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August 23, 2010

Five Things People "Know"

-- by Dave Johnson

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

The things that people "know" are very different from the "reality-based" things those of us reading a blog like this know, and those things seem to always, always serve the corporate right.

I have been away on vacation. While away I have been talking to "regular" people who are outside of the circles many of us who follow progressive blogs and news closely live in. The particular group I spent time with might not fairly represent "regular" people but whenever I spend time talking to people who are outside of our highly-informed circles, whether it is talking to relatives, doing call-in radio shows or just talking to people I meet I come away very discouraged by the things that most people "know." The corporate right has been very effective at spreading an anti-government, anti-democracy narrative that, when believed, puts their interests on top.

Some of the things that people "know" that I heard in one form or another on my trip include:

1) Government caused the financial crisis. A lot of people know this, and a lot more have heard it repeated over and over. Government forced banks to give mortgages to poor people and minorities. Taxes and government spending "take money away" from and generally harm the economy.

2) Obama bailed out the banks. The most a lot of people know about the stimulus is that it was a lot of money and it went to bailing out the banks. Obama's massive spending increase (Democrats "tax and spend") is the cause of the deficit and the government is at risk of going bankrupt.

3) Corporations (plutocracy) are always more effective and efficient than government (democracy). Government messes up everything that it touches.

4) "Entitlements" are welfare and are destroying people's independence and work ethic. People think the government will solve their problems so they don't turn to themselves. Illegal immigrants immediately get welfare and have lots of babies on welfare and this is why states are going bankrupt.

5) Social Security is going broke and won't be there for younger people.

Of course all of these are just wrong, and of course acting on these beliefs leads the country to results that are terribly destructive to the economy and people's lives while a few at the top make out very very well for themselves. I'm not going to spend any time here getting into how much is wrong with each of these. I do want to get into why people believe these things.

So many of us -- by "us" I mean people likely to be reading this -- spend our time in somewhat insular information environments, where the blogs and other information sources we read and the people we talk to tend to follow news closely, and to be very highly informed with "reality-based" information. But "regular" people do not follow the news closely, and the "news" they get does not come from the same places as the news sources you and I carefully seek out.

Why The Right Controls The Narrative

It's simple. The corporate right controls the narrative because they make an effort to do so, and the forces of We, the People democracy, community and caring humanity do not. (Peace love and understanding, truth and happiness.)

Corporations and conservatives have invested a ton of money in a huge ideological message machine because they understand marketing. There is FOX News, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of talk radio, Drudge Report, a vast, vast Astroturf operation and all the rest of the right's propaganda operation. It is very, very well funded. They have constructed an effective narrative and they repeat it and repeat it and repeat it and repeat it -- and then they repeat it.

But there is also the corporate-owned "mainstream" media that largely echoes and often directly transmits the right's narrative. First, they echo these anti-government themes. Then, as with the current anti-Muslim "ground-zero mosque" frenzy they carry the things that distract from the real issues. Why? Because it serves their interests, too. If people are focused on distractions instead of looking at the real causes of their economic woes it is all the better for the real causes of their economic woes: namely the big, monopolist corporations.

(Does the mainstream media reflect corporate interests against those of the rest of us? Without going into detail here is a simple test: When was the last time you saw, heard or read someone on TV, radio or in a newspaper explain the benefits of joining a union?)

Meanwhile progressives and the forces of democracy are barely reaching out to regular people at all. We seem to focus our efforts mostly on elections, and do very little between elections to persuade the public that there are benefits to them of a progressive approach to issues. (And never mind our political leaders who repeat and reinforce the right's frames and narratives.)

A big part of this is that it takes a lot of money to reach out past our circles. But we sure do seem able to come up with money for elections. In fact the return on investment of reaching people outside of the election cycle should be obvious. We wouldn't have to raise and spend so much money in the election cycle if we were making the case that progressives bring more benefits to regular people, because then regular people would be more inclined to vote that way in general.

I plan to write more about this.

I think I did an OK job going into more detail on the things people "know" and why in this video from the Netroots Nation panel, The 2010 Elections: Channeling the Power of Jobs, Populism and the Angry Voter. Use the bar to slide this to the 40:00 minute mark, and watch for about 5 minutes.

And, while I'm showing videos, here is Love, Peace & Happiness by the Chambers Brothers. (I can't get it out of my head since writing "Peace love and understanding, truth and happiness" above...)

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Posted by Dave Johnson at August 23, 2010 9:54 AM


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