Last Thursday, Rep. Allen West, R-Plantation, compared the messaging of the Democratic Party, in the words of the Miami Herald “to that of Hitler’s propaganda machine.”
“If Joseph Goebbels was around, he’d be very proud of the Democrat Party, because they have an incredible propaganda machine. Let’s be honest, you know, some of the people in the media are complicit with this and enabling them to get that type of message out.”
He also passed a note, in his own hand (you can see it here) to Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) that said,
“The Democrat Party does indeed have a vicious propaganda machine, it espouses lies and deceit and the Master of deceptive information would be truly proud.”
We should all be used to West’s irrational outbursts but you gotta give it to the man: he knows how to get noticed. The Anti-Defamation League, predictably, was outraged. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) Put forward a resolution in the House of Representatives on December 20 to scold Rep. West for his words. The focus of both the ADL and Rep. Edwards was West’s invoking the dead of the Holocaust.
My problem is less with Nazi comparisons (I have used them myself where I feel they are apt and can be proven to apply) than with the enormity of West’s lie. West did not specifically mention the Holocaust and I would not take his words to have anything to do with the Nazi genocide of millions of Jews and others during World War II. He was speaking specifically of one facet of the Nazi regime and its perfection of the art of propaganda.
The issue as I see it is that what Rep. West is saying is true, but of the Republican Party, not of Democrats. West says he wants to be honest but that’s the first thing a liar is going to feel the need to stress, just as forgers always come down on forgery and Family Values Republicans come down on sexual deviancy.
I’m not saying Edwards should have pointed out that West’s words were truer of the GOP than of the Democratic Party. A simple recitation of the facts would have sufficed. The problem for West’s argument is that it is the GOP that possesses the “incredible propaganda machine” (Karl Rove, FOX News) and the media? Some liberal media elite! They at first failed to notice even that Occupy Wall Street existed and then when they finally did take notice of it they deliberately misrepresented its message and claimed the problems motivating the protestors were other than they were. A more blatant proof of media loyalties to the conservative agenda could not be offered.
The media, in other words, was complicit in singing the corporate tune. The media is, as it has for a long time been, a tool of the conservative power structure. Joseph Goebbels would not be proud of the job Democrats have done getting their narrative out. He would be flabbergasted at their apparent inability to even respond to slick Republican machinery of disinformation. Proud? He would be mocking.
Edwards and other Democrats lost their opportunity to attack West’s words on their merits, and Democrats are constantly giving Republicans like West free passes on the merits of their arguments. Democrats, sadly, are very poor (inept might be a better word) at this whole propaganda thing. Democrats haven’t quite gotten used to the idea of reality being anything other than it is and what science can prove it to be, or to telling the “Big Lie” or to creating lies out of whole cloth. Democrats mistakenly think if they make a coherent, fact-based argument that voters will make rational decisions based on their own self-interests.
Moderates, through out history, have consistently lost to fanatics. Because fanatics are ruthless and moderates are not. Fanatics believe the ends justify the means. Moderates are reluctant to think that way. But misdirection is everything in warfare and in politics. Republicans read Sun Tzu, they read Musashi’s Book of Five Rings, they read the Thirty-Six Stratagems. And they read Niccolo Machiavelli. They understand the bait and switch, the sleight of hand, the value of lies and deceit. They understand how to be ruthless in the pursuit of their goals.
When West said that Republicans need to get better at getting their message out what he did was no different from pointing to a Democrat standing innocently at the apple cart and saying, “Look! He’s stealing an apple!” while he slips his own hand into the basket and pockets one for himself. That’s how it works. West knows this. Edwards, apparently, does not. Rather than pointing to the apple in West’s pocket she simply cried “How dare you!”
The ADL can be forgiven. They have their own focus. Whether you agree with them or not on this particular issue you can see where they are coming from and you have to respect that. But Edwards’ attempt at public condemnation failed and it should have failed. She made the wrong argument. She blew her chance. Democrats are always blowing their chances in the war of narratives. Republicans don’t waste any of theirs. If they have a problem its not in understanding how the game is played, it’s in the quality of their players.
Look at the bumbling John McCain in 2008, or that of his clueless running mate, Sarah Palin. Look at Michele Bachmann who doesn’t know where the American Revolution started, or Rick Perry who can’t remember entire government agencies, or Herman Cain who didn’t know what he thought about our intervention in Libya, or Newt Gingrich who can’t make up his mind about when life begins or how strongly he feels about it, or Rick Santorum who wants us to trust him that gay marriage ruined our economy and that only hetero-marriage can save it.
It’s not so much that Republicans can’t, in the words of Jack Nicholson, “handle the truth” but that they don’t care about the truth. In the GOP Playbook truth and lies are not mutually exclusive things in themselves but simply interchangeable tools. They would probably tell the truth if it suited their purpose but it doesn’t and it hasn’t for a long time. If the economic record of the past 50 years wasn’t enough, the Bush presidency effectively took truth out of the GOP Playbook and its candidates since then have kept it out. So instead of 9/11 we have “no terrorist attacks on the US occurring on Bush’s watch” and instead of endless wars in the Middle East we have “Afghanistan is Obama’s War” and we have Obama somehow responsible for Bush’s $700 billion dollar bailout of the banks.
And it works. As CBS News reported back in August 2010, showed they believe exactly what the GOP propaganda machine wants them to believe:
Nearly half of Americans incorrectly think President Obama started the bank bailout program, otherwise known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), a new poll shows.
Just 34 percent of Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center correctly said that TARP was enacted by the Bush administration. Almost half — 47 percent — think Mr. Obama started the bank bailout…
If the Republicans have proven recently to be their own worst enemies you have to wonder if Democrats aren’t in the same boat. West should be ashamed, yes. He is a liar and worse, he is accusing Democrats of being guilty of his own crimes and playing the martyr on top of it all. Democrats should be ashamed as well: not for not lying effectively, but for not even doing a passable job telling the truth. As long as Republicans aren’t afraid to lie (hell hasn’t frozen over yet) and Democrats are afraid to tell the truth, Republicans are going to continue to have the edge in getting their narrative across.
And let’s be fair: being the corporate party and having the corporate media in your back pocket doesn’t hurt either.