Torpedo Central

March 2005

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American politics reached a new low point with the "Swift Boat Veterans" babble of misinformation in the last Presidential campaign. Now the same conservative lobbying group (USA Next) is about to start another campaign of disinformation against Social Security.

The same lobbyist/consultants who brought us the "Swift Boat Veterans," USA Next, have now embarked upon a new campaign aimed this time not at an opposing political party or candidate, but at one of the nation's largest membership organizations: AARP. Why? Because the AARP has been pointing out some very real and important defects in the president's plan to begin the process of dismantling Social Security.

If the "Swift Boat Veterans" campaign is any gauge, the plan to torpedo AARP will be marked by outrageous statements, ridiculous generalizations, character assassination and outright lies. These attacks will be discussed with all seriousness on talk shows (TV and radio), news shows and "investigative" shows, as if they were actually valid, thus validating them in the public eye. The conservative pundits will beat their drums and repeatedly raise the "questions" brought forth by the anti-AARP lobbyists, as if the answers to these were somehow as obvious as gravity.

One of the principle assumptions of democracy is that the people know what they want and vote to make it so. The people elect leaders they think support their own views and then scrutinize what they do very closely. When the people we elect do things we don't like, we speak up and say so. Then, the elected representatives are supposed to recognize that they have made a mistake and change their policies. When they follow their own agendas and stop serving their constituents, they're supposed to be voted out of office.

There are two major ways in which a republic can be transformed from a means for the people to exercise control over their government into a means for the government (or the people who control the government) to control the people:

  1. Corrupt the election process, so that each vote becomes meaningless.
  2. Manage public opinion, or the popular perception of it, so that the will of the people is turned into a commodity that can be delivered to the powerful for a price.

It doesn't take 10 cents worth of common sense to understand that when you interfere with elections, you've committed an act of treason against the people of a democracy. If you believe that powerful elites should manage popular opinion so that the people are bullied, cajoled or convinced to change their opinions, to conform to a set of beliefs that allow those who control government to do as they please, then you are no friend of democracy.

This anti-democratic view, that our betters know what's best for us and have the right to dictate public policy, is dangerous. It is most particularly dangerous because this kind of propaganda effort works. If you spend the time, effort and money, you can manage public opinion, irrespective of fact, logic or truth. Just like elections can be rigged, public opinion can be delivered. If you doubt this, just look at the public opinion polls in which the majority still believe that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11 and that Iraq did have WMDs when we attacked them.

Spending $10 million to rig an election is illegal. Spending $10 million to rig public opinion ought to be.

It is really very sad. The whole notion that people are idiots or sheep and that leaders ought to manipulate them for their own good is utterly anti-democratic, in stark contrast to the democratic show-boating of these self-same leaders. Other countries' people deserve the fruits of democracy, but our own do not?

And the ruling elites do not know what's best. That much is obvious with even a cursory review of history. They act to secure what is best for them and their friends today, but have no special understanding of the issues or consequences. If you took a group of working people at random from across the country, disqualified a few nut cases, brought them all together and explained an issue to them openly and fairly, I bet that this group would make as many correct decisions as any panel of supposed experts. But then, I happen to believe in the democratic principle that in a republic the government is just a temporary servant of the people, whose purpose is to obey orders, not originate them.

USA Next, whose motto is "Building a Legacy of Freedom for America's Families," (Does this make any sense to you? Sounds like the mission statement of a theme park -- "Making America's children happy, one at a time...") is being paid to torpedo AARP not because it is the right thing to do, and not because Bush's plans for Social Security will actually solve any problem. The whole "privatization" scheme for Social Security is a means to allow private investment firms to cash in on people's fear that they will not be financially able to retire when they get too old to work. People are deathly afraid, and with some good reason, that they'll have to go work for McDonald's or WalMart to avoid eating cat food. And there are hundreds of billions of dollars in clear profit to be made from that goldmine. Of course, every dime of profit made will be money that is diverted from (or stolen from, if you prefer) the people who paid for it -- you and me.

Let's honor FDR's memory by refusing to gut Social Security.

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