Image source: Pepper Design
The word propaganda is difficult to properly employ in our discourse these days. It’s often disregarded as an over-exaggeration, a practice that no longer exists in our modern world, at least in the way it used to. Like the word ‘genocide’, it comes with a slew of associations that make it very difficult to garner acceptance around its (proper) use. But discussion of sensitive events needs to happen, and comparisons to similar situations in the past, as shocking as they may be, need to be contemplated in the new context offered, rather than immediately being dismissed because of their shock value alone.
Take for example one Democratic congressman, who compared the Republican party’s ways of myth-propagating about Health Care Reform (the one facing possible repeal now) to the tactics famously established by Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933-1945.
Instead of debating the issue of whether or not the Republicans are using approaches akin to propaganda or not (Nazism aside), the argument was centered around how appropriate it was (or was not) to invoke the name of a Nazi, period. To which Congressman Cohen replied that he felt it was fitting to draw a comparison to somebody who was “the best or the worst at it.”
Even if the rhetoric used was misinterpreted, I can’t help but think that the history books will relate what we passively let happen in our media, to the perfected models of propaganda employed by the Germans. However, it is true that Congressman Cohen would have benefited from Noam Chomsky’s eloquence when presenting the same comparison.
What is difficult to understand is why the media, an institution in charge of informing and creating dialogue within the public, would try, so rapidly, to disassociate something as serious as propaganda from the rhetoric within the US Congress. (But then again, not so surprising given the corporatization of the media). Why shy away from the reality of things just to discuss a superfluous issue? It is no lie that the American right-wing has proliferated myths which the left has struggled to debunk. (See here and here)
When discussing problems within our society with friends who may not be as passionate about the topic, I often hear “it could be worse.” But this is doing a tremendous disservice to us all. It’s important to know that simply because something is happening in the west (within what we refer to as a democracy), and that there must still be “worse out there”, does not mean that it should be deemed without fault and sheltered from criticism. In the end, we are the people that politicians are supposed to be accountable to and (no matter what some say) we have the power to remind them of that.
For another comparison worth contemplating, check out a doc we watched recently during one of our doc day Mondays, in which Naomi Wolf compares America to a Fascist society: