Thursday, March 17, 2005

In Soviet Communism, the Capitalist West faced an implacable enemy. But also one that was just plain creepy. Not least for its promotion of official illusions. Newpapers were rigorously censored. Reference materials were cut to fit the political winds -- the past was literally rewritten to suit the needs of the present. People who fell out of favor were airbrushed out of photographs. Subscribers to one encyclopedia were, at one point, famously asked to remove an article on the head of the secret police, Beria -- replacing it with an expanded piece on the Bering Sea.

The Chinese Communist party, these days, is different. But only in so far as they seem to like capitalists. For the moment. (The New York Times link generator can't find a permanent link to that article -- but that, I'm sure, is strictly coincidence).

Then again, maybe they like capitalists because our current generation of American capitalists seems to think like them:

The enduring legacy of Enron can be summed up in one word: propaganda. Here was a corporate house of cards whose business few could explain and whose source of profits was an utter mystery - and yet it thrived, unquestioned, for years. How? As the narrator says in "The Smartest Guys in the Room," Enron "was fixated on its public relations campaigns." It churned out slick PR videos as if it were a Hollywood studio. It browbeat the press (until a young Fortune reporter, Bethany McLean, asked one question too many). In a typical ruse in 1998, a gaggle of employees was rushed onto an empty trading floor at the company's Houston headquarters to put on a fictional show of busy trading for visiting Wall Street analysts being escorted by Mr. Lay. "We brought some of our personal stuff, like pictures, to make it look like the area was lived in," a laid-off Enron employee told The Wall Street Journal in 2002. "We had to make believe we were on the phone buying and selling" even though "some of the computers didn't even work."

And Dubya is bringing that ethos to our government, as in his "conversations on Social Security":

Not only are the panelists for these conversations recruited from administration supporters, but they are rehearsed the night before, with a White House official playing Mr. Bush. One participant told The [Washington] Post, "We ran through it five times before the president got there." Finalists who vary just slightly from the administration's pitch are banished from the cast at the last minute, "American Idol"-style.

Perhaps that's why Dubya feels comfortable, as Tom Friedman notes in a rare good column, running deficits that make us utterly dependant on the goodwill of the Chinese, who are financing them, for our economic well being. In effect, we've sold them rope that they could use to hang us. Maybe he thinks they just won't abuse the power. They're his kind of people.


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