Letter: The Power of Propaganda

To the Editor:

In answer to Rick Bourdon (“Citizens, United, Can Change Culture of Political Corruption,” March 1) and his assertion that we can change our political system, I offer this contrasting point of view: The pursuit of self-interest corrupts, and the unrestrained pursuit of self-interest corrupts absolutely.

Propaganda shapes our political discourse. Propaganda techniques have been adopted by advertising (commercial propaganda), designed to convince us that we want things we don’t need. Follow the techniques:

∎ Endless repetition of a sales pitch.

∎  Appeal to authority: A spokesman in a white coat recommends a pharmaceutical product. In politics, evocative words are used: “American people,” “taxpayers,” “heroes,” “warriors,” “freedom,” “jobs,” “rights,” and “ Constitution.”

∎ Bandwagon: “Everybody is buying this, everybody loves this, people agree that...,” inviting us to join the cheering fans in the stands.

∎  Good-looking or popular spokesmen: Entertainers are assumed to carry more authority than most other people who sell things. Handsome or famous spokesmen reflect well on a product or a candidate, right?

∎  Speaking to our fears or hatreds. Strong emotions elicit action. Public statements after 9/11 included appeals to patriotism, rights, freedom, distrust of Muslims and immigrants. Politicians who put winning ahead of ethics have encouraged the revival of racism by manipulating redistricting and voting rules to block voters of color. Unfortunately, propagandists can become message dictators who fear losing their power over the message.

When the American public resorts to propaganda instead of reason, corruption increases to protect the message. Winning becomes more important than doing the right thing, putting the self above the good of the whole. Hence, regulations that protect our safety have been opposed vigorously and Congress chooses to attack and obstruct rather than to govern.

The pursuit of self-interest corrupts a society. John McCain spoke of our corrupt political system. I call it corruption of our souls. Systems are constructed by people, and we as voters have become corrupt in the relentless pursuit of our own advantage over others.

Edith K. Summers