Memo To: Supply-Side Students
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Q&A for PR and Propaganda Lesson #7.
This is the first Q&A session of the semester. I should have noted last week that the questions could come on any aspect of the lessons to date on the political side of the political economy. We’ll do that in another few weeks, perhaps. These relate to last week’s lessons on public relations as being distinct from propaganda.
Q. Eric Mauro: There are people who will admit you are right about exposing all the pieces of propaganda used to get us into the Gulf War, but still believe that it was good to get into the war and the outcome was a big success. Why does this historical assessment of the Gulf War continue to survive, even as the various propaganda pieces fall away? Would you admit that certain parts of Bush 1's case were PR and not just propaganda?
A. First of all, it is impossible to replay history, and I do not suggest I can do it any better than anyone else. I forget who said, “You can’t argue with history,” but it expresses that thought as well as any I’ve ever heard. Another axiom I like is that “War is the failure of diplomacy.” The Gulf War was that, in my view, but only with hindsight. When key people involved in decisions and communications make the wrong moves, there tends to be cascading effects, which lead to a vicious cycle unless someone has the insight and wisdom to see what went wrong, and be in a position to remedy the errors. A perfect example was the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Bobby Kennedy, the President’s brother, realized Nikita Khrushchev had sent two letter to the President, the first conciliatory and the second hostile. Bobby realized Khrushchev was probably angry because he had not gotten a response to his first letter, so he advised ignoring the second and answering the first. Khrushchev responded in good spirits and the crisis was dealt with accordingly.
President Bush clearly did not act on the basis of his own propaganda in 1990. He believed Saddam Hussein committed an act of aggression and that he could not allow it to stand, as he put it. There were opportunities for Saddam to reverse himself, but he clearly believed Kuwait had committed an act of economic aggression against Iraq and the U.S. State Department seemed to agree with him, along with other oil-producing states that included Saudi Arabia. The reason I’ve been so involved in these matters all these years, Eric, is that I could see fairly early that the hawks in the Bush administration and their influence in the Clinton administration were being successful in preventing diplomacy. Lots of people died as a result, more than a million, including, I believe the 4,000 at the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Was it “good” for us to get into the war, which was a “great success”? There are several ways I could answer that question, some yes and some no, depending on how I might see history unfolding if we had not “gotten in” and continued working the diplomatic angles. But as I can’t see the future through the lens of a different past, that exercise becomes a hopeless one.
Q. Dick Fox: Assuming that PR and Propaganda by the government is wrong, what restrictions would you place on speech to prevent this? Would these restrictions apply to individuals, politicians, and the press?
A. I really do not assume that PR and Propaganda are intrinsically wrong. Putting the best face on a difficult situation is an attempt at “good PR,” and must stand or fall on the way things turn out. If you are at war, it may be necessary to deceive your own population in the course of deceiving the enemy, but one would hope the people making the decisions at the top are not deceived by their own propaganda. One of the difficulties with the present situation with a “war on terrorism,” which is really not a war at all, is that our warriors in the Pentagon can rationalize the need to propagandize in order to maintain public support for the “war.” This was the idea behind the short-lived “Office of Strategic Influence,” cooked up by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz. They were using the same people they used during the invasion of Kuwait to cook up the story that Iraqi soldiers were killing Kuwaiti babies in their hospital incubators. Several U.S. Senators who were on the fence in giving the President authority to go to war with Iraq in 1990 said the story pushed them over the edge.
How do you restrict this kind of behavior? There is really nothing you can do except hope the press corps does its job, as the New York Times did in the case of the Pentagon plans for a propaganda office. As soon as that rock was turned over by a leak to the Times, it became an embarrassment to Secretary Rumsfeld and the idea was scrapped. We discovered in Thursday’s Times (Oct. 24) that Wolfowitz is so unhappy with the “intelligence” he has been getting from the CIA and the other intelligence agencies in the government that he set up his own, a year ago.
Eventually one would hope that members of Congress would put an end to the Wolfowitz antics, which never seem to end. But on Wednesday President Bush went out of his way to thank Wolfowitz, a SUB-cabinet officer, for showing up at a Rose Garden bill-signing ceremony. This was clearly done to signal to the world at large that this administration embraces the Wolfowitz ideas for a New World Order, even involving propaganda, pre-emptive strikes and a Clash of Civilizations. This amounts to a war that never ends, with no place for diplomacy.
My own advice to the administration from the earlier days has gone completely unheeded, including my warnings on the economy, but more appropriate to this question my warnings about the global disenfranchisement of the Islamic community. We now learn that the “Sniper” may in fact be a “Muslim McVeigh,” as I suggested in a memo on the margin a few weeks back. In fact, I e-mailed a contact in the White House suggesting that if the President wanted to do something to stop the Sniper he should stop hugging and kissing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and invite Yasir Arafat to Washington, which he has yet to do after seven meetings with Sharon. I reminded the contact this morning of my earlier e-mail and again warned that capturing one Sniper will not end the problem. The root cause is the disenfranchisement of the Islamic world and a general sense that only Christians and Jews have any real clout with the Superpower. The response to that kind of argument is to have Congress pony up another $50 million or so for a Radio Free Islam, to win their minds and hearts, with Wolfowitz and his friends writing the scripts. You can just imagine how far that Propaganda will go.
Q. Lennart Bjorksten: How does one hold various elements of the government accountable for spreading propaganda (=lying)? "Voting the bums out" seems unsatisfactory, since much of the propaganda machinery is beyond the reach of the ballot box, and propaganda may well enhance re-election prospects in any case.
A. There really is no other way to handle this issue outside of the ballot box, the ultimate source of all political power here. If candidates for office do not present themselves with arguments to overcome deceitfulness, the electorate can only wait patiently for the problem to get bad enough to produce political leadership. Remember how bad the problem of demand-side economics got in the 1970's, after President Nixon said “We are all Keynesians now.” President Ford made things worse in his brief stint finishing out Nixon’s term and President Carter seemed to have the right idea in his early campaigning, but hired the worst economists available to help him govern. Things got so bad that the voters gave the White House to an old movie actor who had studied supply-side economics in college, when it was still being taught.
This process may take a long time and produce long periods of malaise, unrest or unnecessary wars before there is correction, but correction eventually comes. I’ve been a supporter of the notion of improving democracy with a Constitutional amendment providing for national initiative and referenda, which would give the electorate a sharper tool for needed reforms. Opponents of such change are in the great majority in the Establishment, though. They prefer no change or slow change and in fact did not like Ronald Reagan at all. He actually wanted a gold standard, but could not persuade his party or his Cabinet that it was the right way to go.
We are having an especially difficult time now, because with the end of the Cold War we are at the top of the global mountain, all by ourselves. And we have not yet figured out how to manage the world. Wolfowitz, by the way, has as the foundation of his global structure the idea that the United States should do everything it can to prevent another nation from achieving superpower status. That’s one way to go about global governance, but the most negative way. My notion was always to have the U.S. concentrate on making the world a better place for all of mankind, and no other nation will even be interested in become a superpower, as there will be no need for another.
It may be, alas, that I am wrong and Wolfowitz is right, at least at the moment. After all, he is up there shoulder-to-shoulder with the Commander-in-Chief and I have a hard time even getting through to the Big Guys. There is now a lengthening list of Big Guys who have advised me they no longer wish to hear from me at all, starting with Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan in 1997 and, most recently, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill. Politics is not easy, even in a democracy. It “ain’t bean bag,” as the saying goes, but it is the best we have.
Q. Noah Ravitz: Which propaganda is acceptable and which is not? What should be the involvement of 'the media' in propaganda? What is it called when the media makes propaganda?
A. It is hard to imagine the media making propaganda. Journalists are trained to be communicators, a medium of exchange between the political class and the electorate. Unless they are ordered to be deceitful by media owners, they would not do so on their own. There are untold numbers of incompetent journalists and biased reporters and ideological, partisan commentators, but I’m never known one in my life who sets out to lie to his/her audience. In Hitler’s Germany, I suppose they did so for the good of the Fatherland. Politicians are a different breed of cat, aligned with a political leader who is willing to “lie” or “deceive” for the “good of the party” or “the good of the people.” The ends justify the means. As noted earlier, there has been a lot of this from the New World Order propagandists in the Pentagon.
Q. Terje Peterson: Other than a free press is there any institutional way to combat state-based propaganda?
A. Not that I know of, but that includes “leaks” to the free press from inside a government that is being corrupted, as the Pentagon has upon occasion. That’s why it is No. 1 in our Bill of Rights. In the beginning there was the word! In a family, the basic political unit, parents will often engage in PR with their growing children, to shield them from the nastiness of the world around them. But when children come of age, around age 13, they are pretty good at spotting deceitful parents who are going beyond PR and out-and-out lying.
Q. Bill More: Does it matter in a democracy such as USA if much of the Press is left-wing, covers topics selectively and attaches a leftist flavor to whatever it does cover? Is it possible for a populace to thus be indoctrinated over time?
A. I don’t think so. The question itself strikes me as being old-fashioned, as it is not apparent to me these days that there is much of a left-wing tilt to the press at all. President Reagan never had any trouble with the news media because he had an internal equilibrium that balanced left and right, but most especially took all reports from the national family seriously. The major media does not cover topics “selectively,” but rather gropes for the “margin” where change takes place. The old Soviet press – Pravda and Izvestia – daily ran front-page photos of tractor drivers and other muscled workers knocking themselves out for the good of Mother Russia. (Notice Germany is the Fatherland and Russia is the Motherland.)
Q. Jim Steele: My question to Jude is do you think a Golden Rule Party driven by supply-side economics could generate enough PR and attract enough attention to make a significant impact?
A. It would depend upon the backers of the Party and its candidate. Ross Perot had a great early run in 1988 before his political advisors turned him to crud. If Jack Kemp, for example, decided to lead a third Supply-Side Party, he could make a lot of waves. But Kemp does not have the stomach for elective politics anymore. We are really short of political leadership these days and will have to be patient while waiting for someone to grow and blossom. The party and the candidate would have to be seen as acceptable to the foreign policy establishment. Reagan did this by being hawkish enough in 1980 for the hawks in the think tanks and with the Israeli Lobby. He solidified that backing by naming George Bush his running mate. Perot meanwhile was being lambasted from the sidelines as “a new Hitler.” Remember? The more things change, the more they remain the same.