Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

What a difference eight months can make! Now Penn looks like the biggest loser ever to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The only person who wrote a webLetter that even mentioned Obama was too cynical to see his potential. And Democrats (and no small number of non-Democrats) finally have a candidate they can vote for instead of a stand-in to provide a place to put a checkmark next to the name of anybody but Bush.

Obama in '08!

Paul Gérard

Sacramento, CA

Feb 24 2008 - 11:00pm

Web Letter

Politics has nothing to do with reality, and everything to do with PR. As an easy example, consider how the Clinton administration took a machete to the social safety net, specifically targeting AFDC. (Granted, Hillary Clinton promoted the anti-poor campaign prior to moving to the White House, so at least she is been consistent.)

The Reagan administration already set the framework, so this wasn't difficult. Successful propaganda isn't about lying, but about simply omitting some vital facts. Since few people have a clear concept of the amounts of money spent by government, we were told the dollar amounts spent on all welfare programs, outside of the context of total government expenditures, indicating (falsely) that it went into a single program (AFDC), to show that welfare enabled the lazy to live in luxury at OUR expense. We heard that AFDC was draining our economy, bringing taxpayers to their knees. Never mind that throughout its existence AFDC used only 3-5 percent of the federal budget, this is about perception, not facts. Never mind that the average tax payer contributed pennies per year toward this fund. Never mind that our "failed welfare programs" enabled millions of Americans to obtain the medical care, education and skills training needed to join the mainstream, paying far more in taxes over time than they received in aid. Never mind that welfare saved many lives. We heard about the "welfare lifers," but not about the fact that over 80 percent of recipients used aid for under five years, with the remaining 20 percent consisting primarily of the ill/disabled. Claim that people stayed on welfare because high benefits provided an easy life, and simply don't mention that at their highest, for a very brief time, benefits were raised up to the poverty line. Promote the caricature of the welfare mama popping out babies to get higher benefits, and ignore the facts that most welfare families had one to two children, or that the benefit increase for an additional child was so inadequate that the family ended up much poorer. It's about selling an idea, not about reality. And who better to target than those who have been so effectively blocked out of the media/public forum?

As Adolf Hitler, one of the most successful propagandists of the 20th Century, wrote, if you repeat something often enough, the public will believe it, even when they can see with their own eyes that it's a lie. We don't talk about welfare today; the approved phrases are "failed welfare programs" and "successful welfare reform." America now has a greater percentage of the population in severe poverty than any modern nation as a direct result of our "successful welfare reform." Infant mortality levels among the America's poor today is skyrocketing, while the life expectancy for America's poor has dramatically fallen below that of some Third World nations. We now have economic disparities not seen in nearly 100 years.

What is "successful" about welfare reform as-we-know-it? It kept our minds on the poor who were going to rob us blind so we wouldn't notice that the rich were robbing us blind. Never mind the facts, we will believe what we are told what to believe. We fear the power of the powerless.

US politics is not about morality, social justice, sound laws and policies, life or death, the common good or even common sense---it is about appealing, successful PR campaigns. Period.

Diane H. Fabian

Fort Atkinson, WI

May 20 2007 - 2:17pm

Web Letter

I found your coverage of Penn interesting, and I suspect you may be correct in some areas. I have known the Clintons casually for many years and find some of your concepts plausible.

However, it is difficult for me to accept your assertions in areas where I do not have good sources to verify them largely because of an egregious assertion you make in an area I do know about: persuasion theory.

You state:

Penn invented the concept of "inoculation," in which corporations are shielded from scandal through clever advertising and marketing. Selling an image, companies realized, was as important as winning a legislative favor.

While Penn may apply Inoculation Theory, he most certainly did not invent it, as any freshman communication student should be able to tell you. It is called McGuire's Inoculation Theory because it was developed by William McGuire in 1961. His seminal article--"Resistance to persuasion conferred by active and passive prior refutation of the same and alternative counterarguments"--was published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology.

You can find out more about it here, or in any standard textbook on Persuasion or Fundamentals of Communication.

Ironic, isn't it? Your prominent inclusion of this erroneous information successfully inoculated me against the other information contained in your article.

Carolyne Garcia

Fayetteville, Arkansas

May 10 2007 - 7:31am

Web Letter

I got a few sentences into that article and realized that while I certainly miss the Clinton years, perhaps this is a good time to reclaim this country from the corporatations and give it back to the people. The Bush administration has created a mistrust for the government that has never been seen before and this is the perfect opportunity to return to a government for the people, by the people... The previous article is very clear in that while Hillary isn't a neocon her loyalties certainly don't lie with the common man. I respect the Clintons, but any family who has been in Washington that long certainly has a huge debt to ??? Remember when Bill pardoned one of his biggest campaign contributers Mr. Rich, who was practically the Ken Lay of the'90s, in his last days of office. And the huge campaign contributions he received from the Chinese government.

The Democrats got behind Kerry in '04 because those in Iowa said he was "electable." What an idiotic idea that was. Bush got the "majority" of the vote because people believed he was a boy who had certain values that he stood for and that were unwavering. If there was only a Democratic nominee who stood for what we believe in, not trying to make some half-assed compromise with what used to be the "republic" party, perhaps people might actually be inspired to vote.

That's right you actualy need to stand for something more than a soundbite on CNN, Fox, MSNBC et al., which nobody under fifty watches anyway. According to polls, 70 percent of Americans want us out of Iraq. Those numbers are based on people who get their news from the above sources and actually have land lines. I'm 29 and none of my friends have anything but cell phones because they are far more economical and practical and therefore are never part of the polling part of the nation ( even though studies have shown that we are beginning to vote in record numbers). Remember the Straight Talk Express that would have won (sellout) McCain the presidency in 2000, before he was smeared in South Carolina (who cares what one state thinks--see Iowa above).

So, any Democratic nominees who happens to be reading this, if you're not sure what our party stands for (and I'm quite sure most of you aren't) don't be afraid to respond to this and I will remind you. For those of you who are strong in your beliefs--Jim Webb comes to mind--Stand Up, Be Strong, Act Like A Leader For F--K'S Sake, You Will Find A Following. Court The People. We Will Follow If You're Worthy. Eighty-five percent of the population just voted in France, and if you all weren't full of s--t the same would happen here. Surely you remember when you first got into politics, it was because you wanted to make a difference, not be a puppet for those who funded you and are quite capable of getting along without a public servant (what a quaint phrase) looking out for them in Washington. IF NOTHING ABOVE STRIKES YOU IMAGINE THIS: THINK OF W.'S LEGACY. DO YOU WANT SOMETING SIMILAR TO THAT, OR PERHAPS TO BE THE WASHINGTON, LINCOLN, KENNEDY OF THE 21ST CENTURY?

Joseph Jazinski

Denver, CO

May 10 2007 - 4:27am

Web Letter

Dear Mr. Berman, in the online version of your article, you quote Mark Penn, who lies with alacrity:

"Penn has portrayed Clinton as a hero to America's underdogs. "She has a very, very strong base among the Democratic primary voters--first and foremost among voters who have real needs, people who may not have healthcare, people worried about losing a job, people who know someone serving in the war, people in the working and middle class, people whose lives really depend upon having the kind of champion and advocate that Hillary represents," Penn said to the Washington Post."

I wish you wouldn't put forth such slick falshoods, unless you also offer easily available info that proves the opposite.

Contrary to Penn's worshipful statement, where people received information on Jonathan Tasini, her Democratic opponent in the 2006 Senate primary, and on his clear stands on issues, as happened in Tompkins County, he was able to beat Clinton, as he did in the county seat and some of the towns. What her primary campaign in 2006 did demonstrate was the near omnipotence of corporate control of elections, and the effectiveness with which her campaign took advantage of her connections to it. The media who ran debates and other events deliberately excluded her only primary competitor, Jonathan Tasini. The NY State Democratic Party convention wouldn't allow him on the floor. The NY Times had only enough room in its articles to sneer at him. Local outlets of Gannett would only print news on Tasini if he were in town!

Senator Clinton has so far set back universal healthcare by a decade and a half, thanks to her early 1990s attempt to permanently establish corporations as the managers of our healthcare. She has voted for every "free-trade"--i.e., international procorporate/antiworker --agreement, which is in line with her former position on the WalMart board of directors. Sen. Clinton shows no awareness of why nearly all Arabs have developed a hatred for the United States, as if the long history of US and Western racist hostility never happened. She voted for the Iraq war and for every bit of money requested for it, and has yet to understand how wrong was her vote to let Bush have his war. She makes the same noises about Iran now as she did about Iraq in 2002. She votes in favor of every aid bill for Israel, but without a peep concerning Israel's constant colonisation of the West Bank, as if that's not relevant.

The utility of showing the falsehood of Penn's claims is that it shows that what he is doing for the money is lying.

Timothy Lillard

Newfield, New York

May 9 2007 - 3:06pm

Web Letter

For those of us who may have had any last inclination of silencing our inner disillusion with the Democratic Party for just one day, on November 4, 2008…

Illuminations from a Washington Post profile of Clinton’s Campaign Manager and top confidant, Mark Penn:

In their $5 million Georgetown mansion, Penn and his wife, Nancy Jacobson, a former staff member for Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) who is now a fundraiser with the Clinton campaign, run something of a salon for like-minded friends. They recently threw a book party for Jeffrey Goldberg, the New Yorker writer, to celebrate the release of his memoir on Israel. On another occasion, they hosted David Brooks, the conservative New York Times columnist, for a dinner party and political discussion.

Penn has deep roots in the national security wing of the Democratic Party, along with other centrist Democrats--some of them Jewish and pro-Israel, like Penn--who saw the merits of invading Iraq before the war began.

Penn gained his foreign policy expertise working on numerous campaigns overseas, especially in Israel. In 1981, he and business partner Doug Schoen helped reelect Menachem Begin, one of the most right-wing prime ministers in the country’s history, and emerged with a new outlook on the Middle East. “We got a chance to experience firsthand the perils and possibilities that the state of Israel presents,” Schoen said in an interview. (http://withinempire.wordpress.com)

Ever since, Penn has been a prominent advocate of conveying strength in foreign policy. As recently as the 2004 presidential contest, Penn argued that Democrats would lose if they failed to close the “security gap.” His client list includes prominent backers of the Iraq war, particularly Lieberman, whose presidential campaign Penn helped run in 2004, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose campaign he advised when Blair won a historic third term in 2005.

On no stormy sea has Penn been more of an anchor for Clinton than on Iraq, so far the defining issue of the 2008 election. “I don’t think there’s any gap in their thinking,” said Douglas Schoen, Penn’s former business partner."

Basically, this guy is Clinton’s Karl Rove in terms of how large of a factor he is in her decision making.

And for anyone who needs a reminder on Menachem Begin, the father of the Likud Party…

Yet in the years to follow, especially during his second term in office from 1981, Begin’s government was to reclaim a nationalist agenda, promoting the expansion of Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories. As retaliation to attacks from the north, he authorized a limited invasion into southern Lebanon in 1982, which quickly escalated into full-fledged war.

He appointed Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon to implement a large scale expansion of Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories, a policy intended to make future territorial concessions in these areas effectively impossible. Begin refocused Israeli settlement strategy from populating peripheral areas in accordance with the Allon Plan, to building Jewish settlements in Palestinian populated areas.

And as if we needed any more…from the mouth man himself, who’s 1981 Re-election campaign was helped by Hillary Clinton’s top advisor:

“[The Palestinians] are beasts walking on two legs.”
  – Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin,
     speech to the Knesset, quoted in Amnon Kapeliouk,
      “Begin and the ‘Beasts,”‘ New Statesman, June 25, 1982.

Hmm…supported the Iraq war even before 9/11; headed the presidential campaign of neo-con Joe Lieberman; helped re-elect the father of the Likud Party, Menachem Begin, who was the man responsible for the main expansion of the Israeli ettlements (the illegality of which is not even disputed by much of the American political establishment); helped re-elect Tony Blair in 2005, after most of Europe had lost confidence with Blair’s complicity in planning the 2003 Iraq invasion and subsequent occupation, and passionately promoted it to the world. Is it even possible to better fit the definition of Neo-Conservative?

Thankfully, though, we won’t have to worry about this, because Mike Gravel is here to steal the Democratic party nomination right from under Clinton’s nose!!

Jed Rouhana

Amherst, MA

May 9 2007 - 11:29am

Web Letter

Hillary like Bill, ain't no Democrat. I listened to Mr Berman being interviewed by the Beavis and Butt-head "Young Turks" on AAR this morning--I, a captive audience driving rural Montana in the wee hours delivering the Bozeman Chronicle, a ridiculously useless newspaper. Captive audience meaning, I want to listen to progressive talk, and there's no other option. Systematically, Air America Radio has become part of the Hillary Machine, and I think Mr. Berman got it this morning as Cenk Uygur (Butt-head), declared that he was FOR Bill's NAFTA, welfare reform, and Clear Channel--born of Bill Clinton's hugest faux pas in a long line up, deregulation of the air waves--he in fact declared that these are the reasons he became a DEMOCRAT! Mr. Berman's shock at realizing what an idiot he was talking to was palpable. Last week, The Nation's Cuba edition was discussed, and Cenk spewed the decades-long Repubican and corporate mantras about conditions in Cuba and what an evil dictator Castro is...obviously not having read The Nation and probably never does, nor ever having been to Cuba firsthand. Everyone who shares Mr. Berman's concern about Senator Clinton has been systematically removed from the AAR lineup, other than Laura Flanders. Even the well-meaning Randi Rhodes can't see the forest for the trees concerning the Clintons. What's my point? We are still in search of liberal talk radio. Thank you for your article, Mr.Berman, it's right on.

Pamela Strandquest

Ennis, Montana

May 9 2007 - 10:58am

Web Letter

Perhaps there's another reason why Mark Penn is an important figure in Hillaryland...

Once I'd thought the undue invasion of Iraq (absent ties to terrorism, "we" built the pesticide plant converted to produce Iraq's WMDs) was all about the US importing high-grade Iraqi crude (read legalized theft?); then it seemed the plan was to undermine global stability in order to drive the price of oil way up; but now, with Giuliani and Thompson looking to be two of the Republican frontrunners--on their anti-terrorist/anti-crime platforms, and with the Democrat frontrunners looking to be two "others" (there's White men and than the others...), maybe all along the big plan was to "hand the presidency over" to a great friend of the rich!

Obama says that "there's no more fundamental American right than the right to vote," and Clinton says that, "fair and honest elections are the bedrock of a successful democracy."

They must be joking!!! Considering that our two-term President never actually won a presidential election (see the US Commission on Civil Rights report on the 2000 Presidential Election, and Rolling Stone magazine, "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?").

In his recent speech Fred Thompson said, "The Democrats, of course, want to raise taxes.... When Reagan cut taxes in 1981, we went from economic malaise to a new morning in America. And when George Bush cut taxes in 2001, he took a declining economy he inherited to an economic expansion..."

However, to quote a CounterPunch article ("Bush's Tax Cuts, A Form of National Insanity," by R. Freeman), "In the early 1980s, Reagan promised the nation that if we lowered tax rates on the wealthy, the economy would grow so much the federal budget would be balanced 'within three years, maybe even two." The results, we now know, were a disaster. In 1982, the first full year after the tax cuts were enacted, the economy actually shrank 2.2%, the worst performance since the Great Depression. When Bill Clinton took office he intentionally reversed the Supply Side formula ... Between 1992 and 2000, the US economy produced the longest sustained economic expansion in US history. When Bush took office, the government's ten year surplus was forecast to total $5.6 trillion. This was critical to building fiscal soundness as the Baby Boomers begin to retire. Now, the ten year forecast projects a cumulative deficit of 1.1 trillion. a net loss of $6.7 trillion in only two years. With the exception of World Wars, this is the greatest, most rapid destruction of public wealth in the history of the world."

And in S. Mirsky's article, "The Rockaway Irregular," he says, "...after Giuliani began his second term something changed. The Mayor began opening up the sluice gates and allowing the agencies to grow fatter and sloppier. Substantial salary increases became relatively easy to secure, particularly for higher-ups while demands for office prettification and various personal services for top management skyrocketed."

Why, it's like Rudy knew 9/11 would soon make his budget soar out of control...

Nowadays Iraq is a hot bed for terrorists--where oil smuggling is netting the insurgency approx. $100 million annually (see the Guardian Unlimited Special Reports, Dec. 2, 2006--Oil Smuggling).

Meanwhile one in eight Iraqi children died of disease or violence before reaching their fifth birthday in 2005, making Iraq last in the world in child survival rates.

You're talking political spin--while this is our legacy. What a crying shame!!!

Michael L. Wagner

San Francisco, CA

May 8 2007 - 6:05pm

Web Letter

Running for Senator as a stepping stone to becoming President speaks volumes about the integrity of a person. Even Nancy Reagan’s mediums could see a person with a personal agenda. Hillary Clinton’s Senate bid looked mercenary from the very beginning,

Most politicians grab the limelight any way they can, usually by focusing on mediocre issues which should provide positive strokes for their political comfort zone. Politicians have always had an innate propensity to talk out of both sides of their mouths, this was apparent recently at both political debates. During the debates the talking points were designed for the potential audience. Vanguard ideas are avoided by most politicians at all costs; real issues are to be avoided like the plague. Hillary is no exception.

The Republican debate was a pandering for the perceived audience of warmongers and born again Christians in support of death and destruction. The Democratic debate was a consensus of backslapping and agreeing with one another, aimed to feed status quo. Not until Mike Gravel swung a searing red-hot poker in front of Hillary did she get the message, cautiously she moved slightly away from her Hawk direction. After the poker experience, Hillary found the time to propose a half-hearted bill to revoke the President's free ride in Iraq. It remains to be seen if she pursues the bill.

Hillary’s relentless attempt to stay front-runner in the Democratic presidential primary must pay a toll on her ability to take care of stepping stone job as Senator, but isn’t that the idea?

Lee Rossavick

Potter Valley, CA

May 8 2007 - 12:37pm

Web Letter

Thanks for the article. I find the thought of a Hillary nomination for the presidency something to dread. I cannot abide this woman's selling out to the right and her total lack of ethics.

I do not know why my party is so blind to this woman and why they are so insistant on supporting her.

And I don't know how we can get the mainstream media to stop giving her a total pass, overlooking her slips and continuing cheerleading for her. I know they want her to get the nomination as she is so much the insider and establishment, but doesn't anyone care what is good for the country and that the candidates thay pick are always the wrong ones and the worst thing for the country?

And why are Democrats not willing to look close at this woman? This is not the 90s. The Clintons almost destroyed the party with their triangulating and move to the right. They tried to do a coup on Howard Dean. And yet the Democrats blindly support this Republican-lite candidate simply because of her last name.

Look past the name and at the person. She is not what we need and she would do so much more damage to this party and this country.

We need to keep her out. We need to work to derail her. we need to get the word out that good Democrats do not support Hillary Clinton.

Diane Lake

Machesney Park, IL

May 7 2007 - 6:06pm