Dispatches from the Creation Wars

From Noam Chomsky’s blog:

The outcome was a disappointment, but there have been disappointments before. Take 1984, when essentially the same gang of thugs–a little less tilted to the extreme reactionary statist side–won by a 2-1 margin, with about the same percentage of the electoral vote as today.

About the same percentage of the electoral vote as today? In 1984, the electoral count was 525-13, for crying out loud, with Mondale managing only to win his own state of Minnesota. 2004 was one of the closest elections in history, 1984 was one of the largest (I believe the largest) victories of all time. For someone who prides himself on being so accurate, Chomsky isn’t even in the ballpark on this one. But here’s where I think he really goes wrong:

As to fraud, etc. I don’t think it is a major issue, even if true. The election had about the significance of tossing a coin to pick a king. If the coin was slightly biased, that’s unfair, but not the main issue. The much more important point is that the opinions of the majority of the population were excluded from the political arena on major issues. People voted for the imagery concocted by the PR industry. Exit polls reveal that clearly. But to discover whether the imagery is accurate, we have to compare people’s attitudes and beliefs with the actual programs. There’s plenty of interesting and credible evidence on this, and when we investigate it, we discover that people were hopelessly misled. Voters for both candidates assumed, overwhelmingly, that the candidates held their views, which is demonstrably false. In fact, voters recognized that they could not vote on agenda/policies/programs/ideas–about 10% gave that as their reasons–but only on imagery. And in a society based crucially on deceit (what is advertising?), it is quite natural that the political managers and the PR industry will run elections the same way. To repeat, there is overwhelming evidence that the opinions of the majority of the population on major issues were simply off the agenda, either within the political parties or in mainstream discussion, with rare exceptions. That democratic deficit seems to me far more important than the possibility that the coin that was tossed was biased.

Bush won slightly more than 30% of the electorate, Kerry slightly under 30%. I doubt that fraud had much to do with it. That’s about what I personally predicted, if that matters; am collecting some symbolic bets from friends, and even wrote about it a bit, on Znet. It is meaningless. It tells us virtually nothing about the country, just as it would tell us nothing if there had been a slight shift in votes and Kerry had won with a meaningless slight plurality. The important issues are: the opinions of the majority of the population on major issues were off the agenda, people voted for one or another image conducted by the PR salesman, and the images have little to do with reality.

I fully agree with him that political campaigns are designed for maximum deceit and that the tools of public relations and marketing are used to sell images that appeal to the visceral rather than discussion of issues that appeal to the cerebral. No dispute there at all. What I don’t understand is where Chomsky gets the idea that the “opinions of the majority”, particularly of those who did not vote, are somehow more enlightened than those who did vote. Study after study has shown that the vast majority of the public doesn’t really have established views on issues, they have loyalty to vague ideas that contradict one another and they are drawn primarily to the types of imagery that Chomsky agrees is the key to winning elections. Does he really think that there is this vast majority out there who are intelligent and knowledgable enough to cut through the haze of images and lies, but because they aren’t well represented by the two major parties, they just don’t bother to vote? If so, he is sorely mistaken. There is no reservoir of enlightened citizens out there. The vast majority of people who vote for either party have nothing approaching a coherent view of the world and are exactly the sort of people who are easily manipulated by the PR-driven nonsense shoveled out during campaigns.

Comments

  1. #1 Matthew Phillips
    November 21, 2004

    I took those comments to mean that “the opinions of the majority of the population” were not discussed. That legitimate debate was eliminated, and replaced with imagery. I didn’t take anything he said to mean that if a real debate had been held, that people would have used good reasons to make their choice.

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    November 22, 2004

    I took those comments to mean that “the opinions of the majority of the population” were not discussed. That legitimate debate was eliminated, and replaced with imagery. I didn’t take anything he said to mean that if a real debate had been held, that people would have used good reasons to make their choice.

    Did you read the full article? He talks about “overwhelming evidence” that there is this vast group of progressives out there who are not being represented and he implies that they stay home as a result.