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Chomsky: Is There Truth in Obama's Advertising?

In a fascinating speech, Chomsky warns, "Changes and progress very rarely are gifts from above. They come out of struggles from below."

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Actually what happened here is understood by elite elements. The public relations industry which runs elections here -- quadrennial extravaganzas essentially --  makes sure to keep issues in the margins and focus on personalities and character and so on-and-so forth. They do that for good reasons. They know --  they look at public opinion studies and they know perfectly well that on a host of major issues both parties are well to the right of the population. That's one good reason to keep issues off the table. And they recognize the success.

So, every year, the advertising industry gives a prize to, you know, to the best marketing campaign of the year. This year, Obama won the prize. Beat out Apple company. The best marketing campaign of 2008. Which is correct, it is essentially what happened. Now that's quite different from what happens in a functioning democracy like say Bolivia or Haiti, except for the fact that it was crushed. And in the South, it's not all that uncommon. Notice that each of these cases, there's a much more extraordinary display of democracy in action than what we've seen-important as it was-here. And so the rhetoric, especially in Europe is correct if we maintain our own narrow racist perspective and say yeah, what happened was in the South didn't happen or doesn't matter. The only matters is what we do and by our standards, it was extraordinary miracle, but not by the standards of functioning democracy. In fact, there's a distinction in democratic theory, which does separate say the United States from Bolivia or Haiti.

Question is what is a democracy supposed to be? That's exactly a debate that goes back to the constitutional convention. But in recent years in the 20th century, it's been pretty well articulated by important figures. So at the liberal end the progressive end, the leading public intellectual of the 20th century was Walter Lippman. A Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy progressive. And a lot of his work was on a democratic theory and he was pretty frank about it. If you took a position not all that different from James Madison's. He said that in a democracy, the population has a function. Its function is to be spectators, not participants. He didn't call it the population. He called it the ignorant and meddlesome outsiders. The ignorant and meddlesome outsiders have a function and namely to watch what's going on. And to push a lever every once in a while and then go home. But, the participants are us, us privileged, smart guys. Well that's one conception of democracy. And you know essentially we've seen an episode of it. The population very often doesn't accept this. As I mentioned, just very recent polls, people overwhelmingly oppose it. But they're atomized, separated. Many of them feel hopeless, unorganized, and don't feel they can do anything about it. So they dislike it. But that's where it ends.

In a functioning democracy like say Bolivia or the United States in earlier stages, they did something about it. That's why we have the New Deal measures, the Great Society measures. In fact just about any step, you know, women's rights, end of slavery, go back as far as you like, it doesn't happen as a gift. And it's not going to happen in the future. The commentators are pretty well aware of this. They don't put it the way I'm going to, but if you read the press, it does come out. So take our local newspaper at the liberal end of the spectrum, Boston Globe, you probably saw right after the election, a front page story, the lead front page story was on how Obama developed this wonderful grassroots army but he doesn't have any debts. Which supposed to be a good thing. So he's free to do what he likes. Because he has no debts, the normal democratic constituency, labor, women, minorities and so on, they didn't bring him into office. So he owes them nothing.

 
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