonwealinstitute.org/information.html That’s Commonweal like commonwealth without the th – look for the RESOURCES button on the Commonweal site, that takes you to that information.

The conservative movement didn’t just build UP THEIR ideas in the minds of the public. They also used their communications machine to tear DOWN their opponents -- organizations and political parties and even individuals.

Most people today perceive Jimmy Carter as having been a bad president. But let me suggest something. Knowing what we know now about how the right’s smear machine works, please go find and read President Carter’s so-called “Malaise speech.” Google the words “carter malaise speech”. Read that speech and you’ll see the signs that he was under attack by this right-wing machine that we are more familiar with today. We didn’t understand it back then but you’ll SEE it now. And knowing what we know now about oil and energy … you’ll cry. Especially when you see Al Gore’s new movie An Inconvenient Truth.

The reason this is relevant to this panel is that Carter was up against the machine, funded in part by the big oil companies. Their problem with Carter wasn’t ideological, it was only business -- Carter tried to reduce our use of oil – reductions that are so relevant today as we face Middle East wars, category 5 hurricanes and melting glaciers. Go read that speech.

This machine grew powerful -- they destroyed Carter - and then Mondale, then Dukakis, then Clinton, then Gore. Kerry went up against the machine and got the Swift Boating. Labor unions, environmentalists, teachers, civil and women's rights advocates, advocates for the poor, almost any group with the word "community" in its name, and so many others unfortunately also find themselves on the defense.

So, like I said the conservative persuasion machine and media echo chamber quickly moved past that initial far-right funding to also take in big corporate money. But corporate money is “interested” money – it necessarily has strings or it would not be given. And the strings necessarily go back to the interests of the corporation – not the public or the country – or even the conservative movement.

The movement followed the money and started to change from pure ideology to lobbying for the interests of the corporate backers. The think tanks began making arguments in support of what were little more than paying customers.

And so did their politicians.

For example, some of you have wondered why the logging industry are good Conservatives for cutting the trees, but the fishing industry, which depends on leaving the trees alone, are called environmental whackos. Ask, rather, who pays more?

(Personally, I always wondered why Jesus was in favor of capital gains taxcuts and dividend exclusions? But that’s another story)

Finally with Bush in office the lobbying turned to outright corruption, PURCHASING of legislation, regulation or deregulation, tax breaks, lucrative contracts and policy, by whoever offered the highest bribe.

So I have laid out some of the background that set the stage for the Republican corruption scandals you read about on the blogs. Also on the panel today is David Sirota, who has written a GREAT new book about this Hostile Takeover of our country by big money and corruption. So without further ado, let me pass the microphone to David.

Posted by Dave Johnson at June 9, 2006 1:25 PM

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Excellent summary of the background to what's going on. Far right and not any brand of conservatism previously known in this country exactly gets it. I think we need a new word for them; calling them "conservative" not only isn't accurate but leaves the real conservatives, who care about things like fiscal responsibility, out on the cold clutching their now tattered ideals. Unfortunately what we have now is a weird combination of utter cynicism in government, total corruption by corporate interests combined with whacked out ideas left over from far right propaganda to justify it.

Posted by: MJ [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 10, 2006 4:57 AM

Thanks Dave,

Wish I could have seen it.

Posted by: Molly Bloom [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 10, 2006 5:42 AM

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