Thursday, October 13, 2011



They call themselves Krugman's Army, but they're really just college know-it-all hippies: "See, the corporations are trying to turn you into little Eichmanns so that they can make money." "The corporations run the entire world, and now they've fooled you into working for them." "We just spent our first semester in college. The professors opened our eyes. The government is using its corporate ties to make you sell magazines so they can get rich." Or, as former Enron adviser Herr Doktor Professor General Paul Krugman himself puts it, "these people" are "destroying the world."

The New York Times Co., the corporation that employs Herr Doktor Professor General Krugman to help sell newspapers, has invited one of those eye-opening professors to expound on the ideas that animate the college know-it-all hippies. His name is Gary Gutting, he teaches philosophy at Notre Dame, and he makes the following claim:
Corporations are a particular threat to truth, a value essential in a democracy, which places a premium on the informed decisions of individual citizens. The corporate threat is most apparent in advertising, which explicitly aims at convincing us to prefer a product regardless of its actual merit.
Gutting goes on to argue that it is even more insidious for corporations to try to influence "debates over public policy," apparently oblivious to the irony that, under the aegis of the New York Times Co., he is doing just that.

College know-it-all hippies

But Gutting's throwaway line about advertising was what got our attention, for it reveals more than we suspect he realizes. For one thing, it reveals that he has fallen short of the assignment the Times gave him, which is to "apply critical thinking." A moment of critical thinking applied to his description of advertising shows it to be nonsense.

It is at best an overgeneralization to say that advertising "aims at convincing us to prefer a product regardless of its actual merit." It is ludicrous to say, as Gutting does, that it explicitly does so. To see why, consider a familiar slogan of a well-known media company: "All the news that's fit to print." A Gutting-style slogan, by contrast, would be something along the lines of "Biased and poorly written. Subscribe today!"

In reality, advertising seeks to persuade consumers of a product's merits. Often, as in the case of "All the news that's fit to print," these merits are intangible--status, image, reputation. Although Gutting isn't clear on this point, we gather he means to draw a distinction between such intangibles and "actual merits," which can be quantified or at least described in concrete qualitative terms.

But there's nothing deceptive about trading on status, image or reputation. If the company in our example fails to deliver "all the news that's fit to print," its customers will figure it out for themselves and take their business to a competitor. Those who fail to do so are only fooling themselves.

Of course some advertising is deceptive or fraudulent, but commercial speech is subjected to considerable consumer-protection regulation. By contrast, freedom of political speech in America is nearly absolute. That is as it should be, but it also means you are much more likely to get a bill of goods when you vote for a political candidate than when you buy a car or a box of cereal.

What we find fascinating, however, is the degree to which the left seems to be mesmerized by what it views as the dark arts of advertising and public relations. Progressives imagine that advertising works the way Gutting describes it, that their political opponents use the same techniques as commercial corporations, and that their side will enjoy political success if only it learns to do the same.
When that doesn't work, they really get confused. A hilarious example comes from Bob Cesca, a "media producer" who writes for the Puffington Host:
When I heard President Obama announce The American Jobs Act, I mistakenly thought the Republicans wouldn't dare vote against "American jobs."
For the first time, the Democrats had come up with a title for a bill that borrowed the successful Republican tactic of naming legislation in a way that makes it politically impossible to vote against. You probably remember some of the good ones. The Republicans aggressively triple-dog-dared members of Congress to vote against the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act. After all, who would be idiotic enough to go on record as having voted against the "USA" and "patriotism", especially when it's shouted in all-caps during the aftermath of 9/11? . . .
There it was. The American Jobs Act.
The Republicans didn't just vote against "American jobs," they literally filibustered them. . . .
The ultimate irony here is that, despite it all, the Republicans have a solid chance of winning the White House next year. Obviously they're counting on the collective attention deficit disorder of the American voter who will naturally forget about how the Senate Republicans filibustered the American Jobs Act.
To put it more concisely, the Democrats were counting on the voters to be stupid enough to clamor for Stimulus Jr. because the Democrats had named it "American Jobs Act." But their plan may be undone because the voters are even more stupid and will have forgotten all this a year from now.
We'd venture to say that the opposite is true: Having seen the so-called Recovery Act squander hundreds of billions without producing a recovery, voters are smart enough not to fall for that obvious ploy again.

Another example comes from London's Independent, where NASA global warmist James Hansen complains that, as the paper puts it, "climate sceptics are winning the argument with the public over global warming":
Part of the problem, he said, was that the climate sceptic lobby employed communications professionals, whereas "scientists are just barely competent at communicating with the public and don't have the wherewithal to do it."
The result was, he said, that in recent years "a gap has opened between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community, and what's known by the people who need to know--and that's the public. However there's nothing that has happened to reduce our scientific conclusion that we are pushing the system into very dangerous territory, in fact that conclusion has become stronger over that same time period."
In truth--as exemplified by this very article--most news media uncritically accept the authority of the so-called climate scientists. But perhaps people are skeptical because they can see past this empty appeal to authority; because they understand that skepticism is essential, not contrary, to science, and because the global warmists' claims have not been consistent over time. Here's a 1988 New York Times story:
The earth has been warmer in the first five months of this year than in any comparable period since measurements began 130 years ago, and the higher temperatures can now be attributed to a long-expected global warming trend linked to pollution, a space agency scientist reported today.
Until now, scientists have been cautious about attributing rising global temperatures of recent years to the predicted global warming caused by pollutants in the atmosphere, known as the "greenhouse effect." But today Dr. James E. Hansen of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration told a Congressional committee that it was 99 percent certain that the warming trend was not a natural variation but was caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide and other artificial gases in the atmosphere.
If you joke that global warming must be a hoax because it's cold out today, global warmists will jump down your throat for ignorantly ignoring the difference between weather and climate. Yet at the very outset of the global-warmist hysteria, Hansen himself made the equivalent argument seriously.
In his Times essay, Gutting approvingly cites a classic example of effective public relations:
In 1982, when seven people in Chicago died from poisoned Tylenol, Johnson & Johnson appealed to its credo, which makes concern for its customers a primary corporate goal, and told the entire truth about what had happened. This honesty turned a potential public-relations disaster into a triumph.
It's not, however, unfair to ask what Johnson & Johnson--or any other company--would have done if there were a deceptive response that seemed likely to prove more profitable in the long run.
Here's an example: Two years ago, a tranche of emails from the University of East Anglia revealed that scientists were engaging in deceptive practices to promote global warmism. A series of "investigations" were undertaken,which turned out to be whitewashes. Now the global warmists are complaining that they are losing the debate.

The efforts to sell Stimulus Jr. and global warmism have been ineffective precisely because the public is smart enough to see through these crude deceptions. The left would benefit politically if it learned to be as honest as corporate America is.

Democrats Against Democracy, Continued
Since his economic policies have failed, President Obama should seize dictatorial powers. That at least seems to be the logic one member of Obama's party is employing, according to the Daily Caller:
Illinois Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. told The Daily Caller on Wednesday that congressional opposition to the American Jobs Act is akin to the Confederate "states in rebellion."
Jackson called for full government employment of the 15 million unemployed and said that Obama should "declare a national emergency" and take "extra-constitutional" action "administratively"--without the approval of Congress--to tackle unemployment. . . .
"President Obama tends to idealize--and rightfully so--Abraham Lincoln, who looked at states in rebellion and he made a judgment that the government of the United States, while the states are in rebellion, still had an obligation to function," Jackson told TheDC at his Capitol Hill office on Wednesday.
If it weren't empty talk, it would be frightening. The Hill reports, meanwhile, reports that "House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer suggested Tuesday that voters are to blame for the partisan bickering and standoffs that have defined Congress this year:
"The American people have every right to be angry [and] disappointed by the performance of the Congress," Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol. "Of course, the American people have also elected people with hard stances, so that to some degree the American people are realizing the results of their votes.
"If elections have consequences--which I think they do--some of those consequences are getting what you vote for," Hoyer added. "In this case, many people voted for people who thought compromise was not something that they ought to participate in."
There is truth to what Hoyer is saying--but of course the voters will have a chance to revisit the question in just over a year.

Complacent Chuck
In politics, as in many areas of life, it's important to strike a balance between optimism and pessimism. One doesn't want to give in too easily, but neither does one want to be an overly complacent fool. To judge by this report in the Puffington Host, Sen. Chuck Schumer has fallen into the latter trap:
Schumer (D-N.Y.) was bullish on Wednesday on the Democratic Party's chances in the 2012 election, saying the party is likely to keep incumbents in office and pick up a few others.
"I think it's moving in the right direction," he said during a breakfast at moderate think tank Third Way. "It's almost impossible to say we'll lose the Senate, unless the roof falls in."
Almost impossible? The Democrats have 23 seats up to the Republicans' 10. The GOP needs four seats (or three if President Obama loses) to take a Senate majority. Prognosticator Larry Sabato lists one Democratic seat, in North Dakota, as a likely GOP pickup and six Democratic seats--in Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Virginia and Wisconsin--as toss-ups.
No Republican seats rate as toss-ups according to Sabato, but Schumer sees opportunities:
By blaming the Tea Party, Schumer said Democrats may be able to pick up "a seat or two" in Indiana, Nevada, Arizona and Massachusetts, where Democrat Elizabeth Warren is taking on Republican Sen. Scott Brown.
We'd say Democrats have a reasonable shot in Massachusetts (rated "Leans R" by Sabato). But then there are also several Democratic seats that only "lean" toward the incumbent party: Florida, Hawaii, New Jersey, Ohio and West Virginia.

One can quibble with Sabato's ratings: We'd reckon Massachusetts a toss-up and Nebraska a likely Republican pickup, for instance. But the overall picture is clear: Republicans have considerably more opportunities to gain Senate seats than Democrats do. It's not impossible that the donks will hold the majority, but it's far from impossible that they won't.

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