Two years ago, at Socialism 2007 in Chicago, I spoke about an “invisible government,” a term used by Edward Bernays, one of the founders of modern propaganda. It was Bernays who, in the 1920s, invented “public relations” as a euphemism for propaganda. Deploying the ideas of his uncle, Sigmund Freud, Bernays campaigned on behalf of the tobacco industry for American women to take up smoking as an act of feminist liberation; he called cigarettes “torches of freedom.”
The invisible government that Bernays had in mind brought together the power of all media — PR, the press, broadcasting, advertising. It was the power of form: of branding and image-making over substance and truth — and I would like to talk today about this invisible government’s most recent achievement: the rise of Barack Obama and the silencing of the left.
First, I would like to go back some 40 years to a sultry day in Vietnam.
I was a young war correspondent who had just arrived in a village called Tuylon. My assignment was to write about a company of US Marines who had been sent to this village to win hearts and minds.
The people of Tuylon finally came out, and stood in line to receive packets of Uncle Ben’s Miracle Rice, Hershey bars, party balloons and several thousand toothbrushes. Three portable, battery-operated, yellow flush lavatories were held back for the arrival of the colonel.
In Washington, the Out of Iraq Caucus is out of action. Its members can’t even come up with a form of words of why they are silent. On March 21, a demonstration at the Pentagon by the once mighty United for Peace and Justice drew only a few thousand. The outgoing president of UPJ, Leslie Cagan, says her people aren’t turning up because, “it’s enough for many of them that Obama has a plan to end the war and that things are moving in the right direction.” And where is the mighty MoveOn these days? Where is its campaign against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? And what exactly was said when, in February, MoveOn’s executive director, Jason Ruben, met President Obama?
The recent, amazing achievements in Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, El Salvador, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay represent a struggle for community and political rights that is truly historic, with implications for all of us. These successes are expressed perversely in the overthrow of the government of Honduras, for the smaller the country the greater the threat that the contagion of emancipation will follow.
For too long, ordinary Americans have been cast in stereotypes that are contemptuous. That is why the progressive attitudes of ordinary people are seldom reported in the media. They are not ignorant. They are subversive. They are informed. And they are “anti-American”.
What Obama and the bankers and the generals, and the IMF and the CIA and CNN fear is ordinary people coming together and acting together. It is a fear as old as democracy: a fear that suddenly people convert their anger to action and are guided by the truth. “At a time of universal deceit,” wrote George Orwell, “telling the truth a revolutionary act.”
* Watch a video of Pilger’s address.