2010 | Year of the Ghost
"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."
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 That's because 2010 was shaped early by two techniques that should be hopelessly outdated: direct mail microtargeting and meatspace ground game.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.
Todd Cefaratti easily wins the Skilluminati Adeptus prize for his creative entrepreneurial spirit. Todd is an Arizona-based infomarketer who founded JoinTheTeaParty.us 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