Many will be abhorred by what award-winning investigative journalist, John Pilger, has to say about President Obama. Many will ignore Pilger's thesis altogether but will pounce on his cited examples as proof positive that Dubya was right all along but that Obama is still a socialist. Or a fascist. Or Kenyan. Or not really the president cuz it say so in the Bible.
Now that you've heard Mr Pilger's comments about Barak Obama, consider this: why should the idea that the US president is a product of marketing strategies, public relations tactics, and corporate planning be a surprise? The role of PR firms in US elections goes back at the very least to the Nixon/Kennedy campaigns. Joe McGinniss’s ‘The Selling of the President’ recounts Nixon’s successful re-packaging and his triumph in the 1968 presidential race following his loss to Kennedy in the nail-biter of 1960.
Winning the contest for the highest elected government office in the land (if not the world) is most assuredly a prize that corporate America and those in its thrall would do nearly anything to accomplish. This is the self-evident fact of the matter and incontestable. Putting the concepts Bernays and Lippman proposed in the early 1900’s for manufacturing consent, shaping public opinion and thereby controlling the ignorant herd is standard operating procedure. SOP. So last millennium it’s hardly worth mentioning. Nothing new here. Move along.
How many movies have come out of Hollywood –itself a creature of marketing and PR alchemy – that have told the lurid tales of backroom deals, media handlers, corporate shills, wardrobe consultants, press agents and PR strategists? How many summer-reading novels?
The notion that the US president is a corporate marketing creation should not come as a revelation. (A dispassionate observer might need look no further than the twice successful candidacy of Ronald Reagan to confirm the proposition that the quality of packaging and promotion out-weigh the quality of the candidate in a run for the White House.) Nevertheless, the truth of it is disturbing. Mr. Pilger is doing us all a favor by pointing this issue out to us and rubbing our noses in it.
The chief executive of our government – you know, the one that is of the people, by the people, for the people-is a product. A product that is shaped by focus groups and groomed by market research and then sold to the electorate by callously well-crafted media ads in combination with attractive product placement and the scripted pronouncements of pundits in the pay of corporations.
(I’m not really an expert, but I play one on TV.)
Understanding that Americans insist on feeling they are independent in their actions - exercising their freedom, in the parlance of patriotism- the marketing mavens offer a choice of products. Sales departments also know that making a choice can be daunting. Especially when there’s a lot at stake and the choice is to be made in near total ignorance; some of it willful, some by design.
In the US the electorate’s choice has been limited to two so as not to confound the troublesome herd; crispy or extra-crispy? Paper or plastic? Democrat or Republican? For here or to go?
Third-party candidates become the target of PR attack dogs and relegated to obscurity by corporate programmers and editors and made to appear an irrelevancy to the presidential contest.
And may the one with the bigger war-chest and the better sales campaign win!
What Hollywood movies do not typically deal with is nevertheless very closely scrutinized: the source of the funds in a presidential candidate’s war-chest. Although there are laws regulating campaign financing, there are many ways around those regulations. Laws, lawyers and loopholes; this is not a revelation, either. It’s axiomatic. Little could be more obvious than the fact that legal services cost money in the USA; as do the services of public relations firms, marketing consultants, ad agencies, media advisers, speech writers, press secretaries, wardrobe and make-up specialists, to name but a few that are essential to the selling of the president.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics , a research group which has tracked the money in U.S. politics for a quarter of a century and which does not accept contributions from corporations, trade associations or labor unions, Obama’s presidential war-chest was an unprecedented $745, 000,000. That astounding sum is based on the Federal Election Commission data for the 2008 election cycle. John McCain, the Republican runner-up, raised a paltry $368,000,000 according to the same sources. Third party candidates’ campaign funds were beggarly in comparison; raising a measly $5,457,000 to finance four separate campaigns. The lion’s share of which, $4,000,000 – little more than one half of one percent of Obama’s record-setting total - was raised by seasoned campaigner, Ralph Nader.
The source of campaign funds should raise no eye-brows. The money comes from the political action committees (PAC) of major corporations and institutions.
• Goldman Sachs, Morgan-Stanley, Citigroup, Inc, UBS AG and JPMorgan Chase & Co were among the top 20 contributors to Obama’s presidential bid.
• The PACs of media conglomerates National Amusements Inc (which owns media giants Viacom and CBS Corporation) and Time Warner, the world's largest media and entertainment conglomerate contributed more than a cool million.
• International business law firms, Sidley, Austin LLP, Latham & Watkins LLP, Skadden, Arps, and Wilmerhale, kicked in an even cooler $1.6 million.
• Hi-tech powerhouses, IBM, Microsoft and Google nearly doubled the lawyers’ contributions.
• Although it may prompt a warm and fuzzy feeling that Obama’s alma maters, Harvard and Columbia were major contributors along with Standford and the University of California each of these renowned educational institutions is also funded by government research contracts and should be considered part of the military-industrial complex.
• Rounding out the list is General Electric, which benefits directly from the research done by the aforementioned institutes of higher learning as one of the largest recipients of military contracts.
A pattern emerges; international law firms, mammoth media groups, financial sector behemoths, hi-tech giants and colossal military contractors were primary supporters of Obama’s presidential campaign. To risk stating the obvious once more, highly successful corporations and institutions do not go around tossing millions of dollars into wishing wells. They make well-considered and sober decisions, choosing, investments that offer low risk and high probability of profitable returns. An Obama presidency, while seen as ‘dark horse’ by the general public (if you’ll pardon the pun), was assessed as a sound political and financial investment. That these corporate and institutional entities hedged their bets by investing in Obama’s competitors is part of what is known as a balanced investment portfolio and should further negate any lingering illusions that they were foursquare supporters of his message of Hope and change.
This is not news. That this sorry reality is not news exposes the fraud of what passes as democratic process in the United States. The 2008 election campaign of the Chief Executive, the Commander-in-Chief of the United States was paid for by major corporations. That this is merely the most recent one in a long uninterrupted series of corporate-sponsored political contests leads to one incontrovertible conclusion: the US is a Corporatocracy, plain and simple. There should be no one of voting age so naïve as to cling to the fantasy, the irrational will-o’-the-wisp that Goldman-Sachs, Morgan Stanley, IBM, GE and Microsoft et al. will not claim ownership of what they have paid millions to acquire.
Should this depress Obama supporters? Only if they actually believed the PR hype. One more instance of belief as an obstacle to reason.
We should all be abhorred and politically radicalized by this truth.
To view Mr Pilger's speech 'Obama and Empire' in its entirety go to the Real News.
For more about John Pilger and his work; http://pilger.carlton.com/
To view Mr Pilger's speech