Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

13 April 2008

Bitter


In recent years the art of “public relations” has produced some breathtaking distortions of reality. One of the most amazing is going on right now. The public-relations gurus who control the Clinton campaign are trying to convince abused working people that they don’t and shouldn’t feel bitter. These gurus want white workers to think Barack Obama is “elitist” and “out of touch” because he sees and understands their justifiable bitterness.

As I’ve explained in two previous posts (1 and 2), the art of modern “public relations” is the most powerful tool of political manipulation in human history. It achieves success by—among other things—exploiting a deep-seated human urge: to believe what you want to be true.

Here’s how it works. Suppose you are a 57-year old white ex-steelworker. You lost your good job when the mill closed ten years ago, after twenty-three years of work. You’ve been in low-paid service jobs ever since, flipping burgers, pumping gas, taking few vacations and enjoying no “extras.”

As a result of bankruptcy and obscure laws, your pension is less than one-quarter what you were promised during your prime working years. You have a bad back and prostate trouble, and your wife has painful arthritis. Neither of you has been to a doctor in five years. You’ve had no health insurance since the steel mill closed, and the promise of insurance to accompany your pension has been “reconsidered.” A single major illness or injury would cost you your home.

After you lost your steel job, you had to sell your life’s sole luxury—your fishing boat. Still, you couldn’t help your son finish college. He has a rap sheet, and you think he’s now on drugs. You daughter is divorced with two kids, and you can’t help her, either. You know in your heart that your kids will never live as well as you and your wife did when American steel was king. And you worry nightly about your grandkids’ future.

Now if that were you, wouldn’t you feel just a little bit “bitter”? Wouldn’t you feel used?

If it were me, I wouldn’t just feel “bitter.” I’d be enraged. I’d feel the same way Russian peasants felt in October 1917.

But the Romanovs didn’t have Hillary Clinton’s and John McCain’s PR teams. Here’s what they want our abused worker to think:
    “You’re an American, aren’t you? You live in the strongest, richest, greatest country on Earth. You helped build it. You’re proud and self-reliant. You’ve got guns and don’t have to suffer gays. You’ve had some tough breaks, but you’re tough enough to suck them up. You’re not like those whining liberals or minorities. You can take it. You can work harder and better than any of those foreign weaklings, and you’ll have your chance again when we get those manufacturing jobs back.”

That’s a powerful message. It plays directly on workers’ pride, self-esteem and sense of self-worth. It plays on the Calvinist streak of self-reliance, discipline and self-sacrifice that built this nation, from the Pilgrims onward.

Yet it’s more powerful even than that. Our abused worker has nothing left but his pride. Take that away, and he’s a jellyfish. “Mouth one gripe,” the message implies, “and you’ll lose your pride—your last earthly possession. You’ve got nothing else left, so you might as well die.”

Thus does PR use emotional ju-jitsu to force our abused workers to swallow their bitterness. As long as they do so, they won’t start asking the hard questions that need to be asked.

It’s not surprising that John McCain is taking this tack. He’s a Republican. The ruling class and monied elite have used this sort of misdirection since Caesar. And, to his credit, McCain honestly let workers know those jobs are not really coming back.

But Hillary? When was the last time you saw a Democrat urging workers to bury their justifiable bitterness?

As we know, Hillary will do anything to win. She’ll borrow the aristocrats’ oldest trick in the book. Then she’ll use the second oldest trick—implying that Obama can’t feel white workers’ pain because he went to Harvard (while she went to Yale) and he’s not the same color. She’ll play on workers’ pride to get them to ignore their mistreatment, and she’ll play on their racism to divide them. And she’s not just selling out the men. She’s selling out the single moms and long-suffering wives who have every right to feel bitter about this country’s abysmal leadership and what it’s done to them.

I don’t know how Hillary’s tactics make you feel, but I know just how they make me feel. They make me feel bitter.

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