Skilluminati Research

The 2008 US Election is Not About the Issues.

Posted Apr 30, 2009 18 comments

political ritual staged spectacle

The title of this piece is not an original statement, it's actually a direct, and verifiably real, quotation from Rick Davis. Rick Davis, believe it or not, is a (currently still employed) campaign manager for John McCain. The response I've seen has mostly alternated between disbelief and cheering victory -- my Democratic friends took that quote as a tacit admission of failure on behalf of the McBush campaign. I'm here to say that it's not: Rick Davis was telling the truth.

Welcome to post-reality. I don't expect anyone to get used to this anytime soon. Even CBS News is reporting on how most of the military footage from the Republican National Convention was paid actors in a stadium somewhere -- this is the real 2008 Election:

The soldiers were actors and the funeral scene was from a one-day film shoot, produced in June. No real soldiers were used during production.

The footage, sold by stock-film house Getty Images was produced by a commercial filmmaker in Chicago. Both Getty and the production company, Mr. Big Films, confirmed that the footage was shot on spec and sold to the Republican National Committee.

One of the actors, Perry Denton of Chicago, IL also confirmed that he was hired on a day-rate as an actor for the shoot and told CBS News he was surprised to learn the footage was shown at the convention.

Remember the Last Post?

Bush Obama Convention Stages

Previously on Skilluminati, I did a simple post juxtaposing the podium for the 2004 Republican Nation Convention with the podium for the 2008 Democratic Nation Convention. I also posted this a number of times as a myspace bulletin. In both experiments, I got some highly entertaining and insightful responses. Specifically, I found out that people were responding to something that only existed in their own heads. I provided no commentary, yet people had created -- confabulated, really -- a whole explanation for why I would post the photographs, and they responded to that.

So why did I post the photographs?

Of course, as one commentator noted, the design is hardly original. Not only that, the design is actually done by the same company in both instances. They're the same company that pulled off the 2008 Olympics Games ceremonies, and this reflects a long-standing interest of mine in the business of staged ritual and mass spectacle. The power of mass spectacle is well known, and it's dangerous. No matter what the cause, it's a clear-cut form of deliberate manipulation.

DNC stage crew preparation

Bob's First Rule of Power

We live on a planet with 6 billion humans, and most of them are uninformed and ignorant. Here in the United States, despite high standards of living and abundant material wealth, the situation is no different. In 2006, during coverage of the manufactured debate over "Intelligent Design," Newsweek conducted a national poll about scientific literacy. All of the participants were adult residents of the United States. The results were astonishing:

Fewer than a third of those polled know that DNA is the molecule of heredity

Only 10 percent know what radiation is

20 percent think the Sun revolves around Earth.

But of course, that was from 2006, and Bush's educational reform program has probably improved things considerably since then. I truly hope so, since that same year an even more disturbing poll was conducted by the Washington Post:

While the country is preparing to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives and shocked the world, 95 percent of Americans questioned in the poll were able to remember the month and the day of the attacks, according to Wednesday’s edition of the newspaper.

But when asked what year, 30 percent could not give a correct answer. Of that group, six percent gave an earlier year, eight percent gave a later year, and 16 percent admitted they had no idea whatsoever.

This memory black hole is essentially the problem of the older crowd: 48 percent of those who did not know were between the ages of 55 and 64, and 47 percent were older than 65, according to the poll.

The Post telephone survey was carried out July 21-24 among 1,002 randomly selected adults. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.

DNC 2008 podium staging

I'm Not Pointing Fingers and Laughing

Don't mistake this for crowing about how dumb people are. This is a serious and intractable problem. The vast majority of voters in the United States are dangerously ignorant and easily manipulated.

Here's the moral quandary: is it ethical to use deception in order to control these people? If you don't do it, guess who will? Karl Rove. Rick "not about the issues" Davis. The same paid operatives who have been running the real power structure of the United States since John Rockefeller and Edward Bernays were alive.

Here's the logistical problem: how can you and I compete against multi-million dollar budgets? The business of spectacles, like any other, is a business that runs on money. Those who have money shape the spectacle, and the rest of us are consigned to...well, meaningless critiques on obscure websites.

Further Reading

George Lakoff wrote a really excellent article for Tikkun called "The Reality of the Political Mind" that I highly recommend. One of the most potent passages:

Our national political dialogue is fundamentally metaphorical, with family values at the center of our discourse. There is a reason why Obama and Biden spoke so much about the family, the nurturant family, with caring fathers and the family values that Obama put front and center in his Father's day speech: empathy, responsibility and aspiration. Obama's reference in the nomination speech to "The American Family" was hardly accidental, nor were the references to the Obama and Biden families as living and fulfilling the American Dream. Real nurturance requires strength and toughness, which Obama displayed in body language and voice in his responses to McCain. The strength of the Obama campaign has been the seamless marriage of reality and symbolic thought.

The Republican strength has been mostly symbolic. The McCain campaign is well aware of how Reagan and W won: running on character: values, communication, (apparent) authenticity, trust, and identity - not issues and policies. That is how campaigns work, and symbolism is central.

Obama Cowboy Texas

One of the best articles I read about the 2008 election -- being a human that's primarily interested in the mechanics of actual power, which seldom play out onstage in front of TV cameras -- is the Fast Company cover piece from April, "The Brand Called Obama." Of course, FC is a business magazine, so this is a look at the image shaping that went on early in his campaign, and for me, it's fascinating stuff.

The fact that Obama has taken what we thought we knew about politics and turned it into a different game for a different generation is no longer news. What has hardly been examined is the degree to which his success indicates a seismic shift on the business horizon as well. Politics, after all, is about marketing -- about projecting and selling an image, stoking aspirations, moving people to identify, evangelize, and consume. The promotion of the brand called Obama is a case study of where the American marketplace -- and, potentially, the global one -- is moving. His openness to the way consumers today communicate with one another, his recognition of their desire for authentic "products," and his understanding of the need for a new global image -- all are valuable signals for marketers everywhere.

"Barack Obama is three things you want in a brand," says Keith Reinhard, chairman emeritus of DDB Worldwide. "New, different, and attractive. That's as good as it gets." Obama has his greatest strength among the young, roughly 18 to 29 years old, that advertisers covet, the cohort known as millennials -- who will outnumber the baby boomers by 2010. They are black, white, yellow, and various shades of brown, but what they share -- new media, online social networks, a distaste for top-down sales pitches -- connects them more than traditional barriers, such as ethnicity, divide them.

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  • The Language of Power II
  • Filed in: Political Science

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    • 1. Bruce on Sep 04, 2008 at 11:04 PM permalink

      Well said.
      How to compete?  Grass roots vs. top down.  Immediacy and high bandwidth with small numbers vs. the narrow bandwidth of television and high numbers.  Remake the world around you in your own image and trust it to spread.

      We threw a little spectacle last weekend and gained a few converts, so to speak.  It doesn’t really take much-- a mountainside, generator, modest sound system, carport, amateur DJ.  People are eager to re-imprint on ecstatic experiences and will do everything they can to help you along.

    • 2. ZooBot on Sep 05, 2008 at 8:14 AM permalink

      The main thing that turns me off about politics, in general is that the politicians are all sales people with a product I really don’t want.  And, there they are, every time I open the goddamn door!
      Great article on a great site.  Thanks a lot for writing these, I reall love the style and intelligence!!!

    • 3. hybrid on Sep 05, 2008 at 1:54 PM permalink


      I seen a whole news report on TV about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s GLASSES.

      Who makes them, what color they are, Grey #15413451, Where you can find them

      they are made by Kawasaki.  You may have to get them special ordered because she got hers from an upscale eye doctor in Alaska.

      they showed pictures of the glasses by they selves, the glasses on Sarah Palin.  Also the reporter was wearing her own pair. 

      like you said this election wont be about the issues.

    • 4. Hybrid on Sep 05, 2008 at 1:59 PM permalink

      Palin has created quite a stir ... with her designer glasses, USA Today Reports

    • 5. raz on Sep 05, 2008 at 10:48 PM permalink

      The question that everyone dances around when a new snapshot of elite PTB machinations / manipulations is exposed is this: how could it ever be different. Does anyone think that the cretins that don’t even know the Earth circles the Sun, or for that matter the 95% of the American public whom are mentally defective should really be able to choose the leaders of this country? You might as well give out loaded AK47s to nine year olds

    • 6. MalaKai on Sep 06, 2008 at 4:00 PM permalink

      this truly is an example of post reality.  bloggers paid by corporations, possibly even paid by election committees to get behind candidates, the very obvious and insidious growing divide between pundits and legitimate journalists, the spectacle of the mass mind, etc.  strange times we inhabit.

    • 7. Nathan on Sep 07, 2008 at 4:08 PM permalink

      I see another alternative or two.

      First, I tend to think that most folks just don’t know what the technologies of social control, coercion and manipulation are. Simply informing them of these techniques offers a middle ground. Negotiation tactics will never go away, but that doesn’t mean we have to use them in the same Wizard of Oz style. So on the one hand I’m a fan of greater transparency. I mean I like cowboys as much as the next red-blooded american, but I also understand that by putting on a cowboy hat b-roc is cultivating a certain image, and if he’s doing it for the hell of it, one of his staffers is making it into a photo op. Like that picture of him in front of Superman posing as superman--yeah, he’s doing it for the hell of it, but publish the picture and “he is one of us”. Or like Sarah Palin’s family issues: she barely has her shit together “just like us regular people”. But just being conscious of these possibilities has a certain attenuating effect. It’s like if someone starts asking you leading or pointed questions. You don’t respond right away, you take a breath, and a moment to thing. They can’t do much about your hesitation, besides maybe just waterboard you again.

      it’s like those pics of the stage assembly above. see it being constructed and you have a chance to see it as constructed

      That, and I tend to think that “isn’t about issues” is a big problem. It wasn’t until a couple nights ago I knew what b-roc’s plan was. Meanwhile, all I can tell is that McFogbrains is for “change”, no, wait, he’s for “leadership”. The more facts anyone gets out about the issues, the more rational the debate can be… when given enough information, people act in their self-interest. but if they’re acting on some tacit, unvoiced sentiment that no one can elucidate, and we just keep doing this “image” shit, in a way we’re still mucking with the same image-patterns half-consciously

      and to some extent I buy the “post-reality” crap, now that it seems like that “Montauk monster” was actually an ad device for… no, not a TV show… not a car… not a movie… a goddamn energy drink. Can you imagine NoDoz running a weird-ass campaign to sell $4 bottles of caffeine tablets? I can’t, either, but that’s practically what happened. But at the same time, i tend to think our population is actually much better informed and educated than it was, say, 50 years ago or 150 years ago--what’s changed, as far as I can tell, have been the media and ergo consciousness

    • 8. Thirtyseven on Sep 09, 2008 at 11:49 AM permalink

      Post-reality just means the end of any semblance of a central, objective and agreed-upon narrative expanation of what reality is.  Market segmentation becomes culture war.

      I also question the accuracy of my information, and the value of my information density.  I wouldn’t claim to be better informed than Americans who don’t know what DNA is—I just have a higher information density. 

      Then again, Ann Coulter and David Icke also offer richly detailed, high-info worldviews—I happen to find them both insane, but that only means I disagree with them.

      People are still living their lives based on 1950’s era ad campaigns courtesty of Edward Bernays, so imagine how toxic the fallout from the 1980’s will be.  No damage is permanent, of course—but shit will only continue to get weirder in the foreseeable future.

      Which is good news, right?

    • 9. Eric Patton on Sep 09, 2008 at 1:41 PM permalink

      “Then again, Ann Coulter and David Icke also offer richly detailed, high-info worldviews—I happen to find them both insane, but that only means I disagree with them. “

      And you have information that has a more practical use. We can fuck around in the world of symbols all day long until we need to take action on something. Symbols allow people to fool themselves without you having to say anything to raise their guard.

      People are ignorant, but not stupid. I blame it on distraction, laziness and impatience. It’s not hard to take any one of those three and keep someone in the dark, and the larger your reality sandbox appears to be the easier it is.

    • 10. nathan on Sep 09, 2008 at 2:02 PM permalink

      i tend to think that “market segmentation as culture war” will lead to an info-poor DMZ-like “commons” like what we have today, for better or worse. i hadn’t really noticed this until earlier this year, but what with people being more willing to talk about the “election”, I realized that a lot of people found a lot of their political leanings on a bricolage (wow, i used that word) of pure, unfettered conjecture--i.e., it’s low signal:noise, low information. It’s like when a life-long boomer Republican tries to justify to you that a weak dollar policy is actually part of a strong dollar policy--he can’t hardly convince himself but he’s trying to convince you with no supporting information.

      So the moment you start to increase your info density, in a way you have already shifted out of the culture stream. Now, all this is a little extreme for the sake of clarity so don’t anyone read into it--we’re not all going to wake up one morning to “Every Man and Woman Is Their Own Personal David Icke”

      and normally i’d say that’s okay, but I think it creates an opening for technocracy, benevolent dictatorship, etc., which are all really just ways of saying “us rich dudes will let you all have personal freak-out trips but still mostly tell you what to do and tax you for it”. It’s not monolithic, but more, in my mind, Hegelian… i haven’t thought much in this vein and it’s getting off-topic

      so the question is, how can you negotiate this course, and acknowledge it, while still make some effort at a civic, public participation? How do you balance a need for a certain political anti-rationalism with the need to provide high-signal information?

    • 11. Skeptikos on Sep 10, 2008 at 6:08 PM permalink

      Of course it’s not about the issues. Ironically, that’s the result of democratic politics: median voter theory

      Public choice literature in general is very enlightening, if you’re not already familiar with it. It explains a lot.

      Also, Bryan Caplan has a nifty book about irrational voters: The Myth of the Rational Voter — interesting stuff.

    • 12. Skeptikos on Sep 10, 2008 at 6:10 PM permalink

      Heh, my URL isn’t working quite right… I’m not a 37 year old woman. : )

    • 13. Skeptikos on Sep 10, 2008 at 6:11 PM permalink

      That should be better.

    • 14. Angelo on Sep 14, 2008 at 11:30 PM permalink

      Could it be that Ann Coulter doesn’t believe half she says? That she’s playing a role she’s been assigned and that her own personal views are much more elaborate and knowing than most would suspect?

      Could it be that David Icke has been shown another window of reality that correlates to another time and place, a parallel time and place, that borders ours, or is the science of holography and time inclusion (time within time - think Russian dolls) and the oh so far fetched idea of extra-planetary life too expansive for the information density of these parts of the webverse?

      I always find it interesting when people discuss the boundaries of reality in some “I’m up against the boundary” kind of way while not recognizing the causal source of the information itself.

      Ann Coulter and David Icke being proposed as the extremes leaves us within the middle range of acceptable, the ‘sane’. Thirtyseven decries (claiming otherwise) the boundaries of ignorance while placing his own confabulations on the perspectives of others without an understanding as to their cause, like ‘insane’ is some meaning within a vacuum, disconnected from what is considered real, like a side compartment that doesn’t really matter.

      The point is this - With the sweeping gesture of the mighty word ‘insane’ your reality has thus been established oh reader, thou boundaries have been informed.

      Just another brick in the wall.

    • 15. Get Over Yourself on Sep 15, 2008 at 12:05 AM permalink

      “I happen to find them both insane, but that only means I disagree with them.”

      That’s all he said, your whole comment is an example of exactly what you’re condemning in him.

    • 16. Angelo on Sep 15, 2008 at 5:25 AM permalink

      Calling someone insane has become so light a thing these days. To say that someone is ‘insane’ but that you really only mean that you ‘disagree with them’ is a dishonest position. Bend it this way or that - “it was only in the comment section”, “he only said...”. Yes ‘he only said’, words have become cheap and everyone has an opinion. Perhaps when we can ‘get over ourselves’ collectively we’ll stop with the cheap smears and stereotypes and build meaningful and compassionate understandings.

    • 17. Thirtyseven on Sep 15, 2008 at 8:30 AM permalink

      Words are cheap, everyone does have an opinion.

      I’m glad a single sentence of mine triggered such a deep response from you, Angelo. It means we’re both doing our part building the global brain. I hope I can keep offending you in the future.

    • 18. Nick on Sep 23, 2008 at 4:53 PM permalink

      I noticed that all the links to PDFs from

      are dead, in the sense that they don’t yield any PDFs, just bounce back to the home page.

      I couldn’t find any other way of reaching anyone, other than leaving a comment somewhere ...

      Thanks, btw, for putting this stuff up in the first place!

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