They’re winning. They’ve been winning for a long time. They’ve convinced us that the national conversation is not about a contest over power and control but rather about twisted definitions of patriotism, morality, the rights of the individual, property rights, and family values. They’re winning because they are ever more in control of the vocabulary of that conversation. They have invested heavily in winning memes — ideas and beliefs parasitically encoded into the politically and culturally unaware.
They recognized long ago that those who control the definitions of words rule the conversation. They know that rigorous repetition of their memes is akin to selling any product — advertise, advertise, advertise. That meme machine, usually cranked up biennually, now operates full time. In 30-second, televised chunks, the memes spew forth in every market. The messages are paid for by political organizations and single-minded groups quietly but heavily underwritten by those who wield wealth and power as a blacksmith’s hammer, bending comprehension by the electorate over an anvil. In hour-long, prime-time, broadcast soliloquies, their public voices ritualistically denigrate that which does not serve The Meme.
They are not The Right. They are not The Left. But they perpetrate the meme that the struggle for political power and control is between Left and Right. That’s the remarkable cunning of their strategy: Take two entities that are essentially identical and paint them as vastly different, and one as preferred. Misdirection masquerades as clarity.
They have remarkable resources. They own media organizations that control television, radio, Web entities, and newspapers. They have highly paid minions whose divisive, hateful, meme-managing messages they control. They have massive databases that allow parsing of their memes for different audiences.
They have money. Lots of it. They spend it without reservation in the pursuit of winning. They know that well less than 1 percent of American adults contribute to political candidates. They can outspend those who oppose the meme — and did so, spending $23 billion on campaign contributions in the past decade.
Where will you find them? The paper trails of their political largesse lead to the finance, insurance and real-estate industries; lawyers and lobbyists; ideological and single-issue donors; the health-care, health products and pharmaceutical industries; communications and electronics firms; labor unions; agribusiness interests; energy and natural-resource extraction corporations; transportation; and the defense industry.
They have eroded efforts to reform campaign-finance laws and to curtail and control campaign spending. Now the Supreme Court of All The Land appears poised to remove the last shackles limiting their political spending in service of The Meme. They will be able to spend more money to achieve more power and control over … winning? (What is it, exactly, that they think they’re winning?)
They cannot control what people think. Free will has not yet been fully suppressed. But they can limit what people think about by dunning them with focus-grouped, direct-mailed, oped-paged, demographically diced, Facebooked, tweeted, news-storylined memes. In their world of continuous, mediated shouting, it is difficult to hear an opposing whisper.
They’re winning because they have bought representation — legislators and lobbyists galore. They’re winning because they do not face the electorate — their well-disguised, glad-handing, baby-kissing, well-coiffed, properly memed candidates face the voters.
They’re winning because so many watchdogs are no longer watching. Their natural adversaries are experienced journalists bred in vats of skepticism. But the ranks of professional reporters and editors, never high to begin with, have been thinned to the point of virtual ineffectiveness. They are winning because they can continue to hide in so many dark places.
They are winning. But have they won?