Skilluminati Research

2010 | Year of the Ghost

Posted Nov 13, 2010 4 comments

"He understood that the media beast can only be chewing on one ankle at a time." -- Howard Fineman, Newsweek


I see Lee Atwater all over the country these days, and that's pretty weird, because Lee Atwater is dead. He has been for years, and yet it's 2010 and his fingerprints are all over the scene of the crime.

We're all living in Lee's world now, which is somewhere between a Sick Joke and a Damn Shame, because in his final year of life, Lee himself concluded he didn't want to live here after all. He spoke from a wheelchair before his friends and family: "I had money, I had power, I had fame and I had fortune. Guess what, it meant nothing, it was all a waste. I learned what counts, and that's you all...human relationships."

Lee Atwater | Skilluminati Research

In the Year of the Ghost, though, human relationships are defined by databases. Acxiom, Experian, the Dun & Bradstreet and the InfoUSA. "Secure the list," as Karl Rove used to put it. Segmentation is an artform, and you have to truly hate human beings to do it honestly and accurately.

We get the leaders we deserve -- but that's not Karma, that's because candidates are tailor made to fit us. The 2010 Elections were a startling victory for political consultants, because it was a "Proof of Concept" illustration that they no longer need to rely on the DNC/RNC system for candidates. Rather than "positioning" damaged goods from a dying breed -- career politicians and public servants -- they can now focus on building candidates from the ground up. Mere campaigns are gone now. The Tea Party was a sandbox for product testing. There will be more.

Despite the hype about social media as a political force in 2008, the online platform that Barack Obama© hired Blue State Digital to create barely got touched this year. That's because 2010 was shaped early by two techniques that should be hopelessly outdated: direct mail microtargeting and meatspace ground game. This is where Karl Rove & Co. built their foundation in Texas, this is the jungle where Ralph Reed killed so many hapless Democrat incumbents. Power on this level is invisible and subliminal, a hidden priesthood lineage from Billy James Hargis to Richard Viguerie to Terry Dolan to Alex Gage.

The message is not all that gets focus-tested...goals need research, too. The real artistry is where political campaigns and social engineering overlap: finding the sweet spot where the vested interests of the wealthiest 1% can be positioned into wedge issues that motivate the bottom 99%. In this respect, 2010 was a triumph for invisible power. This year marked the conclusion of a 50 Year Plan and the emergence of a new American majority which has been built entirely by dead men.


From the top of the pyramid, there is no pyramid. It's a simple fact, but often lost on those of us watching from below, taking notes on the power structure and sifting through clues every day. The view from the cockpit is very different from what the rest of the plane sees. As Bill Moyers said of David Rockefeller: "What some critics see as a vast international conspiracy, he considers a circumstance of life, and just another days work."

What most Americans call consensus reality is a fabricated narrative that's been carefully tested and calibrated for over a century now. Throughout decades of focus groups and scientific polling and cognitive infiltration and psychological operations, the number one client has always been America itself, or at least America the brand, America the image. Making the world safe for Democracy. Everything is phrasing in the Year of the Ghost.

"Write the plan, position the client, write the copy, secure the list, design the package, supervise and generate some production here, and set up a system to analyze the response, to understand what worked and what didn't." -- Karl Rove

A free enterprise system, a strong national defense, and support for traditional Western values. Horrible things always sound so harmless when you hire professional copywriters. Is a New Populist Revolt on the Way? Well, Viguerie actually wrote that entire script back in 1984, and you can still get it on Amazon.

The overlap between marketing and politics is inevitable when both of them cater to the lowest common denominator and the biggest possible audience. History is full of marketing men who had successful careers working in politics: Walter Lippmann, Ivy Lee, Tim LaHaye, and the notorious self-promoting usurper Edward Bernays. Nothing changes, either. In 2008, Brian Collins and company won the Ad Age prize for Marketer of the Year. Their project? Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

Bush Obama Convention Stages

Post-Reality Politics


Todd Cefaratti easily wins the Skilluminati Adeptus prize for his creative entrepreneurial spirit. Todd is an Arizona-based infomarketer who founded and sunk $180,000+ on advertisement, link farming and SEO. The result was a top-ranked site that many thousands of rubes took to be the official Tea Party headquarters. Todd has built a massive mailing list and taken in $469,000 in donations...absolutely none of which was spent on Tea Party candidates or causes.

A toast to Mr. Cefaratti for furnishing the American herd with such an elegant lesson in free market economics. Here's Todd, driving away from CBS camera crews in his 2010 Escalade with the custom "TPARTY1" plates...


Cerfaratti was just buying into a new niche, though. Perhaps he was sick of the Reverse Mortgage info-marketing grind? He made an upfront investment to build a serious list and now he's got a much more interesting home business. Information Marketing is probably a better training ground for a political operative than politics itself, these days. The A/B Testing loop, the segmented lists, the auto-responder cycles, the CRM funnels, analytics and response rates: it's all the same language now. Marketing and politics both rely on the techniques of Branding, and the outcome is very much the same, too. From our low voter turnout to the high return rates for "information products," this is not a system geared for customer satisfaction.

That's what 2010 was really about: the most expensive election in US history was a mid-term. Thanks to recent innovations like the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. FEC decision allowing unlimited corporate political spending, or the US Chamber of Commerce's new program of funneling money from foreign corporations into our elections, the bidding war for access to the social control machinery of the United States is finally allowed to operate openly. American consumers can look forward to a full-time, never-ending campaign season that consumes the entire media cycle from 2010 until the power fizzles out from coast to coast.

In the future, voter turnout will go up...and that's not a good thing.


"Make them angry and stir up the hostilities. The shriller you are, the easier it is to raise funds. That's the nature of the Beast." -- Terry Dolan

Filed in: Editor's Choice

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Previous Entry: Veteran's Day 2010


  • 1. Earnest Pensmith on Nov 10, 2010 at 10:21 AM permalink

    Todd Cefaratti’s $469,000 is just what he had to declare LAST YEAR. He’s currently pulling in more than that EVERY MONTH. But the $469k figure is the only “fact” solid enough to get repeated offense. Cafaratti has had a very, very good 2010. He’s a player now strictly off a list he created. That’s gotta be a first in this line of business? The GOP has already bought access in dozens of states, BTW.

  • 2. Pixelfaerie on Nov 10, 2010 at 3:35 PM permalink

    I loved reading this. I can tell you’re in the business, too! I consider myself very progressive, yet most of my graphic design work is for conservative PACs these days. I am happy to take their money and mostly indifferent to stoking the rabid fears of their demographic base. That’s because I have to be. It’s the best source of income I have and very easy work, besides. In political conversations, though, I am quiet more often than not because I am very aware of the disconnect that keeps my bills paid. I seldom feel like I have the right to say much about the Christian Right when they’re my main employer. Or rather, their handlers are. I get the impression most of the men at the top are exactly like the manager on the cartoon show Metalocalypse. None of these guys believe in the dogma, they’re just doing a job and making their money. The policy is secondary to the market itself. Demographics for it’s own sake. Which is a sad commentary on where America is headed.

  • 3. Earnest Pensmith on Dec 13, 2010 at 12:46 PM permalink

    I was re-reading this and just noticed you linked to your own article as “hype about social media as a political force” and it made me chuckle. Quite a decent article btw, pity Obama turned out the way he has.

    I notice in your writing about the Tea Party you portray us as dupes, it pervades these articles. I do not want to troll you but I do want to say, the reason bloggers like you know about what Todd Cerfaratti did is because of Tea Party supporters who did the research to expose him.

    We really are a populist movement. We’re trying to smoke out the snakes from our ranks, it doesn’t help when the commentary media respond to every Bad Guy we flush out as proof that we’re all suckers. It’s frustrating.

  • 4. Thirtyseven on Dec 13, 2010 at 1:17 PM permalink

    @ Pensmith

    Thank you for the blunt reminder, I appreciate it. Everything I do here is collage and commentary, so I welcome any attempt to ground what’s here in someone’s personal reality. I know there’s a core of dedicated, honest, informed activists to the Tea Party. I also think that’s equally true of many other movements in recent decades.

    My judgement is not about the Tea Party, but public movements. I’m not saying the Tea Party got subverted because you’re dumb—I’m saying you got subverted because that’s how our culture works, top to bottom. That’s the life cycle of any organization that stakes it’s power on public sentiment.

    Meanwhile, corporate and government power gets exercised through conspiracies. They use this not because they’re bad people but because it works. It’s a proven model.

    At the end of the day, I would rather see concerned citizens starting secret societies instead of political parties.

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