I watched Paul Ryan’s speech last night in amazement as it seemed so untethered to reality and then I thought about a book I’ve been reading, the second volume of Richard Evans stunning trilogy about the rise and fall of the Nazi Party. It’s called The Third Reich in Power and it covers the period from 1933 when Hitler became the Chancellor, to 1939 when he began his war of conquest. What is most stunning about the book is the role of Joseph Goebbels and the awesome propaganda machine that he built that was able to convince a German public of racial, scientific, economic and military theories that had no basis in reality. Goebbels’ main insight was, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” But to do this you need what Goebbels called an organ–a medium of propaganda diffusion that constantly repeats the party line. For the Nazis the two main channels of communication were the Newsreel and the radio. Here is Evans on the newsreel.
The Weekly Review had to be shown at the beginning of every commercial film program. Stylized, cliche-ridden, couched in a thoroughly Nazified language of combat and struggle, delivered in a tone of unrelenting aggressiveness, …the newsreel’s relation to reality was at best only intermediate.
As to the power of radio, Goebbels was very clear
There is nothing at all that is without political bias. The discovery of the principle of absolute objectivity is the privilege of German university professors–and I do not believe that university professors make history. We make no bones about the fact that the radio belongs to us and to no one else. And we will place the radio in the service of our ideology, and no other ideology will find expression here.
Now in drawing contemporary parallels to the Republican capture of Talk Radio “in the service of their ideology” I am not trying to make any claims that their ideology is fascist. I am simply stating that Paul Ryan could not get up on a huge national stage and make such outrageous claims that the Associated Press notes are patently false, without a propaganda machine like Right Wing Talk Radio to assure his partisans that Black is White. When Romney and Ryan trot out the racist dog whistle that Obama is cutting the “work requirement for the welfare queens”, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh repeat the lie endlessly until it becomes a “truth” to their audience.
Ryan is a good looking messenger who can say he will protect Medicare, while he plans to turn it into a voucher program that every one knows will leave seniors holding the bag. He and Romney claims they will cut the deficit while in the same breath promising to increase military spending and cut taxes on the wealthy (for guys like Romney who make all of their money in capital gains their tax rate would be zero). It is a huge lie and yet you could read the Fox News report and never have an inkling of the massive prevarication.
Someday we will look back at the epic balkanization of our information economy brought on by the digital revolution and wonder how we arrived at a place where 45% of the populace could live in an alternative reality with their own set of facts about evolution, rape, marriage, contraception, climate change, war, economics and faith. They could live in a world of atomized content, where real science and economics never entered their minds. If Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are successful, it will be because they understood that they could create their own reality.