Promises, Promises

Obama’s Propaganda Presidency

The American propaganda machine rolls on, superior to the paltry efforts of past American, British, and German public relations machinery. Then, it was enough to sketch terrifying cartoons of Huns or Jews or other ethnicities and fulminate nonsensically about racial purity. No more. We have evolved. Now the deception of the tirelessly distracted masses requires dissimulations of far greater sophistication.

Take, for instance, the recent news that, once again, for the umpteenth month in a row, the unemployment rate has dropped. This happy turn of events was accompanied by the heart-warming news that President Obama has launched “Promise Zones” in five cities that his economic policies have helped “fast track” to destitution. Thus, a cursory glance at the headlines—all anyone has time for these days, right?—is enough to instill the garden-variety commuter with enough cautious optimism to plough through another day of alienating work. One imagines the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit cruising down the pavements of Manhattan, stupendous grin across his face, Times tucked under his arm, chest swollen with American pride. Or—perhaps I’ve mistakenly lifted a phenotype from another time. Perhaps today we should substitute the Man in the Coarse Cotton Hoodie, striding broadly down the gum-spackled sidewalks of Gotham, a crumpled Post beneath his elbow, a suspicious glare scanning the street for crazies. Nevertheless…

Water cooler chatter notes the rising employment numbers, then quickly turns to important development on The Walking Dead, before the drones dispatch themselves back to their cubicles to eyeball the Excel grids surging across their monitors. Alas, all is seemingly well in America, if not ideal.

Meanwhile, Obama progressives and White House inner circle congratulate each other on another PR coup, snowing the public for one more week. (One thought does occur: that the administration believes its own rhetoric, a chilling notion, but one not without its theoretical basis: evolutionary biologists have posited that the best liars are those who believe their own lies. It makes them more convincing since—according to their inner voice—there’s nothing to hide.)

A deeper dive, or even a shallow dive, into the nuance of the unemployment numbers reveal what authors like Paul Craig Roberts have been railing about for years—that the figures are a sham. The 6.7% unemployment ignores long-term unemployed, who comprise an ever-expanding percentage of the population. Nor does the unemployment number recognize the underemployed—both underpaid and part-timers. You know these people. They serve up your McWhoppers with an absent look in their eyes; they ask if you’re a Barnes & Noble member and if you’d like to become one; they sullenly drag your discount DVD purchase across the face of the scanner at Best Buy. They work fewer hours than they need and earn fewer dollars than they should. They are the mass underclass, and the administration’s monthly jobs report shoves them aside. Job creation is mostly seasonal, part-time, or low-wage. Third World jobs, in other words. None of these facts would bolster the optimism of our disaffected youth, aimless middle-agers or frightened retirees. Better to stick to the saccharine fibbery that produces happier outlooks.

You are likewise saddened to find that the “Promise Zones” too are a canard. Lifted from the Clinton playbook, it seems—recall the Economic Empowerment Zones that set a lovely precedent of urban tax shelters for booming businesses—on closer inspection we discover that Promise Zones are intended to help children escape the curse of their ZIP codes by dint “of her work ethic and the scope of her dreams.” (Note the use of the female gender, doubtless designed by some diligent PR flack to “optimize” empathy.) How will the industrious Obama administration help “her” do this? Not, of course, by offering anything useful, like money. God, no. Remember, Obama is a “free-market guy.” Better to “aid in cutting through red tape” that will help immiserated communities access existing resources. One could be forgiven for asking if the lack of existing resources wasn’t part of the problem in the first place. But no matter. This is a forgotten detail of an otherwise hopeful, gracious, and sympathetic act of government, notably its Democrat wing.

One other piece of news fairly startles the jaundiced reader; namely, that the administration has actually assembled a group to recommend ways to regulate the National Security Agency (NSA). And that the President is actually mulling over their proposals. Given the efficiency of the White House dissimulation engine, it’s fair to withhold final judgment on this story. It is a standard political technique to organize committees to simulate progress, to erect a hologram of reform that looks good but is nothing more than a rhetorical cipher. And perhaps part of the subterfuge is to generate the appearance of partisan and interagency gridlock, such that the proposals will never be implemented, and the President can throw his hands in the air and decry the feckless partisanship of Democratic governance. To that end, new FBI chief James B. Comey publically vented his displeasure with one of the review group’s better ideas: to require court review of “National Security Letters” (N.S.L.s) before they were sent to companies demanding that they hand over all customer data.

“What worries me about their suggestion that we impose a judicial procedure on N.S.L.’s is that it would actually make it harder for us to do national security investigations than bank fraud investigations,” Mr. Comey said. He noted that the N.S.L.s are “a very important tool that is essential to the work we do.” Comey adds this last fatuity while providing neither evidence as to how it secures the populace nor how mass privacy invasions meet the probable cause criterion of the Fourth Amendment.

Democratic Representative Adam Schiff chimed in with the idea that the crucial question, “is if the program has some value, how is that weighed against the cost of collecting millions and millions of domestic call records of the American people?”

Note how Schiff cleverly smuggles in the same assumption that Comey bluntly stated—that the program is useful. This claim was denied by the review group itself when it quite openly announced that the NSA’s bulk data collection, “was not essential to preventing attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner” using more traditional—and legal—methods.

The note of disagreement—or partisanship, in the idiom of the beltway—will likely lead to the ever-prudent and conciliatory Commander in Chief rejecting this useful level of review. He is presumed to be favoring a couple of toothless “proposals” that will cost millions and change nothing, except perhaps the perception that he has moved to address the public’s outrage over illegal spying. The two programs to which the President has evidently given “penetrating and searching thought” (of the kind no mere citizen might be capable) include assembling all telecommunications data in a single silo not owned by the federal government, as well as appointing a kind of Roman tribune, or “public advocate” whose express mandate would be to argue against the government when it assails telecom companies with its histrionic N.S.L.s. Neither appears, on the face of it, to offer much in the way of resistance. It’s quite likely national security agencies, now numbering in the dozens, will simply steamroll past the bootless civil liberty complaints of the tribune straight into the data mines of AT&T, Verizon, and the rest. What good is it to store the data elsewhere than on government property when they can access it any time they like on any pretext they like?

This too fails the legitimacy test. Obama’s review board, like his Promise Zones and BLS reports, are transparent attempts to mollify public fears and assuage popular anger. None have as their object the needs of the majority. But rather like a father patronizing a child with slapdash answers to ontologically astute questions (“Why do we exist, Dad?”), the White House continues to siphon off what’s left of the Bill of Rights and the government’s mandate as guarantor of our “liberty” and “pursuit of happiness.” And therein lies the obvious contempt with which elite Americans perceive their lessers.

Jason Hirthler is a writer, political commentator, and veteran of the communications industry. He has written for many political communities. He is the recent author of Imperial Fictions, a collection of essays from between 2015-2017. He lives in New York City and can be reached at Read other articles by Jason.