Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hate-Radio Propaganda, National Sovereignty, and George Washington's Farewell Address

The other day I called in to a local radio show. This was a few days before the new NIE report that, thankfully, seems to have ratcheted down the rhetoric on Iran a bit. The formulaic gimmick for generating callers that morning was: 'let's talk about recent and outrageous miscarriages of justice in the Sudan (the teddy bear named Muhammad) and Saudi Arabia (the condemned rape victim) in order to get people worked into a supportive and patriotic frenzy for bombing Iran'. I do understand that's the standard MO for talk radio. And, no, I don't think the topic was any part of a 'warmongering conspiracy'. But once enough propaganda has made it's way into general discourse, the ideas become pretty self-perpetuating. I really objected to this particular propaganda and so I felt obliged to call in and say so.

I started off by stating that both of these tragedies were, of course, indefensible and – I hoped – might reasonably help us reconsider our strange national alliances – in this case our alliance with Saudi Arabia in particular. As we look closer at the laws on the books and the way they are carried out in some of these countries, I said, it seemed unwise to be providing those same regimes with billions of dollars worth of the latest military machines to push their agendas with.

The host, of course, started to agree until he heard me suggest that tired 'no entangling alliances' meme from George Washington's farewell address. Then the host backpedaled and said that maybe the world has changed too much to heed advice like that anymore. I've called in to that show enough that I felt comfortable asking if I could make my second point and take my answer off air. He obliged (I'd been fairly succinct and polite) and I stated it:

The show started off with two far-flung travesties of justice in entirely different non-neighboring countries which only happen to have Muslim majorities. It seemed like dangerous propaganda to me when the justification of bombing Iran was suddenly conflated with those events in Sudan and Afghanistan. It was, I said, too similar to propaganda on communist television during the Cold War. There'd be an isolated hate crime against a some religious minority in Canada perhaps and something similarly tragic like a school shooting in Scotland maybe and the point of the broadcast would be that nations like the U.S. (not mentioned in either story) who get caught up in the dangerous expression of religions and who are, further, free to distribute guns to regular citizens are the most frightening and violent on the planet.

I said I worried that a such a similar setup for that day's morning show was going to mostly draw poorly considered racist-hate comments from callers for the entire program. [Indeed, I'd had to sit through two or three long, racist tirades that the host had tried to tone down while waiting to speak.] Perhaps that rang true with someone because – for that morning at least – they switched topics after my call.

I'm not really sure at which point reasonable and logical similarity becomes pernicious, conflated propaganda. I don't think I've considered it much before. I would likely do well to be more careful of it myself. Perhaps it has to do with your dedication to 'fairness' and your respect for 'reality'. By this I mean, that too many messages out there have ulterior motives as their ultimate endgame. Some pundits and leaders seem to care less about accuracy, fairness, and reality than they do about generating controversy, provoking discussion, or – far too often – promoting a pre-determined ideology.

Of course that gets me thinking about Ron Paul and why I really like his leadership the more I take a look at it. He is studiously judicious in what events he believes do or do not have relevant relation to each other – and he can defend his reasoning quite clearly. (eg he does find it reasonable to point out that our general policy of asymmetric military intervention incites Anti-American resentment throughout the globe, but he does not find it reasonable to exactly label every US military action in the Middle East a 'measured response to the attacks of 9/11'.) His lack of polish when he simply states things as he sees them is remarkably reassuring. When he does find himself falling back on ideology he is extremely transparent in hearkening back to the principles laid out by the Founding Fathers.

Consequently, Paul is the only Presidential candidate confidently preaching that George Washington's warnings are not too old-fashioned – but needed more than ever. Further, he is intimately familiar with those warnings; he understands them; and he can communicate them clearly.

Paul proposes that long-term, sovereignty-sapping, entangling alliances complicate the world and our foreign policy in ways that are bad for everyone. We need to deal with the Iranians, and the Pakistanis, and the Sudanese, and the Saudis on more transparent terms – and not based on back-channel promises, unwise military pacts, and multitudinous pressures from "allies" who may not share our world-views or goals.

Here's a link to Washington's Farewell Address where he warns against both "apostate & unnatural connection with any foreign Power" and "overgrown Military establishments, which under any form of Government are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to Republican Liberty".

[Given Romney's recent speech you may also be interested to read that portion that begins "... Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness ..."]

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