Obama’s 100 Days: The Mad Men Did Well

The BBC’s American television soap Mad Men offers a rare glimpse of the power of corporate advertising. The promotion of smoking half a century ago by the “smart” people of Madison Avenue, who knew the truth, led to countless deaths. Advertising and its twin, public relations, became a way of deceiving dreamt up by those who had read Freud and applied mass psychology to anything from cigarettes to politics. Just as Marlboro Man was virility itself, so politicians could be branded, packaged and sold.

It is more than 100 days since Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. The “Obama brand” has been named Advertising Age’s “marketer of the year for 2008,” easily beating Apple computers. David Fenton of MoveOn.org describes Obama’s election campaign as “an institutionalized mass-level automated technological community organizing that has never existed before and is a very, very powerful force.” Deploying the internet and a slogan plagiarized from the Latino union organizer César Chávez — “Sí, se puede!” or “Yes, we can” — the mass-level automated technological community marketed its brand to victory in a country desperate to be rid of George W Bush.

No one knew what the new brand actually stood for. So accomplished was the advertising (a record $75 million was spent on television commercials alone) that many Americans actually believed Obama shared their opposition to Bush’s wars. In fact, he had repeatedly backed Bush’s warmongering and its congressional funding. Many Americans also believed he was the heir to Martin Luther King’s legacy of anti-colonialism. Yet if Obama had a theme at all, apart from the vacuous “Change you can believe in,” it was the renewal of America as a dominant, avaricious bully. “We will be the most powerful,” he often declared.

Perhaps the Obama brand’s most effective advertising was supplied free of charge by those journalists who, as courtiers of a rapacious system, promote shining knights. They depoliticized him, spinning his platitudinous speeches as “adroit literary creations, rich, like those Doric columns, with allusion . . .” (Charlotte Higgins in The Guardian). The San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford wrote: “Many spiritually advanced people I know. . . identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who . . . can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet.”

In his first 100 days, Obama has excused torture, opposed habeas corpus and demanded more secret government. He has kept Bush’s gulag intact and at least 17,000 prisoners beyond the reach of justice. On 24 April, his lawyers won an appeal that ruled Guantanamo Bay prisoners were not “persons”, and therefore had no right not to be tortured. His national intelligence director, Admiral Dennis Blair, says he believes torture works. One of his senior US intelligence officials in Latin America is accused of covering up the torture of an American nun in Guatemala in 1989; another is a Pinochet apologist. As Daniel Ellsberg has pointed out, the US experienced a military coup under Bush, whose secretary of “defense”, Robert Gates, along with the same warmaking officials, has been retained by Obama.

All over the world, America’s violent assault on innocent people, directly or by agents, has been stepped up. During the recent massacre in Gaza, reports Seymour Hersh, “the Obama team let it be known that it would not object to the planned resupply of ‘smart bombs’ and other hi-tech ordnance that was already flowing to Israel” and being used to slaughter mostly women and children. In Pakistan, the number of civilians killed by US missiles called drones has more than doubled since Obama took office.

In Afghanistan, the US “strategy” of killing Pashtun tribespeople (the “Taliban”) has been extended by Obama to give the Pentagon time to build a series of permanent bases right across the devastated country where, says Secretary Gates, the US military will remain indefinitely. Obama’s policy, one unchanged since the Cold War, is to intimidate Russia and China, now an imperial rival. He is proceeding with Bush’s provocation of placing missiles on Russia’s western border, justifying it as a counter to Iran, which he accuses, absurdly, of posing “a real threat” to Europe and the US. On 5 April in Prague, he made a speech reported as “anti-nuclear”. It was nothing of the kind. Under the Pentagon’s Reliable Replacement Warhead program, the US is building new “tactical” nuclear weapons designed to blur the distinction between nuclear and conventional war.

Perhaps the biggest lie — the equivalent of smoking is good for you — is Obama’s announcement that the US is leaving Iraq, the country it has reduced to a river of blood. According to unabashed US army planners, as many as 70,000 troops will remain “for the next 15 to 20 years.” On 25 April, his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, alluded to this. It is not surprising that the polls are showing that a growing number of Americans believe they have been suckered — especially as the nation’s economy has been entrusted to the same fraudsters who destroyed it. Lawrence Summers, Obama’s principal economic adviser, is throwing $3 trillion at the same banks that paid him more than $8 million last year, including $135,000 for one speech. Change you can believe in.

Much of the American establishment loathed Bush and Cheney for exposing, and threatening, the onward march of America’s “grand design,” as Henry Kissinger, war criminal and now Obama adviser, calls it. In advertising terms, Bush was a “brand collapse” whereas Obama, with his toothpaste advertisement smile and righteous clichés, is a godsend. At a stroke, he has seen off serious domestic dissent to war, and he brings tears to the eyes, from Washington to Whitehall. He is the BBC’s man, and CNN’s man, and Murdoch’s man, and Wall Street’s man, and the CIA’s man. The Madmen did well.

John Pilger is an internationally renowned investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker. His latest film is The War on Democracy. His most recent book is Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire (2006). Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. jp said on April 29th, 2009 at 1:25pm #

    I charge Obama with failing to revolutionise global politics. Surely in 100 days he could have stopped centuries of bad practice and the inertia of the last 10 years? There’s criticism, and there’s wanting someone to fail.

  2. Donald L. Smith said on April 29th, 2009 at 2:15pm #

    Madness, indeed.
    Obama and spouse are very decorative lawn jockeys to place on the White House entryway. The corporate killers manipulating events and opinions have hit a home run with this one, vacuous words and phrases continue to give an appearance of “government” as trillions of debt generated dollars go out the back door.
    What a novel idea!
    As glaciers melt, as a sub continent of plastic the size of Europe floats off shore on the Pacific coast of South America, as the large fishes disappear, as all the warning signs that something is truly screwed up with the ecosystem, these fools continue to grab and kill to aquire “more”.
    Narcissism enthroned.
    Thanks for posting this great article.

  3. Suthiano said on April 29th, 2009 at 2:36pm #

    Yes there is a difference between believing in something and not believing in it.

    “There’s criticism, and there’s wanting someone to fail.”

    I wish there was no Catholic church.

    That is a criticism, it is also an profession of my beliefs. Are we not aloud to make such statements?

    Do we all have to believe in the current structures hoping they work, restraining ourselves just to ‘criticism’, or can we have more progressive and substantial discussions/discourses?

  4. Max Shields said on April 29th, 2009 at 3:22pm #

    Pilger about sums up what I’m witnessing.

    It’s true one man cannot change decades, no, make that centuries of imperial empire.

    But if we concede that Obama is not the “man” to make such changes, then let’s just say he’s a more stylish George W. Bush.

    The US imperial policies are old and transcend presidents and parties. This is clear. I think Pilger has it exactly right when he says Obama is simply an attempt to put a better face on it; a little more Clinton and a little less Bush; but the policies are the same.

    This is not about a “man” failing. It is about a failed system, a system which is failed based on its own advertising. Obama was marketed and sold. The fact that he is not this change agent seems more than apparent. Saying it out loud is refreshing. Let the sunshine in. Obama is a semi-black version of Clinton and Bush. The elites found their symbol, their guy to keep the lid on. Bush was a failure at that level; but he was right on message with his policies as is Obama – again, it’s a question of whose agenda we’re working to: the power elite or the people’s?

  5. Reeves van Hettinga said on April 29th, 2009 at 3:24pm #

    It’s like the old French adage, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” It’s Bush fascism with a smiling new face.

  6. bozhidar or bozh said on April 29th, 2009 at 3:39pm #

    max, you array your conclusions and facts in your own words and i in mine. But factual presentation along with the conclusions, etc., are the same.

    i have repeatedly asserted [don’t know about you] that the only changes that ever take place are those that the ruling class finds it beneficial.
    i also think that relying on ‘saviors’ to change the basics is a great roadblock for basic changes.

    the mad priests of judea have introduced to us the greatest savior ever; yet religions routinely approbate serial warfare. tnx

  7. Don Hawkins said on April 29th, 2009 at 3:42pm #

    And Max that last question is academic unless we see a new way of think in the next 3 or 4 years and luck has nothing to do with it reason and knowledge does.

  8. Suthiano said on April 29th, 2009 at 5:19pm #

    ‘reason and knowledge’ are two of the main causes of our current predicament. The ‘scientific’ positivist way of thinking has lead to such disasters as pesticides, terminating seeds, the atomic bomb, nuclear power, combustion engines… etc.

    as far as ‘elites’ are concerned, it is reasonable to with hold truth from a public that cannot comprehend important issues… of course the public is ‘mislead’ but why is the public unable to discern between reality and bullshit? public is retarded, spiritually. greedy consumers we do it to ourselves. the elites just manipulate us according to their knowledge and reason…

    this has always been true… it is why the words rule and rex (king) can be traced back to the Sumerian word for ‘shepherd’. Because the public are a bunch of ignorant sheep without the capabilities to lead themselves…. transformation is necessary…. it will happen with or without human beings.

  9. mary said on April 30th, 2009 at 2:47am #

    The American Free Press February 2009 had this article on the goodly number of Rothschild agents/Rhodes scholars given key jobs in the Obama administration. Noteworthy. And is the Ezekial Emanuel mentioned in the list related to Rahm?


    Rothschild Agents Take 10 Key Posts
    In Administration of Rookie President

    By Michael Collins Piper

    OUR GREATEST FOUNDING FATHER and first president, George Washington, probably wouldn’t be ready to celebrate his birthday on Feb. 22 if he were alive today. Having led the 13 colonies to independence from the British Empire in 1783, following the course of a difficult eight-year struggle by those freedom-loving American colonists who followed him, Washington (who lived from 1732 to 1799) would most assuredly be appalled to see that the liberties achieved from the American Revolution are now being flagrantly defied by a number of figures who populate the upper ranks of the administration of Barack Obama.

    Six former Rhodes Scholars (educated at Oxford University in Britain) and four others associated with the London School of Economics are serving in key posts in the Obama administration. That’s not good.

    Here are 10 of the key “British”—that is, Rothschild —operatives now ensconced in the Obama administration (more can be expected):

    Susan Rice—ambassador to the UN; Michael McFaul—head of the Russian desk at the National Security Council; Elena Kagan—solicitor general of the United States; Anne-Marie Slaughter—State Department policy planning staff; Neal S.Wolin—deputy counsel to the president for economic policy; Ezekial Emanuel—senior counselor at the White House Office of Management and Budget on health care policy; Lawrence Summers—head of the National Economic Council; Peter Orszag—director of the Office of Management and Budget; Peter Rouse—senior advisor to the president; Mona Sutphen—deputy chief of the White House staff.

    The truth about the Rhodes Scholarships is not known to the average American who is constantly told by the mass media that Rhodes Scholars (such as former President Bill Clinton) are among “the best and the brightest.”

    The Rhodes Scholarships—awarded to Americans and students from other former British colonies—are funded by a trust set up by 19th Century British imperial figure Cecil Rhodes, whose intent was to indoctrinate these scholars with the theme that the American colonies should be reunited with the British Empire and that they should work through “public service” to achieve that goal.

    But Rhodes wasn’t just some rich madcap dreamer. His ventures were underwritten by the international Rothschild dynasty operating from the financial district in London known as “The City”—the banking center of the Rothschild controlled British empire that also includes the London School of Economics.

    So now a clique of internationalists trained in the idea of extinguishing American independence are ensconced in the Obama administration.

    And another Rhodes Scholar, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, is widely touted as the great Grand Old Party candidate to “take back the White House” in 2012. Jindal doesn’t offer “change.” He—like the other globalists in the Obama administration—is part of the problem.

    All of this is not a “conspiracy theory.” Rather, these facts are well known to those familiar with what the Rhodes scholarships are really about.

  10. Josie Michel-Brüning said on April 30th, 2009 at 2:55am #

    Agreeing with Suthiano and thinking of what I have learned once at university, among others about rats and their survival program, how they are able to warn each other, even when they are already poisoned, shortly before their death, they appear to me as if they would have a better chance for surviving than human beings have.
    By the way, the original slogan was a Cuban one, “Si, lo puedo!”, that of their alphabetization program in Venezuela and Latin America.
    Yes, it is our man made system, which is going to collapse.
    Nevertheless, stand up, join each other, you are the American people. Stop leading the world to catastrophe!

  11. Kaelieh said on April 30th, 2009 at 8:31am #

    Mary, I’ll do you one better about Jindal. He passed and Intelligent Design Act that allows public school teachers to bring in outside material into science classes to teach the “other” theory of evolutionary biology. (Nevermind, the fact that legislation is in violates a LA Supreme Court ruling that the Creationism Act was unconstitutional.)

    And that man is considered a frontrunner for 2012? Deargod, I hate that he’s my State’s governor. It is humiliating.