Political Marketing 101

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False advertising in the free market rarely pays. In fact, it can cause a business to incur serious losses or go bankrupt. This is because customers who are told that their hotdog is made of 100% beef and then discover that it is really made of soybeans once they bite into it will not likely repeat their mistake. Moreover, every time such customers hear or read one of the ads by the fraudulent hotdog salesman they will be reminded that they were swindled. They will be motivated to tell their friends and neighbors about it, and the swindler will then receive his just financial desserts. He will not have many repeat customers, the lifeblood of any successful business.

This is one way in which the free market penalizes fraud and encourages truth in advertising. In addition, economic research shows that it is the companies with the most successful products that tend to advertise the most intensely, not the companies with marginal or lousy products. In business, liars understand that at best, they might get away with it only once.

But this is not true of government advertising since there is no free market feedback mechanism in operation. Politicians understand that voters (their "customers") tend to only remember what they have said and done over the past couple of months, at most. They are "rationally ignorant" of most everything else. Consequently, politicians know that they can lie through their teeth over and over, as long as they cool it around election time, when their opponents have every incentive to point out all their lies and broadcast them to the public.

In addition, the government has such a loud "voice" that whenever it wants to, it can drown out all other voices. Every government bureaucrat is a relentless propagandist for his agency or department; and the government-run school system has long been designed to indoctrinate the population in the myth of the benevolent state and the "imperfect" and "failing" free market. The entire state university system in America is one giant "think tank" for the promotion of statism. In short, lying pays in politics much more than it does in business. It is not just a funny joke to say of a politician, "if his lips are moving, he’s lying"; it’s generally true most of the time.

Which brings us to the latest Big Lie Campaign that is currently being planned by the Bush administration. According to a September 24 article in the Washington Post entitled "Report: U.S. Image in Bad Shape," undersecretary of state Karen Hughes, the Texas political hack and George W. Bush crony who has been rewarded for her hackspertise with a cushy state department job, will soon embark on a "listening tour" of the Middle East. The "tour" is a response to a congressionally-mandated study of "America’s image" in the Middle East. And guess what: Our image is not very good.

In fact, according to the study mandated by the Republican-controlled Congress, "America’s image and reputation abroad could hardly be worse." "There is a deep and abiding anger toward U.S. policies and actions," said the report, written by a panel that includes a number of former Bush administration State Department bureaucrats. "[L]arge majorities in Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia view George W. Bush as a greater threat to the world order than Osama bin Laden." "In much of the world, the United States is viewed as less a beacon of hope than a dangerous force to be countered." (One begins to think that Dick Cheney just may have been mistaken when he said of the impending invasion of Iraq on March 16, 2003: "We will in fact, be greeted as liberators.")

The people of the Middle East see through the neocon lies about a supposed devotion to "democracy" as the guiding principle of American foreign policy. "Not only are U.S. policies in the Arab world scorned," writes the Post, "but the administration’s promotion of democracy while supporting autocratic governments is seen as hypocritical . . ." Good point: Why has there been no criticism of the absence of democracy in Saudi Arabia or Egypt (where we send our prisoners to be tortured since they are beyond the protection of the U.S. Constitution there)? One scholar of the Middle East is quoted as saying that the level of anti-Americanism is "10 times what it was just a year ago."

The whole world understands that the Bush administration lied the U.S. into a war that has needlessly cost almost 2000 American lives, tens of thousands of civilian deaths in Iraq, and has squandered hundreds of billions of dollars (everyone, that is, but the editors, columnists and readership of William F. Buckley, Jr.’s National Socialist Review). The people of the Middle East are understandably distrustful of a regime that invades one of their sister countries in a non-defensive war under false pretenses and then commences a permanent occupation by building numerous military bases there.

The only way to improve America’s image abroad is to end the war and bring all the troops home not only from Iraq, but from the more than 100 other countries in which the U.S. government meddles with its "military presence." This will never happen as long as the Republican Party exists, however, and the Democrats are hardly any better. One member of the panel that published the study of America’s image abroad is one F. William Smullen III, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff. He told the Post in MBA-style business lingo that u2018It is clear the American brand has been badly damaged." No kidding. But, Smullen said, "I’m not suggesting we have to change our policy, but we do need to take and assessment of the attitudes toward us by people around the world."

So there you have the Official Line: Don’t even consider changing the policy that has led to this problem; lie about it. Smullen doesn’t suggest lying in so many words, but that’s what the administration obviously intends to do — to create what one of Karen Hughes’s assistants calls "rapid-response teams" to "counter rumors" (i.e., cover up the truth). This is reminiscent of the Clinton administration’s White House "war room" that served a similar purpose.

Condoleezza Rice has also said that "improving the U.S. image abroad is one of her top priorities," which is why she recruited Hughes, Bush’s old campaign propaganda chief. This will not be achieved by a less belligerent and imperialistic foreign policy, but by a barrage of Orwellian propaganda that will be faithfully repeated over and over again by Republican Party media stooges such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy, The Weekly Standard, Wall Street Journal editorial board, and others.

For their complicity in enabling a bumbling fool of a president to wage an unnecessary war, and for their continued lying about it, every one of these individuals deserves to be bullwhipped in public.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is the author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, (Three Rivers Press/Random House). His latest book is How Capitalism Saved America: The Untold Story of Our Country’s History, from the Pilgrims to the Present (Crown Forum/Random House, August 2004).

Thomas DiLorenzo Archives at LRC

Thomas DiLorenzo Archives at Mises.org

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