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Captive Public Paperback – April 11, 1988
All Books, All the Time
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This book by Benjamin Ginsberg goes into the structure of American democracy and compares it with Alexis De Tocqueville. Rather than a 1984 George Orwell totalitarian rule, what is portrayed is the outcome of De Tocqueville, an authoritarian rule by government ruled by public opinion. Anotherwards not public opinion subject to government, but public opinion subjected by itself in it's hold on government. The tail wags it's own chains. This book, written in 1986, is hardly outdated. It would have been nice if though it did enter up to our current right wing conservative rule of the Bush administration.
There are many good points in this book that center on the idea that a window of opportunity has now closed in the United States. There was a time when policy could be changed for the masses, but this has now ended. The main problems are that man-powered political structure has been replaced by technology and finances. Money was always important, but it has changed to the point where money is the crucial factor in influencing public opinion, the popular vote and electoral votes needed, primarily for the conservative right. The technology has ceased the need for numbers of organizers to that of mass mailing, the hire of firms that perform mass telephone, radio, newspaper and TV advertisement that run into the millions of dollars, capital the corporate backed right can afford in a serious advantage over the working masses of the left. It looks as though, after all these years, the conservative Federalists have finally obtained the way to overcome their liberal and pragmatic opponents, the Jeffersonians. We have entered the dark period of American history.
"The enormous infantry armies that dominated World War I battlefields have given way in importance to powerful modern weapons systems operated from electronic command posts by small groups of technicians . . the displacement of organizational methods by new political technology is that of a change is a shift from labor - to capital -intensive competitive electoral practices and has far-reaching implications for the balance of power among contending political groups . . .Indeed, the new technology permits financial resources to be more effectively harnessed and exploited than was never before possible. As a result, the significance of the right's customary financial advantage has been substantially increased. Money and the new political technology, not some spontaneous "shift to the right" by mass public opinion, were the keys to the 1978 and 1980 and the Republicans surprisingly strong showing during what amounted to an economic depression in 1982."
"No political party is guaranteed victory, "nevertheless, the new technology loads the electoral dice in favor of the right. The expanding role of the new electoral techniques means that over the coming decades, groups closer to the political left will increasingly find them selves engaged in a type of political warfare that they are poorly equipped to win. The supersession of organization by the new technology may prove to be the functionally equivalent of a critical electoral realignment, substantially redistributing power and profoundly transforming political possibilities in the United States." pp. 150-151
Ginsberg also goes into the marketplace of ideas of both the left and the right, the media and which groups influence which forms of media and which groups are influenced.
Polling by including the apathetic and by posing limited questions has presented the problem of watering down all voices of dissension. Polling acts to control in submission and subsequently change and mold public opinion according to the state's agenda. Polling includes those most outspoken with those apathetic, thus weakening the dissonant and strengthening the voiceless. This then works in two ways. One is in by limiting the questions posed to the state's agenda only limits the number of alternatives and subsequent answers, and secondly, this molds and shapes the current beliefs and desires of public opinion.
"Because they (the public opinion polls) seldom pose questions about the foundations of the existing order, while constantly asking respondents to choose from among the alternatives defined by that order - candidates and consumer products, for example - the polls may help to narrow the focus of public discussion and to reinforce the limits on what the public perceives to be realistic political and social possibilities." P. 82
So the polls, by limiting their questions, which are angled toward their predetermined slant, severely limit the alternatives. I think this can be adequately labeled as propaganda. Reduce the alternatives and the selections must always fall in the pre-selected range of supposed choices. Subtly, freedom is removed, and the masses unaware, are convinced, many in a fundamental dogmatism, that they have choices.
And the media interprets what it reports swayed by the party that backs them financially, thus alters their opinions: "The chief problem with protest as a communication mechanism is that, in general, the media upon which the protesters depend have considerable discretion in reporting and interpreting the events they cover. Should, for example, a particular group of protesters be identified as "freedom fighters" or "terrorists"? If a demonstration leads to violence, was this the fault of the protesters or the authorities? The answers to these questions are typically determined by the media, not by the protesters. This means that the media interpretation of protest activities is more a reflection of the view of the groups and forces to which the media are responsive - usually segments of the upper-middle class - than it is a function of the wishes of the protesters themselves. . . " p. 134